The world is eating too much meat, and that’s bad news for the earth’s forests, arable land, and scarce water. That’s the conclusion of a report released this week by the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.
Global production of meat hit a new high of 308.5 million tons last year, up 1.4 percent, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the report says. “In response to growing purchasing power, urbanization, and changing diets, meat production has expanded more than fourfold over just the last fifty years says the new report, entitled “Peak Meat Production Strains Land and Water Resources.”
While average annual consumption of meat in 2013 reached 42.9 kilograms per person, many people still consume far less, which means production growth is unlikely to stall soon. People in developing countries are eating less than half the quantity of meat consumed by those in developed nations, 33.7 kg. as compared to 75.9 kg, the report points out.
Not surprisingly, Asia, home to the fast-growing, populous countries has already become the world’s largest meat-producing region. In 2013, it produced 131.5 million tons of meat, about 43 percent of world output. Europe, by contrast, accounted for 58.5 million tons, North America, 47.2 million, and South America, 39.9 million.
Raising all that livestock requires lots of land and water. More than two thirds of all agricultural land is used for animal pasture, with an additional 10 percent used to grow feed grains consumed by meat- and dairy-producing animals. Agriculture overall consumes about 70 percent of the world’s fresh water, a third of which goes just to grow feed grains.
“Industrial methods in the livestock sector cut down forests to expand grazing lands and use large quantities of water. Production uses crops such as corn and soybeans for animal feed and relies on heavy doses of antibiotics in animals” says Worldwatch Institute Senior Researcher Michael Renner. The rise in meat consumption is also bad news for the effort to limit global warming. See our post to learn about the surprisingly strong connection between raising livestock and climate change.
All of this adds up to a very scary picture of what the ever-increasing demand for meat means for our planet. Let’s hope we can get the word out before we have no planet left.