Is Eating Meat Worse For the Environment Than Driving a Hummer?

Adam French, Lifestyle Editor

American culture has always treated meat as a delectable and sought after dish. A burger or steak for dinner has sent many kids leaping from the couch in excitement. The health benefits and detriments of meat have been discussed at length, but health may not be the only source of guilt in the back of your head when you eat a delicious burger. An overlooked fact of the livestock is 30% of the world’s ice-free area is used not to feed ourselves, but the animals that eventually feed us. This current layout just doesn’t make sense from an efficiency perspective, a perspective we will have to consider more and more given the eventualities of overpopulation and lack of earthly resources. This shocking information begs the question: will we have to completely change our diet in the next 50, or even 25 years?

We might not need to overhaul our diet completely, but the American tendency towards beef as the meat of choice will need to change. In the U.S, the ruthlessly efficient factory farms manage to produce 100 kg of carbon for every kg of beef protein. In less developed countries, this number rises to 1000-1. It’s amazing our world hasn’t devolved into a cesspit of overheated rock with no atmosphere with numbers like these. Things that help reduce the environmental impact and increase the efficiency of farming these animals is feeding them grass instead of grain, and having the animals densely packed. Another issue with efficient farming lies in the treatment of the animals. The developed world manages to produce more protein per amount of feed only by cramming the animals into dirty fields. These aren’t the best conditions, but as of now we need to pick the lesser of the two evils and use the dirty field method as opposed to the free range, less efficient method.

Something that could lessen livestock’s effect on the environment is the consumption of more poultry and pork, as opposed to lamb, beef, and goat. Poultry and pork require less feed per meat produced, and don’t produce near the amount of methane that cows do. The government could reduce the support for the beef industry, and let the prices rise, driving the normal consumer towards other meats.

As of 2006, livestock produces around 18% of the emissions in the world according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (transportation and processing not included). That represents a sizable chunk, and a lot of room for improvement remains. It will take continued scientific innovation and cooperation between the agriculture industry and each countries’ respective government to change the way we raise livestock. Our diets also need to change more and more to support this agricultural shift.