Meat-based diets negatively impact our environment

Change your plate; change your environment


We live on a planet that has reached its destructive climax. Climate change, depletion of the ozone layer and an increase in air pollution are the demanding environmental issues that are destroying the earth.

Most of us are aware that a change needs to be made; few know that simply being conscious of our daily meat intake can decelerate the devastation and positively benefit our health.

The fact remains that meat-based diets adversely affect our environment more than non-meat diets.

A typical meat-eater’s diet demands 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more fossil fuels, 1.3 times more pesticides and 1.3 times more fertilizer than a typical vegetarian diet.

For example, 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef. In total, animal agriculture uses 34-76 trillion gallons of water annually and is responsible for 80-90 percent of water consumption in the U.S. alone.

Not only are input levels extremely high for animal agriculture, so too are emissions levels.

Livestock is responsible for 65 percent of the total nitrous oxide emissions, a greenhouse gas 296 times more destructive than carbon dioxide and remains in the atmosphere for 150 years. In addition, to provide space for livestock, more than 136 million acres of oxygen-producing rainforest has been cleared.

Nonetheless, from a health perspective there are still arguments that support meat consumption. Yet, recent research highlights potentially harmful effects of our modern meat-based diet.

The 2010 journal “Healthy Planet Eating: How Lower Meat Diets Can save Lives and the Planet” published research done by Oxford University that concluded that 45,361 deaths would be prevented each year from switching to a diet that contains two or three meat meals each week and a small amount of dairy each day, rather than current meat and dairy- based diets.

The decrease in deaths would result from a reduction in cases of cancer. Thirty percent of cases are linked to dietary factors, especially meat and dairy.

Similarly, the World Cancer Research Fund recommends to consume no more than 500 grams of beef, lamb and pork per week and to avoid processed meats altogether.

Clearly, we harm our health and environment by eating meat.

We as the earth’s inhabitants have a moral obligation to protect our environment in order to preserve the planet for future generations.

A step towards doing so would be reconsidering our current level of meat consumption.

One solution to this crisis is a limitation on meat consumption, rather than an all-out abstention. From this, focus would shift from our current model of high quantity but low quality meats to lower quantity but higher quality.

This new model would benefit human health by lowering cases of dietary-caused cancers and would lessen impacts to our environment by lowering the demand of livestock agriculture.

What is more, the change in diet would allow for more meat to be available for developing countries where malnutrition is a pressing concern as currently there is injustice in the distribution of meat.

The 2013 article “The Triple Whopper Environmental Impact of Global Meat Production” found that “Of the 95 million tons of beef produced in the world in 2000, the vast majority came from cattle in Latin America, Europe and North America. All of sub-Saharan Africa—a region with nearly three times as many people as the entire U.S.—produced just 3 million tons of beef.”

285 million tons of meat are produced annually, which would account for 80 pounds of meat per person each year if divided evenly. However, this scenario is far away from  reality.

According to the article, “Each American eats 270 pounds of meat per year on average, while Bangladeshis, on average, eat four pounds per person.”

Based on this contrast, it is ignorant to still assume that our current levels of meat consumption is necessary.

It is true that switching to a vegetarian or even vegan diet is a major step that requires discipline and commitment, but limiting one’s meat consumption to 2-3 times per week results in positive effects.

Carina Hofmeister is a journalism major from Hamburg, Germany.

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