Green

 

Meat-Eating Wastes HUGES Amount of Water and Resources

07/01/12

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Read More: burger, environment, statistics, vegan, water

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John Robbins was right in his groundbreaking 1988 book, Diet For A New America.  It takes enormous amounts of water and other resources to create meat.  If you don't care about the future of the planet or starvation of those who don't have enough, by all means eat burgers and steaks.

But if you have some sense of social responsibility, read these alarming statistics, and get an understanding of just how wasteful and destrutive to the environment it is to consume animal products.

As Allison Aubrey and Dan Charles reported on NPR's Morning Edition, meat has more of an impact on the environment than any other food we eat. That's because livestock require so much more food, water, land, and energy than plants to raise and transport. (CLICK HERE TO LISTEN to the audio above for their conversation with Morning Edition's Linda Wertheimer.)

Take a look here at what goes into just one quarter-pound of hamburger meat.  

What It Takes To Make A Quarter-Pound Hamburger

Burger resources

Source: J.L. Capper, Journal of Animal Science, December, 2011.

Credit: Producers: Eliza Barclay, Jessica Stoller-Conrad; Designer: Kevin Uhrmacher/NPR

 

And that's not even including the animal's waste or the methane emissions from its digestion.

But there are fewer cows around than there were in the 1970s.

Cattle inventory, in millions

Cattle inventory

Source: Earth Policy Institute

Credit: Angela Wong / NPR

In the meantime, though, farmers and scientists have found ways to get more meat out of every cow. So even though cattle inventory has dropped, the U.S. is still producing more beef now than in the 1970s.

Average dressed weight of cattle (what's used for meat), in pounds

Average dressed weight

Source: USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service

Credit: Kevin Uhrmacher / NPR

And if you look at the past century, meat consumption overall in the U.S. has risen dramatically. It's only in the past few years that it has begun to drop a bit.

U.S. total meat consumption, in billion pounds

U.S. total meat consumption, in billion pounds

Source: Earth Policy Institute

Credit: Angela Wong / NPR

Though meat consumption in the U.S. has dropped off slightly in recent years, at 270.7 pounds per person a year, we still eat more meat per person here than in almost any other country on the planet. Only the Luxumbourgers eat more meat than we do.

Meat Consumption, 2007

Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 2010, Livestock and Fish Primary Equivalent, 02 June 2010, FAOSTAT on-line statistical service, FAO, Rome

As U.S. beef consumption began to decline in the 1970s, poultry began to rise quickly. A couple of years ago, chicken surpassed beef as our No. 1 meat of choice. Our consumption of pork has also risen slightly over the years.

U.S. meat consumption per person, in pounds

U.S. meat consumption per person, in pounds

Source: Earth Policy Institute

Credit: Angela Wong / NPR



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The problem isn't that industrially-produced meat uses large amounts of resources that could be put to other uses (this is true of any industry that uses large amounts of resources in the production of some product). The problem is that people continue to demand such meat. It is a cultural problem, not an environmental problem. The environmental damage is just a symptom. If it is seen as the actual problem, the political solution will likely be to "reform" meat production to be more "environmentally friendly." What is needed instead is a cultural shift towards eating less meat. The best way to bring this about is to go vegan and be an example to others, not tell them that their behavior is destroying the environment. Eating industrial meat is just one of many ways humans are destroying the environment, and anyone who eats meat is likely to rationalize it in such a way, or call for "reform" of the offending industry, or some such half-measure.

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The figure for gallons of water seems to be way off (too low). The normal numbers I've seen at least 2300 gallons per pound (575 per quarter pound). Vegsource had an (old) article citing 12,009 gallons per pound (3,002 per quarter pound). http://www.vegsource.com/articles/pimentel_water.htm

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