The Real Cost of Meat
Million tons of animals are eaten as meat in various regions of the world, including cattle, chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep, goats, fish, even horses, kangaroos, cats and dogs (China, South Korea, Vietnam, and Arctic regions). It was predicted that the global consumption of meat per capita in 2029 will be 34.9 kilograms (real weight equivalent).
People worldwide are increasingly selecting plant-based protein options rather than meat for health, environmental, and flavor reasons. In spite of that, meat consumption worldwide is expected to increase 1.4% per year through 2023, according to data published in the new Packaged Facts report Global Meat & Poultry Trends. (Source: ift.org).
Scientists have raised concerns about the environmental impact of meat consumption as the production of meat contributes to soil erosion due to overgrazing, cutting of trees on large scale for agricultural land, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and overuse of water. Meat production and consumption have devastating impacts on the environment. The Union of Concerned Scientists lists meat-eating as one of the biggest environmental hazards faced by Earth. Globally, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation systems combined. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat but only 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat, also, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, raising animals for food is the number-one source of water pollution. Millions of acres of forest have been cleared to create cropland to produce feed for animals raised for meat. According to the Worldwatch Institute, “Roughly 2 of every 5 tons of grain produced in the world is fed to livestock, poultry, or fish; decreasing consumption of these products, especially of beef, could free up massive quantities of grain and reduce pressure on land. If all grain were fed to humans instead of animals raised for meat, we could feed an extra 3.5 billion people and fight world hunger. Currently, 77% of the world’s agricultural land is used for raising livestock, which provides only 17% of calories and 33% of protein to global consumption. While crops use the remaining 23% of this agricultural land in exchange for 83% calories and 67% protein for global consumption. In short, industrial livestock farming is not only inefficient but also not equitable.
Meat consumption is not only affecting the environment in bad terms but is also responsible for increased medical bills. Recent evidence from large prospective US and European cohort studies and from meta-analyses of epidemiological studies indicates that the long-term consumption of increasing amounts of red meat and particularly of processed meat is associated with an increased risk of total mortality, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes, in both men and women, resulting in high medical bills. Moreover, farm animals are injected with huge amounts of antibiotics and growth hormones. According to scientists huge amount of antibiotics can create antibiotic resistance (Antibiotic resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs or antibiotics designed to kill them). Scientists predicted that by 2050 more people will die due to antibiotic resistance than from cancer and diabetes combined and they caution that antibiotic resistance begins with the farm animal’s meat. The same can be applied to pets as they are eating the same thing as us in the name of "human-grade" meat. Switching to a more plant-based diet could save up to 8m lives a year worldwide by 2050 and lead to healthcare related savings and avoided climate change damages of up to $1.5 trillion.
Of course, there is more than just health and environment to this. Many of us already struggle with the ethical and moral aspects of including meat in our diet. 70 billion farmed animals are reared annually worldwide. More than 6 million animals are killed for food every hour! And the life these farm animals live is something we would feel uncomfortable knowing about. They face a lot of violence, cruelty, and inhuman behavior throughout their short life and are ultimately slaughtered to be served in the plates. Unfortunately, all these negative impacts are not limited to just the “human world”, our beloved pets are also a part of this. One in four animals is killed in a factory farm to feed a pet. Although in pets we have less research, but obesity, kidney and liver diseases, and certain types of cancer have been correlated with commercial diets high in animal meat. The environmental impact of meat-based pet food is nowhere less than the impact of humans producing and consuming meat. Meat-eating by cats and dogs is responsible for 64 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year which is equivalent to carbon dioxide produced from driving 13.6 million cars for a year!
Certainly, there is a need for a big change. Change in the way we think, we live our lives, and in the way we treat other creatures of our planet for the betterment of our own health, our precious earth, our pets, and “not so fortunate” farm animals. If our nutritional needs can now be met by consuming foods that are less harmful, then we ought to choose these over foods that are known to cause more harm. A piece of meat on your plate costs far more than just a few bucks.
Springmann, Marco, et al. “Health-Motivated Taxes on Red and Processed Meat: A Modelling Study on Optimal Tax Levels and Associated Health Impacts.” PLOS ONE (November 6, 2018) 13, e0204139