In 2013, global meat production reached its highest level at 308.5 million tons, a 1.4% increase from the prior year. Due to a number of factors such as growing purchasing power, urbanization, and changing diets, the WorldWatch Report has determined that meat production has increased more than fourfold since 1961. The report was accompanied by a press release titled “Peak Meat Production Strains Land and Water Resources”, which additionally stated that meat production has increased 25-fold in the last two centuries. Although this has positive side effects for those working in the meat industry, the implications for the environment could be detrimental.
Asia is by far the largest meat producing region and is responsible for 43% of world meat output. Raising the amount of livestock required to produce this amount of meat takes a substantial amount of natural resources. Two-thirds of all agricultural land is used for animal pasture, and an additional 10% is used to grow the grains for later consumption by animals. Ranching in these pastures is a main cause of deforestation. When deforestation occurs, less greenhouse gases are able to be absorbed by trees, further exacerbating climate change.
Livestock production also produces more than 100 polluting gases. Consequently, researchers from Cambridge and Aberdeen Universities predict that if current rates of meat and dairy consumption continue, greenhouse gases emitted from food production will increase by 80% from their current levels. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) measured that 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse emissions come from meat production, which is surprisingly more than transportation.
There are numerous methods that could be employed to mitigate this issue. In the United Kingdom, Paul McCartney and Greg Barker have teamed up to promote a weekly event called “No Meat Mondays” in order to lessen meat consumption. According to Barker, giving up meat once a week is the equivalent of not driving your car for one month. Other ways to combat the problem at home are to decrease food waste and eat a healthier diet. A number of agricultural alternatives in meat production would also lessen the environmental impact of meat production. These include using grass as opposed to grain for feed, implementing natural fertilizers, and ending factory-style production.
In developing countries, people are eating less than half the quantity of meat consumed by fully-developed countries: 33.7 kilograms compared to 75.9 kilograms. Even so, the gap between these types of countries is slowly narrowing and could imply even higher levels of meat consumption as other countries model a more “American” diet. The meat industry globally provided about 22.4 billion dollars in exports in the first quarter of 2014 alone, but these figures will fluctuate with variations in purchasing patterns. Still, analysts predict another successful year for meat production. The profits are bound to be plentiful for industry workers, but the effects will impact us all.