Summary

Why Is Meat Production Bad for the Environment?

While buzzwords like vegetarianism, veganism, and plant-based are more popular than ever, global demand for meat, including beef, pork, chicken, and lamb, has tripled in the past 50 years – due primarily to a growing global population. This increased demand for meat is paralleled by rising temperatures and sea levels, i.e. global warming. 

While on the surface these might seem like two separate phenomena, a closer look reveals the undeniable link between meat production and climate change. 

The relationship between the livestock industry – the rearing of animals to produce dairy and meat products (think cattle ranching and dairy farms) – and climate change is becoming more apparent with population growth and globalization influencing a global shift towards the so-called Western Diet, which is basically pounds and pounds of meat (usually red meat) paired with high amounts of saturated fat and sugar. 

Red meat consumption is considered a central component of the Western diet, which has become more prevalent with rising incomes and urbanization occurring on a global-scale, with phrases like “grass-fed beef” and “choice Angus” bringing a premium allure to those who can afford it. 

At Thistle, we take climate change seriously, which is why we are dedicated to providing a delicious array of nutritious ready-to-eat meals that make a plant-forward lifestyle easy-to-follow and enjoyable. 

We try to always educate ourselves on the relationship between food and the environment, and we want to provide that knowledge to our Thistlers, too, so that you can make informed, empowered decisions. 

Read on to learn some more on the environmental impact of eating meat.

Meat Production and Land Use

Factory farms are the largest user of land resources globally with 80% of total agricultural land used to grow the crops that feed animals. Beef production is the biggest culprit, using up 60% of the world’s arable land – even though it accounts for only 2% of calories consumed worldwide! On a global scale, a meat-based diet requires almost three times more land than a plant-based diet. 

As populations continue to grow and meat demand increases, more and more deforestation is likely to occur, too, to make room for pasture lands for beef cattle. Forests are crucial to maintaining biodiversity in wildlife and also are important carbon sink lands, absorbing carbon dioxide from the environment. 

Cutting down trees releases all the absorbed CO2 – putting it back into the atmosphere – and irrevocably damages wildlife habitats – contributing to an increase in endangered species by rupturing whole ecosystems paired with biodiversity loss. 

Livestock land use also endangers ecosystems through soil erosion, caused by excessive grazing without leaving enough time for the land to recover and regrow. When soil is exposed through grazing, it is more easily swept away by water and wind and is often deposited in waterways. This runoff results in clogging waterways and rivers, and the deposit of pesticides and fertilizers that are toxic to animal species. 

In the U.S., 85% of soil erosion is caused by industrialized livestock production. 

What’s more, soil erosion makes the land less absorbent and therefore more susceptible to flooding. It is a dangerous cycle, with flooding further contributing to soil erosion and therefore causing more environmental damage. 

Because of the fast turn out for meat production, farmers tend to use monoculture – growing one type of crop on a piece of land, which in turn reduces the nutritional value of soil. This means that farmers need to use fertilizers and pesticides to provide enough nutrients to grow crops. These additives are harmful to wildlife and worsen water pollution. 

Meat production is a culprit in both excessive land use and detrimental use of land. The amount required to produce 4 grams of beef would produce 100 grams of plant-based protein, which puts into perspective just how much land could be spared from intensive farming practices if we all shifted towards a plant-forward diet. 

Meat Production and Food Waste

Most land used for meat production is to feed the livestock. 70, 85 and 95 percent of soy, corn, and oats respectively are grown to feed livestock – even though these crops are all fit for human consumption and make up an important portion of a plant-based diet. 

According to a study, shifting to plant-based diets in the U.S. would help feed 350 million people – more than the current population of the U.S.! 

All the resources required for animal agriculture mean that food waste from meat and dairy has a much larger environmental impact than wasted fruit, vegetables, and grains. Throwing out one kilo of beef wastes approximately 13,200 gallons of water while pouring out one glass of milk would waste only about 264 gallons! 

