Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

22 Apr 2024

To meat or not to meat, that is the question

Posted by Michael Keating

When I was growing up, having a steak was a big deal. It was usually a fairly thin piece of meat, often overcooked, a bit tough and shared at the table. As I grew older, I continued to enjoy various meats but the news about their environmental impacts is enough to give one indigestion. I recently saw another article which reminded me that the more meat I consumed the more I was contributing to greenhouse gases. The figures for beef are shocking. According to a United Nations web page more than 70 kilograms of greenhouse gases are released to produce a kilogram of beef. For lamb it is near 40 kg. of greenhouse gases, for pork, 12.3 and for poultry 9.9 kg. Fish comes in at 13.6. Cheese, another of my favourite foods, also comes in high at 23.9 because it comes from cows. Plant-based foods have a much smaller greenhouse gas footprint but not all are guilt free. Large areas of tropical forests are being cleared to plant soy or palm trees to produce oil.

Where do the climate impacts come from? They include methane from the digestive process of ruminant animals such as cattle and sheep, nitrous oxide from fertilizers, carbon dioxide from cutting and burning forests for the expansion of farmland, and the removal of CO2 absorbing mangroves to make room for shrimp farming. More emissions come from manure management, rice cultivation, burning of crop residues and the use of fuel in food production. An estimate in Nature magazine said agriculture may be responsible for approximately 15 per cent of current warming levels.

What can we do? Quite a few companies are producing meat substitutes made from vegetables with varying degrees of success. Some companies are growing real meat in laboratories but it is still expensive to produce. An increasing number of people are becoming vegetarians and many more are limiting meat in their diet, myself included. It’s the fastest way to reduce the environmental impact of food production.

And, Happy Earth Day everyone.

Source: United Nations

Comments are closed.