(NaturalNews) Global demand for meat is growing. From 1971 to 2010, worldwide production of meat tripled to around 600 billion pounds. At this rate, production will double by 2050 to approximately 1.2 trillion pounds per year. Various factors fuel the demand: growing affluence of developing nations such as China, India, and Brazil, marketing forces, diet fads, and other social factors. While increasing meat consumption carries with it various health implications such as the elevation of cholesterol and exposure to exogenous hormones and antibiotics, the surging demand for meat and animal products also has implications for the environment.
Industrial meat production is a leading cause of many ecological problems. The livestock sector is by far the single largest user of land. Grazing occupies 26% of the Earth`s terrestrial surface, while feed crop production requires about a third of all arable land. Expansion of grazing land for livestock is a key factor in deforestation. The disappearance and degradation of forests rob the world of crucial "carbon sinks", the vast tracts of trees and vegetation that absorb carbon dioxide.
Rearing animals on a large scale basis also generates substantial amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, and thereby raises global temperature. Farming equipments and irrigation pumps generate carbon dioxide. Fertilizer applied to soil generates nitrous oxide, which has about 300 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide. The decomposition of manure releases millions of tons of methane and nitrous oxide into the air annually. According to U.N. estimates, farm animals around the world generate 18% of the greenhouse gas emissions, more than the 13% from cars, buses and airplanes combined.
According to the latest findings from Environmental Working Group, consuming lamb, beef, and cheese have the worst environmental impact because they require the most resources - mainly chemical fertilizer, feed, fuel, pesticides and water. Lamb also generates the most greenhouse gases, followed by beef and cheese. However, since lamb comprises only 1% of U.S. meat consumption, the overall greenhouse emission in the U.S. from lamb is less compared to that generated by consuming beef (30% of U.S meat consumption) and cheese (30 pounds per person annually on average). Chicken requires less feed than lamb, beef, and pork (the fourth highest emission), and chickens generate no methane.
To put the intensive demand of meat production into practical terms, if all Americans were to abstain from meat for once a week, that would be equivalent to not driving 91 billion miles. Since it takes about 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, consuming a pound less beef is the equivalent to a person not using any household water for 25 days (average water use per person in U.S. is about 100 gallons/day). Therefore, the most effective and efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts from livestock is simply to eat less meat and cheese.
Other actions that we can take to reduce emissions include consuming more foods that are organic and locally-grown. Eating organic will minimize the use of pesticides, and eating locally helps reduce the carbon foot-print associated with transportation. Wasting less food also helps reduce emission. Most of the emission attributed to waste comes from producing the food that is ultimately discarded; all the resources associated with producing and transporting food turn to waste because the food was not consumed.
A little mindfulness when it comes to everyday choices goes a long way. Simple individual actions can have global effects on the sustainability of the environment.