Meat Production and Water Use

Speaking of water, did you know that approximately 10% of water flow worldwide is used for rearing livestock? This is a considerable amount when we consider the threat of water scarcity as populations increase and climate-change induced draughts become more frequent. 

You might be surprised to know that your diet has the largest impact on your individual water footprint, with a plant-based diet significantly lowering it. In fact, studies indicate that going plant-based can reduce your water consumption by as much as half. 

Meat Production and Pollution

Now that we have covered the resources that meat production uses up, let’s talk about what it lets off. The animal agriculture industry is a major player in the production of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing 14.5% — second only to the energy sector. Cattle make up two thirds of that total mainly due to methane emissions. Methane has a damaging environmental impact due to its ability to trap heat, which causes rising temperatures than in turn causes rising sea levels and extreme weather events. 

On the industrial level, emissions from the top 20 meat and dairy companies exceed the emissions produced by countries such as Germany, Canada, and the UK. On an individual level, switching from a high meat to a plant-forward diet could reduce your carbon footprint by about one ton of CO2 per year.

Food For Thought

While the consequences of climate change are immense and often difficult to digest, being more informed about the impact of your individual choices can make all the difference. Knowing the meat and dairy industry’s negative environmental impact might give you the motivation you need to reduce your animal product consumption and welcome more greens and grains into your diet. 

You can be confident that Thistle will be with you every step of the way!



SOURCES

Meat and Dairy Production | Our World in Data

Western diet | Medical dictionary

Changing diets | IFPRI

 Meat and Animal Feed | Global Agriculture

How Industrialized Meat Production Causes Land Degradation | Population Education

Food waste | Environment Review Yale

The Environmental Impact of Food Waste | Move For Hunger


WATER USE IN LIVESTOCK | FAO

The Water Footprint of Food | Foodprint

Plant-Based Diets | Clean Water Action

Emissions by sector| Our World In Data

Get meals delivered to your door
We believe eating delicious is crucial to a healthy diet. Each week, our team of chefs design a new menu for what's in season, fresh and flavorful.
TRY THISTLE
Posted 
Jul 2, 2021
 in 
Community
 category.
Summary

Why Is Meat Production Bad for the Environment?

While buzzwords like vegetarianism, veganism, and plant-based are more popular than ever, global demand for meat, including beef, pork, chicken, and lamb, has tripled in the past 50 years – due primarily to a growing global population. This increased demand for meat is paralleled by rising temperatures and sea levels, i.e. global warming. 

While on the surface these might seem like two separate phenomena, a closer look reveals the undeniable link between meat production and climate change. 

The relationship between the livestock industry – the rearing of animals to produce dairy and meat products (think cattle ranching and dairy farms) – and climate change is becoming more apparent with population growth and globalization influencing a global shift towards the so-called Western Diet, which is basically pounds and pounds of meat (usually red meat) paired with high amounts of saturated fat and sugar. 

Red meat consumption is considered a central component of the Western diet, which has become more prevalent with rising incomes and urbanization occurring on a global-scale, with phrases like “grass-fed beef” and “choice Angus” bringing a premium allure to those who can afford it. 

At Thistle, we take climate change seriously, which is why we are dedicated to providing a delicious array of nutritious ready-to-eat meals that make a plant-forward lifestyle easy-to-follow and enjoyable. 

We try to always educate ourselves on the relationship between food and the environment, and we want to provide that knowledge to our Thistlers, too, so that you can make informed, empowered decisions. 

Read on to learn some more on the environmental impact of eating meat.

Meat Production and Land Use

Factory farms are the largest user of land resources globally with 80% of total agricultural land used to grow the crops that feed animals. Beef production is the biggest culprit, using up 60% of the world’s arable land – even though it accounts for only 2% of calories consumed worldwide! On a global scale, a meat-based diet requires almost three times more land than a plant-based diet. 

As populations continue to grow and meat demand increases, more and more deforestation is likely to occur, too, to make room for pasture lands for beef cattle. Forests are crucial to maintaining biodiversity in wildlife and also are important carbon sink lands, absorbing carbon dioxide from the environment. 

