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Global meat production has increased rapidly over the past 50 years. Worldwide, we produce more than 340 million tonnes each year.
Unfortunately, most consumers of meat are entirely disconnected from the processes necessary to produce animal products. I was, too.
The truth is that animal farming causes a lot of damage to our environment. It is the single most significant driver of habitat loss, soil loss, water, and nutrient pollution.
Reducing meat consumption has many benefits; it is the single most significant action you can take to help our environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and soil degradation. Reduction of meat consumption will also save an enormous amount of land, water use and will increase biodiversity.
Let’s take a closer look at the 8 most significant environmental benefits of reducing meat consumption.
1. Reducing meat consumption increases biodiversity
We use about half of the planet’s inhabitable land for agriculture, and roughly 77% of this land is used by grazing cattle, sheep, goats & other livestock. (1)
What is more, many unsustainable agricultural methods are practiced, such as overgrazing and fire for pasture management.
By reducing meat consumption and increasing plant-based foods, we can conserve and minimize the degradation of biodiversity.
Oh, and why should we care about biodiversity?
In short, biodiversity is essential for the well-being of Earth and us. It provides vital ecosystem functions such as:
- soil fertilization
- nutrient recycling
- cleansing of air and water
- pest and disease regulation
- crop and tree pollination
2. Reducing meat consumption saves water
Did you know that only 4% of the water footprint of humanity relates to water use at home?
Contrary, animal production requires large volumes of water, mainly to produce animal feed.
About 29% of the total water footprint of the agricultural sector in the world is related to the production of animal products. (1)
To put this into perspective –
1x 200g beef burger uses as much water as = 30 x 5-minute showers
This means that you want to reduce your water footprint, it’s best to look at your diet and meat consumption rather than water use at home.
3. Reducing meat consumption reduces deforestation
Animal agriculture is one of the most significant causes of deforestation. (1)
It happens most commonly through slash-and-burn. This method involves the cutting and burning of plants and trees.
70% of the world’s plants and animals live in forests and are losing their habitats (1).
While deforestation happens all over the world, the vast majority takes place in rainforests.
This makes the Amazon rainforest one of Earth’s most threatened forests.
Companies that have been deforesting the rainforest to raise cattle for their hamburgers include Walmart, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Burger King. (1)
By not purchasing meat products and avoiding such companies, you have the power to reduce the demand for meat, and thus – deforestation.
4. Reducing meat consumption lowers greenhouse gas emissions
- Animals (cows and sheep) create large amounts of methane as they digest food
- The manure that animals produce
- Manufacturing & use of fertilizers and pesticides
- Land use and & the conversion of land for pasture/feed production
- Feed processing and transportation
When you compare to plant-based food systems, animal production systems emit significantly more greenhouse gas emissions. (1)
For example, producing 100 grams of protein from peas emits just 0.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2).
To get the same amount of protein from beef, emissions would be nearly 90 times higher, at 35 CO2 (1)
Greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram for different food groups. Our World in Data (2020) Data source: Poore & Nemecek (2018):
5. Reducing meat consumption decreases soil degradation
Animal production is also a great cause for soil degradation and groundwater pollution by:
- Improper application of manures – When factory farms distribute manure to fields, the amount often exceeds what the crops can take up, leaving the rest to escape into the air or surface waters.
- The use of pesticides – They reach waterways, creating dead zones that are dangerous to marine life and eventually deplete soils. (1)
- Soil erosion – It occurs when grasslands are subject to extensive grazing without sufficient recovery periods. Additionally, if too many animals are grazing the same land area, the damage their hooves can cause to the soil can be devastating.
Replacing meat, eggs, and dairy with plant-based foods would decrease manure and lower fertilizer usage tremendously.
6. Reducing meat consumption reduces climate change
This study estimates that the farm animal sector is responsible for:
- 65% of all human-made emissions of nitrous oxide
- and for 37% of all human-made methane emissions
Since the climate impact of plant-based foods is typically 10 to 50 times smaller than that of animal products, switching to a plant-based diet could help reduce emissions.
7. Reducing meat consumption will free up land for growing food for humans
There is an increasing need to grow crops to feed animals.
Currently, we use the world’s resources in a highly inefficient way – 40% of the harvested crops in the world are used as food for animals. (1)
According to studies, if we use the space to grow food for humans, around 70% more calories will be available globally. (1)
Reducing livestock would mean lower demand for feed and forage.
As a result, 4 billion more people could be fed, and we will provide food for starving populations worldwide.
Switching to a plant-based diet would free up land that we can use for growing food for us. (1)
8. Reducing meat consumption will reduce meat waste
An astounding amount of meat – on average about 20 % – is wasted at the retail, institutional, and consumer level. (1)
We slaughter innocent animals using brutal and painful methods so we can eat their flesh.
As a result, an enormous amount goes to waste, which is horrible on many levels:
1) Animals are killed for no reason
By reducing meat production, we will also reduce the waste and the unnecessary killing of many animals.
What is the best diet for the environment?
A whole-food plant-based diet is the best for the environment since plants require far fewer resources and water than livestock.
A study measured the resources (water, fertilizer, soil) and emissions from different foods.
It showed that a vegan diet reduces environmental impacts compared to a vegetarian or omnivorous diet (1).
In one day, a fully vegan diet saves: (1)
- 4164 liters of water
- 20 kg crops
- 2.8 m2 forested land
- 10 kg CO2
- the life of one animal
So, in short, the best diet for the environment includes:
- Local fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains, legumes, nuts
- Whenever possible, package-free or plastic-free
Which greenhouse gas emissions are emitted from animal farming?
The most amounts of emissions are in the form of methane (44%), nitrous oxide (29%), and carbon dioxide (27%): (1)
- Methane: 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. It is mainly created as animals digest food and from their manure.
- Nitrous oxide: One of the most potent greenhouse gases. It is created from the manure of animals and from fertilizers used to grow feed.
- Carbon dioxide: Carbon emissions trap heat in our atmosphere. It is created from the conversion of land for pasture or feed production, tractor fuels, manufacture of fertilizers.
How to switch to a more sustainable diet?
You can start reducing meat consumption with small actions, such as:
1) Find alternatives – It can be easier than you think. Switch to plant-based options that won’t cause too much change in your life. For example, it was super easy for me to switch to plant-based milk and vegan yogurts. There are so many options that are delicious and affordable.
2) Experiment with new products – Before going vegan, I had no idea what’s seitan, tempeh, or nutritional yeast. Finding MANY excellent products made my transition so much easier. You can look up some veggie burgers, cheese alternatives, tofu, etc.
3) Explore naturally vegan foods – There should be meals and foods you enjoy from before that are naturally vegan. Like hummus, veggie stews, and many Indian dishes!
4) Don’t just cut out foods without looking for an alternative – You can’t make your usual meal, like mashed potato & meat, cut out the meat and eat just mashed potatoes. It is essential to substitute animal products with plant-based alternatives. For instance, good protein-packed options for meat include – beans, lentils, broccoli, tofu, or tempeh. Look online for easy recipes, and give it a try!
To achieve a sustainable, healthy diet is essential to eat more plant-based foods and reduce our consumption of meat and other animal products.
While it will be best if you switch altogether, simply reducing those foods can have a positive impact, too.
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