Site icon The Carbon Crisis

11.1 Diet: Meat

Author: Guocheng (Sam) Huang

ABSTRACT: Meat consumption has increased globally, to meet the food security, the meat production will need more land to produce feed-crop and convert nature to farmland. Nevertheless, the production accounts for 14.5 % GHC emission which is challenging the Paris Agreement to keep under 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

(Data source: FAO,


Meat derived from animals has been on human diets for thousands of years, but as the global population rises along with much more food demand, there is a need to ensure food security. According to the statistical data in 2020 from IDTechEx, it revealed that as the global population reaches 10 billion in 2050, the food needs to increase 70 %. The meat production is increasing at a rate of 2 to 3 % per year, as 77 % of agricultural land is for meat production. However, the ways of producing food in the current food system have more negative impacts in the long term than just meet temporary demand (Bittman, 2021). As meat is still the traditional protein source for many nations in their perspective, alongside increasing meat demand, the environmental impacts have been more seriously damaged than ever. The climate, forest, fresh water, ocean, and farming animals are the one suffering the consequences. The current food system has failed to meet the sustainable practice (Biermann & Rau, 2020). Thus, to meet the minimal increase of meat production for the population, it will need more resources including land and water for livestock. However, the adverse environmental impact will come before feeding the entire growing population.

The meat production is largely associated with greenhouse gas (GHG) emission which emits 14.5 % of total GHG globally. Cattle has the highest GHG emission followed by pig production and milk production. There are 44% GHG from methane (CH4), 29 % Nitrous oxide (NO2) and 27% carbon dioxide (CO2), statistics from FAO. The increasing demand for meat requires more land leads to severe deforestation. The Brazilian amazon, one of the victims of beef production has greatly deforested for more pastureland and more crops to feed the livestock (Vale, 2019). The problem with livestock production is it not only consumes a large amount of water (cattle farming and the crop-feed irrigation used the most amount of water) but also the water body is contaminated by the untreated manure (Godfray et al., 2018). There are 98 % of total water usage in meat production for livestock feed. The untreated manure from factory farming contains pathogens and toxins carried through the water bodies further contaminating the crops for humans. Since there is more land conversion to agriculture, the biodiversity is decreasing as farmers prefer to only grow cash-crop (Bittman, 2021). The consequence leads to soil erosion and unfair food trade. Other than what happened on land, in aquaculture, overfishing in the ocean to meet the demand has endangered the fish population, which plays an important role in ecosystem balance (Gordan et al., 2018). The ocean acidification may return consequence for the land. Last but not least, it is commonly known that the factory farming animals are treated unethically, and where the antibiotic was used to prevent disease. Traditional farming (so called organic farming) is more ethical but requires more land and labour countercurrent with the growth-based economic food system. The antibiotic could be more serious than climate change as the COVID-19 pandemic happened in 2019 allegedly from (wild) animals. The mutation of bacteria and viruses could wipe out species easily. In summary, meat production has a serious impact on the environmental issue especially the GHG emission to climate change.

As the global challenge to keep under 2 degree Celsius by 2050 (Ann den Toorn et al, 2019) and carbon is the main reason causing global warming, the solution for decarbonization is to have less meat and animal product or non-meat consumption. There are so-called alternative protein sources like beans, lab-grown meat (Van Loo et al., 2020) which has less environmental impact. Nevertheless, the adverse effect of meat consumption increases chronic diseases (Hallström et al., 2014). Sustainable practice is not just an ethical but also a moral decision. Why need to harm another animal by consuming energy from them as modern science and technologies (fairly, global north, as well as where has most meat consumption by percentage) allows for alternative sources. It is an ethical revolution among humans. We used to fear for nature, we had destroyed it, it is time to protect it.


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Guocheng Huang (B.Sc., M.Sc., Food Science) is a 3rd year fashion design student at Ryerson University and a new immigrant to Toronto. His passion is in sustainable men’s fashion. His goal is to design the sustainable future not the waste. He has previously studied nutrition and worked in the food industry.

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