A substantial 26% of the earth’s ice-free land is used by animals we breed to eat or milk. However, the impact of the meat industry, particularly cows, on the environment is not as clear-cut as it may be portrayed. Structural changes mean there is a slow shift into the industrialisation of breeding livestock. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) has freed parts of land from cattle and is now a key characteristic of the meat business. Without much concern, animals have been confined together in unventilated barns, and endure much suffering. Nevertheless, cheap meat continues to be a popular demand for people across the world.
The reputation livestock has received over its impact on the environment has been extensive. Whether it be direct, such as land compression by large herds, or indirect, such as the deforestation caused by growing food for CAFO.
Though, much rhetoric of the practices that occur in the meat industry ignores other substantial environmental issues. Methane, for example, is the second largest greenhouse-gas produced by the agricultural sector, and cows are commonly used as the scapegoat. Though research shows cattle methane production increases by low-quality food (often used by CAFO), and measures can be taken to prevent this. On the other hand, rice-fields account for up to 20% methane production and CAFO requires stored anaerobic lagoons to treat animal refuse which has increased methane in the atmosphere. These man-made ‘sustainable’ alternatives have not resolved any issues but may have resulted in higher risks of air and water pollution.
Furthermore, animal feed needs to be transported, sometimes through multiple countries and has taken up 1/3 of the world’s agriculture produce as animals are no longer free to graze on land. The prior issue, where large herds of cattle caused land degradation and biodiversity loss, is shifting to livestock using resources that could be used to feed the hungry, environmental issues deriving from animal food transportation and an increasing worry of the health consequences for humans.
Red Meat & Well-Being
Meat offers a range of vital protein, nutrients, and minerals needed for our bodies, such as zinc, iron, and B-12. Research by archaeologists shows humans have been eating meat dating as far back as 2.5 million years ago and continues to be 1/3 of the world’s main source of protein.
On the other hand, the right to life for animals, environmental issues and healthy lifestyle promotions that are seen often in today, has propelled a surge in the number of vegetarians and vegans across the world. Not only this, but the increasing knowledge about multiple health risks red meat may cause has stretched this issue further. In developed countries, nutrient-based illnesses are not a commonality, whereas chronic diseases are. Mounting research has found correlations between red meat and non-communicable diseases, and also how eating little red meat has improved health benefits.
So, what should we do?… Researchers argue that reducing the amount of meat in diets will not majorly contribute to a healthy lifestyle without cutbacks on unhealthy fats and sugary foods. To improve health whilst supporting the conservation of the planet can be achieved by individual choice. For instance, eating locally produced food, according to what is available during seasonal changes and carefully choosing meat suppliers.
CAFO: Anti-Biotic Resistance
Ranging from birth defects and brain damage to depression and a growing fear of anti-bacterial resistance, CAFO meat is circulating serious health concerns to humans. Half of the world’s antibiotics are used on animals living in CAFO settings. This is so animals can recover from illness and infection quicker and promote growth, and so, larger profits.
While the use of antibiotics on animals passing on microbial contamination to humans has unclear data, there is a significant indication that it is a problem to human wellbeing. Research shows anti-bacterial resistance strains within animals is possibly pathogenic to humans. Multiple sources have concluded there is insufficient data on the matter and even though the phenomenon remains to be proved, its risk should not be brushed aside.
An option for change for the environment, our health and animal rights could be to reduce the production of meat and allow for organic meat industries to grow instead of CAFO. Though, in a profit-driven world alongside high demand, is this beyond the realms of possibility?
The Future of Meat Eating
Of course, there is much more to say about the impact of red meat on humans and the environment that can fit into a blog, nevertheless, the industry undoubtedly has a considerable impact on both matters. Taking this into account, being able to support environmental causes but also being able to eat meat safely is a possibility. Consumers need to be proactive in implementing changes to considerably improve on meat production and consumption matters politically and personally, for example:
- Advocate for the reduction of red meat production (reducing CAFO, deforestation and manure lagoons).
- Consuming meat at balanced levels – cutting down on red meat for health and environmental considerations
- Quality of meat – factory-farmed practices goes against the ethical beliefs of many individuals so eating organic where producers are inclined to follow strict regimes supporting the environment, animal welfare and avoid anti-biotic contamination would be ideal.
The shifts in demography and urbanisation have fostered a change in demand, as well as diet across the globe. Agricultural industries are one of the most important livelihood contributors across the developed and developing world. It is important to raise awareness, knowledge, and information across all aspects of the meat industry whilst improving standards of living and meeting the needs of citizens. At the same time as, working on reducing the environmental impact and cultivating sustainable methods for the meat industry. Cooperative policies in addressing agricultural meat and the problems it causes for the environment and health needs to be suited to respective states.
With a growing population concerned with health and global warming, is no red meat the answer?