Deadly impact of growing demand for meat

Posted: 7 July 2004

The growing demand for meat has become a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future, according to US experts.

Writing in the Washington-based World Watch magazine, the authors say total meat consumption has increased five-fold in the past half century, putting extreme pressure on Earth's limited resources, including water, land, feed, and fuel.

In a survey of each major category of environmental impact regarded as critical to the sustainability of civilization, they reveal how central a challenge this issue has become.

Deforestation

The world's appetite for meat is destroying forests at an accelerating rate. In Central America, 40 per cent of all the rainforests have been cleared or burned down in the last 40 years, mostly for cattle pasture. In the process, natural ecosystems where a variety of plant and animal species thrive are destroyed and replaced with monoculture grass. Fresh water

Water experts calculate that humans are now taking half the available fresh water on the planet-leaving the other half to be divided among a million or more species. Producing 8 ounces of beef requires 25,000 litres of water.

Waste disposal

Waste from livestock production exceeds the capacity of the planet to absorb it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that livestock waste has polluted more than 27,000 miles of rivers.

Energy consumption

It takes far more fossil-fuel energy to produce and transport meat than to deliver equivalent amounts of protein from plant sources. This heavy use of carbon-rich fuels also contributes significantly to the emissions of global-warming gases. Food productivity

In the United States, 56 million acres of land produce hay for livestock. Only 4 million acres produce vegetables for human consumption, according to the US Department of Commerce. Such inefficient use of land means that food production will not keep up with population growth.

Diseases

Mass production of livestock has generated large-scale increases in both infectious diseases and degenerative or "lifestyle" diseases.

Biodiversity

As Earth becomes more crowded, poor populations are increasingly venturing into wildlife reserves for meat. Poaching and black marketeering of bush meat is decimating remaining populations of gorillas, chimpanzees, and other primates.

Source: Worldwatch Institute