Food sustainability is a meaty topic.
Meat consumption today is high and rising.
The average North American consumes the equivalent of two large burgers a day in beef, chicken, pork, and other species. It’s more than most of our ancestors ate, and more than is good for the planet or our health. You may know vegetarians or people who have cut back on their meat intake. But on the whole, around the world, per-person consumption of animal foods continues to climb.
Large-scale meat production is hard on the environment.
Increasing meat consumption has put a lot of livestock on the planet – about 25 billion at the moment. Yes, that's 25 billion animals, more than three times the number of people. Raising billions of livestock requires a lot of land, feed, fresh water, pesticides, and fertilizers. It needs territory for pasture and feedcrops, land that could be used to grow grains and vegetables directly for people. Making this much meat adds to climate change, drives deforestation, and pollutes the water.
Large-scale meat consumption is hard on our health.
Though eating animal foods in small amounts provides calories and nutrients, large-scale meat intake is a factor in obesity, strokes, heart disease, and some cancers. Most meat at our supermarkets comes from factory farms, which fuel pandemics such as avian and swine flus, and contribute to antibiotic resistance. On top of it, factory farming defies basic animal welfare, and drives small livestock farmers out of business. Industrial meat production contradicts many of our hopes and aspirations for the well-being of all.
The problem is one of scale.
For environment and health, there’s nothing wrong with livestock and there’s nothing wrong with meat – in moderation. But with almost seven billion people on the planet, many of them striving for meat-centred meals as in wealthy countries, there’s not enough planet to go around.
Meat can be made more sustainably, but we also need to cut consumption to moderate levels for the 21st Century.
Producers are working on ways to turn out chicken wings, pork chops, and steaks with fewer greenhouse gases and less pollution. But experts have crunched the numbers and shown that planetary resources are insufficient to make meat for everyone to eat large quantities daily. One group of scientists suggests that citizens of industrialized countries will need to decrease their meat consumption by more than half. But no-one needs to stop eating animal foods who doesn’t want to. We can erase the dichotomy between vegetarians and meat-eaters. We’re all omnivores, all capable of thriving on a variety of foods and all with the same planet to save.
We’ll need help from our governments and policy-makers, to shape food systems for ecology and community well-being.
This website will provide information on how to take citizen action for ecological food systems, how to support sustainable, healthy, and compassionate livestock production, and how to modify our diets for ecosystems and for health.
Greenpeace (2009) Slaughtering the Amazon.Netherlands: Greenpeace International.
Lang, T. (2009) Reshaping the Food System for Ecological Public Health. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, 4:3-4, 315-335.
McMichael, A. et al. (2007) Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health. The Lancet. Sept. 13, 2007
MacMillan,T. & Durrant, R. (2009) Livestock consumption and climate change. A framework for dialogue. London: Food Ethics Council and WWF-UK.
Pew (2008) Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America. Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production.
Steinfeld, H. et al. (2006) Livestock’s Long Shadow. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
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