Cutting down trees releases all the absorbed CO2 – putting it back into the atmosphere – and irrevocably damages wildlife habitats – contributing to an increase in endangered species by rupturing whole ecosystems paired with biodiversity loss. 

Livestock land use also endangers ecosystems through soil erosion, caused by excessive grazing without leaving enough time for the land to recover and regrow. When soil is exposed through grazing, it is more easily swept away by water and wind and is often deposited in waterways. This runoff results in clogging waterways and rivers, and the deposit of pesticides and fertilizers that are toxic to animal species. 

In the U.S., 85% of soil erosion is caused by industrialized livestock production. 

What’s more, soil erosion makes the land less absorbent and therefore more susceptible to flooding. It is a dangerous cycle, with flooding further contributing to soil erosion and therefore causing more environmental damage. 

Because of the fast turn out for meat production, farmers tend to use monoculture – growing one type of crop on a piece of land, which in turn reduces the nutritional value of soil. This means that farmers need to use fertilizers and pesticides to provide enough nutrients to grow crops. These additives are harmful to wildlife and worsen water pollution. 

Meat production is a culprit in both excessive land use and detrimental use of land. The amount required to produce 4 grams of beef would produce 100 grams of plant-based protein, which puts into perspective just how much land could be spared from intensive farming practices if we all shifted towards a plant-forward diet. 

Meat Production and Food Waste

Most land used for meat production is to feed the livestock. 70, 85 and 95 percent of soy, corn, and oats respectively are grown to feed livestock – even though these crops are all fit for human consumption and make up an important portion of a plant-based diet. 

According to a study, shifting to plant-based diets in the U.S. would help feed 350 million people – more than the current population of the U.S.! 

All the resources required for animal agriculture mean that food waste from meat and dairy has a much larger environmental impact than wasted fruit, vegetables, and grains. Throwing out one kilo of beef wastes approximately 13,200 gallons of water while pouring out one glass of milk would waste only about 264 gallons! 

Meat Production and Water Use

Speaking of water, did you know that approximately 10% of water flow worldwide is used for rearing livestock? This is a considerable amount when we consider the threat of water scarcity as populations increase and climate-change induced draughts become more frequent. 

You might be surprised to know that your diet has the largest impact on your individual water footprint, with a plant-based diet significantly lowering it. In fact, studies indicate that going plant-based can reduce your water consumption by as much as half. 

Meat Production and Pollution

Now that we have covered the resources that meat production uses up, let’s talk about what it lets off. The animal agriculture industry is a major player in the production of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing 14.5% — second only to the energy sector. Cattle make up two thirds of that total mainly due to methane emissions. Methane has a damaging environmental impact due to its ability to trap heat, which causes rising temperatures than in turn causes rising sea levels and extreme weather events. 

On the industrial level, emissions from the top 20 meat and dairy companies exceed the emissions produced by countries such as Germany, Canada, and the UK. On an individual level, switching from a high meat to a plant-forward diet could reduce your carbon footprint by about one ton of CO2 per year.

Food For Thought

While the consequences of climate change are immense and often difficult to digest, being more informed about the impact of your individual choices can make all the difference. Knowing the meat and dairy industry’s negative environmental impact might give you the motivation you need to reduce your animal product consumption and welcome more greens and grains into your diet. 

You can be confident that Thistle will be with you every step of the way!



SOURCES

Meat and Dairy Production | Our World in Data

Western diet | Medical dictionary

Changing diets | IFPRI

 Meat and Animal Feed | Global Agriculture

How Industrialized Meat Production Causes Land Degradation | Population Education

Food waste | Environment Review Yale

The Environmental Impact of Food Waste | Move For Hunger


WATER USE IN LIVESTOCK | FAO

The Water Footprint of Food | Foodprint

Plant-Based Diets | Clean Water Action

Emissions by sector| Our World In Data

Get meals delivered to your door
We believe eating delicious is crucial to a healthy diet. Each week, our team of chefs design a new menu for what's in season, fresh and flavorful.
TRY THISTLE
Posted 
Jul 2, 2021
 in 
Community
 category.