The environmental impact of the meat industry has been studied by the FAO and several recommendations have been made.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says that the environmental impact of greenhouse gas emissions of the agriculture sector have more than doubled in the past half a century, with the potential to increase by 30 percent by the year 2050.
According to the FAO, greenhouse gas emissions from the crop and livestock sector increased to 5.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2011 from just 4.7 billion tonnes recorded in 2001. The FAO says that the increase of environmental impact was traced to developing countries buoyed mainly by the growth of agricultural exports.
Majority of the GHG outputs related to agriculture emanated from Asia with 44 percent, while the Americas accounted for 25 percent. Next were Africa at 15 percent, Europe at 12 percent, and Oceania at four percent. Interestingly, GHG outputs in Europe dropped from 21 percent in the previous decade while Asia’s contribution to the worldwide total increased from the 38 percent in the past decade.
Surprisingly, the amount of GHG emissions caused by changes in land use and deforestation dropped by more than 10 percent from the past decade, with an average of 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. The FAO cites that this is due to the reduced levels of deforestation around the world.
Environmental Impact of Beef Production
The FAO report is in sync with a recent study that shows the environmental impact of beef production. A study that was printed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that reduction of red meat consumption would have a greater environmental impact than abandoning the use of cars.
Although it has been common knowledge that beef production has a bigger environmental impact compared to other meats, the research authors says that this is the first time that the environmental impact of the production of beef has been quantified.
The researchers quantified the environmental impact of five livestock types in the U.S. on irrigation water, land, and greenhouse gas emissions. These include beef, poultry, dairy, eggs, and pork. Lamb was not included in the study due to the relatively low consumption of Americans. The study concluded that the environmental impact for beef was a lot higher compared to the four other livestock types.
The researchers made use of data from the U.S. department of agriculture covering the period 2000 to 2010 in the conduct of their study.
The study showed that cattle can release up to five times more greenhouse gas compared to poultry. And compared to other food staples like wheat and rice, beef requires 160 times more land yet releases greenhouse gas up to 11 more times than other food types.
The research authors agree that meat consumption is a delicate matter for many people, thus they won’t recommend that people stop eating their favourite beef products like steak and burgers. However, they say that the reduction of beef intake can contribute to global environmental protection.
The said study also echoed another research in the United Kingdom that showed that a diet rich in beef can double the amount of GHG emissions of vegetarian diets.