We often watch movies and read articles about how the planet degenerates day after day. We know that thousands of animals are going extinct, entire habitats are disappearing, glaciers are melting, and contagious diseases are increasingly deadly and frequent. But, is there anything we can do to prevent this from happening? Stopping meat consumption is one of the best things we can do for the environment, and we explain why.
Deforestation is a type of environmental degradation closely linked to the expansion of livestock because native forests (tropical forests) are often cleared or intensely burned to generate grasslands to feed animals.
The livestock industry is one of the leading causes of deforestation in all Amazonian countries and contributes to 80% of the forest's deforestation. The Amazon forest fires that shocked the world in 2019, for example, were started by ranchers willing to create some free space for grasslands. As a result, their activities ended in the devastation of an area 85% larger than the previous year.
Aside from that, deforestation creates fields for cultivating grain crops that will feed farm animals raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products worldwide: Around three-quarters of global soybeans are used for animal feed. By 2050, soybean production would need to increase by almost 80% to 390 million tons and more than 265 million tons of corn would be required to feed all the animals destined for our dishes.
So even if you don't eat meat that comes from the of the Amazon rainforest (which you probably do without knowing it), but you do eat animal products, you are also contributing to deforestation since this livestock comes from equally important ecosystems, such as the prairies in North America, the Brazilian Cerrado or Argentina Gran Chaco ecosystem.
"By decreasing pressure on land, reducing demand through diet change could also allow a decrease in meat production intensity. This could reduce soil erosion and provide benefits to a variety of other indicators such as deforestation and land degradation," according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
2) Climate change
When we often think about climate change, the image of many cars on highways frequently comes to our minds. However, by contrast, livestock farming is the activity that produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars, totaling 14.5% of all emissions caused by human activities, according to the FAO, and 72 to 78% of total agricultural emissions, according to a study from the University of Oxford.
In 2016, just three of the largest meat companies in the world, JBS, Cargill, and Tyson, were responsible for more greenhouse gases (GHG) than all of France. The five largest companies are responsible for emitting more GHG than the largest oil companies, such as Exxon, Shell, and BP.
In recent years, we start noticing the catastrophic effects of climate change: global temperatures rising, ocean temperatures heating up, ice sheets losing thickness and size, glaciers melting, sea levels rising and heatwaves, droughts, rainfall and floods becoming more frequent. According to a report by UN human rights expert Philip Alston, the growing climate crisis could also threaten democracy and civil and political rights.
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that "a dietary shift away from meat can reduce GHG emissions, reduce cropland and pasture requirements, enhance biodiversity protection, and reduce mitigation costs". The organization highlights that a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health-promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average ‘meat-based’ diet.
3) Water and soil contamination
Agriculture is responsible for up to 92% of our use of fresh water, and animal products are directly related to almost a third of that, without counting indirect consumption, since most of the grains that are used for cattle feeding.
Animal products' water footprint is way larger than vegetables'. Let's see it with examples. While most vegetables have an average water footprint of 322 liters per kg and fruits 962, chicken consumes 4,325l / kg, beef, an absurd 15,415l / kg, and, per liter of milk, 1020 liters of water are used.
Also, if we reduce the consumption of animal products, we also reduce water contamination, even the aquifers. Most water used for animal production returns to the environment in the form of manure or wastewater, and its droppings are rich in a series of substances, which include nutrients that can cause eutrophication of water, drugs, heavy metals and pathogens.
4) Reduction of biodiversity
A study published in the National Academy of Sciences shows that, currently, 70% of the biomass of birds on the planet are farmed chickens, geese and others, 60% of all mammals are mainly cattle and pigs raised for food, 36% are human and only 4% are wild animals. This disproportionate number of farm animals currently lives where wild species once lived.
The effects of livestock production are felt in 23 of the 35 "global areas of high biodiversity concentration" on the Conservation International list, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Let's be clear: Animal production is directly related to biodiversity and wildlife loss, either through the loss of habitat, the slaughter and starving of wild animals, overfishing, pollution of ecosystems, or exacerbation of the effects of climate change.
"If we do not preserve biodiversity, we are also in danger. The situation is bringing our already fragile food security to the brink of collapse”, said former FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva.
Are you also concerned about the environment? Are you thinking about how to reduce your carbon footprint in the world? Let's stop thinking that automobiles, factories, and power plants are the only ones that harm the environment.
Our food can be an effective and immediate way to change the world and support a fairer and more sustainable system that does not harm animals nor the environment. Please consider a diet without meat, milk, or eggs. Click here to know more.