It’s not personal, it’s a fact. Meat production is one of the leading causes for some of the world’s most significant environmental problems.
In 2012, the United Nation’s Environmental Programme put out a global environmental alert to warn the world that meat production is significantly increasing greenhouse gas emissions and causing several serious environmental issues.
According to this alert, numerous studies have found that meat production is one of the most significant causes of greenhouse gas emissions, overuse of freshwater, deforestation and pollution.
Based on this alert, the following is a summary of the most harmful impacts of meat production.
Greenhouse gas emissions
Recent studies estimate that animal agriculture (i.e. livestock) is responsible for approximately 25 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. This includes the emissions from deforestation and other land use changes associated with meat production. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly 80 percent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are from livestock production. That’s huge.
The main greenhouse gas produced from livestock is methane. When we think greenhouse gas emissions, we tend to think of CO2, carbon dioxide. As a greenhouse gas, methane is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide. That means the methane produced to make meat is 25 times worse for the environment than the carbon dioxide produced by your car.
Beef is by far the worst offender. A study of 27 countries in the European Union found that approximately 23 kg of carbon dioxide is produced for every 1 kg of beef. In comparison, producing 1 kg of wheat produces less than 1 kg of carbon dioxide.
You probably don’t think about it, but it takes a huge amount of water to produce meat.
It takes about 430 litres of water to produce 100 grams of chicken, 598 litres for 100 grams of Pork and a whapping 1,540 litres to produce just 100 grams of beef! Forget having a shorter shower. If you really want to save water, swap the chicken for some chickpeas. In particular, giving up beef can make a huge difference.
In comparison, it only takes about 5 litres of water to produce 100 grams of split peas or lentils. In addition to saving water, grains and legumes are high in protein and fiber and low in fat. A 100 gram serving of lentils provides about 26 grams of proteins! Sounds good to me.
Most of us have seen cows walking around in a field but that’s only a small portion of the land it takes to raise livestock. Cows require a ton of food, usually hay, soybeans or corn and it takes a lot of land to grow all that food. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Census of Agriculture, 56 million acres of U.S. land are used to produce hay for livestock, while only 4 million are used to produce vegetables for human consumption.
Truth is, we’re running out of land to grow food for livestock. In many South American countries, forests are cleared just to grow livestock feed. According to the World Wildlife Fund, in South America, almost 4 million hectares of forests are destroyed every year. In Brazil alone, 2.6 million hectares are destroyed each year to support meat production. Much of this feed is then shipped to other countries, to support factory farming operations that hold hundreds or thousands of animals.
Our meat addiction has gone too far and we’re simply running out of land.
To add to this, cows especially produce a ridiculous amount of waste. In the U.S. alone, operations which confine livestock and poultry animals generate about 500 million tonnes of manure each year! According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that’s three times the amount of human feces produced in the U.S. each year. Often this waste gets into surface and groundwater causing significant pollution issues.
Pick your reason. Whether it’s to conserve water, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or to protect the world’s rainforests, cutting out meat is one of the most important things you can do for the environment. You don’t need to quite overnight. Cut back little by little and you’ll be amazed at how your eating habits can change.
Just remember, you can change the world by changing what’s on your plate.
 Steinfeld et al. 2006, Fiala 2008, UNEP 2009, Gill et al. 2010, Barclay 2012
 Steinfeld et al. (2006) and McMichael et al. (2007)
 Lesschen et al. 2011
 Garnett 2009