The problems surrounding livestock production: how can we reduce our meat consumption?

Max Haase, Staff Writer

Agriculture is among one of the largest contributors to global warming, emitting more greenhouse gases than all of our country’s cars, trains, trucks and planes combined. In the past three decades, global meat production has tripled, and reporters say it could double its current level by 2050. The impact of this “livestock revolution” is projected to have significant ramifications for the health of mankind, the global economy, and, most importantly, the environment.

From an environmental perspective, farming livestock for food requires intensive use of water, fertilizer, pesticides, and fossil fuels. In particular, the beef, pork and poultry industries emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases. Climate change issues related to livestock remain largely unaddressed. Without a change in current practices, increases in livestock production will inflate the environmental impact, playing a large role in ecosystem degradation.

It is hard to focus equally on meat production and consumption, water use, and land conservation, while simultaneously protecting those in the agricultural sector who are dependent on livestock to support themselves. While one solution could be for countries to implement policies that provide incentives for better management practices, at the end of the day it comes down to individual consumer behavior.

Based on global meat consumption statistics, I think it is very unrealistic to expect people on both local and global scales to cut meat out of their diets. A middle ground must be met; if people are informed so that they can make simple choices to help build a more sustainable world, they will be more inclined to make better decisions. The crucial behavioral shift must come from changes in diet.

Although red meat is a high-quality source of dietary protein, containing all of the essential amino acids a person requires to manufacture proteins, there are vegetarian protein sources like lentils and almonds, that fuel and satisfy the body for longer durations of time. There is no harm in experimenting with new grains, beans, or vegetables that can supplement the meats we consume. For those who find it hardest to eliminate meat from their diets and integrate supplementary plant-based foods, minimizing meat consumption at the very least is one step in the right direction.

In my own dietary experience, I have been guilty of heavy red meat consumption. After learning more about the environmental consequences of livestock production, I have grown more cautious about my eating habits. How can I reduce the number of steaks and burgers I eat on a weekly basis? How can I restrict my urge to indulge in my deeply embedded consumption tendencies? It all begins with the small steps, taken day by day. Just because some people stop eating meat, whether for ethical, environmental, or health reasons, the all-or-nothing approach does not work for everyone. Reduction of meat consumption is a more flexible approach that could prove much more adaptive for those who have meat-heavy diets.

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