Sunday, February 22, 2015

Eating Beef Comes With a Cost

There are many different ways that the environment can be impacted by the choices that people make in their day-to-day lives. One choice that is starting to appear more in the headlines deals with what people are eating. Every year people are consuming millions of pounds of meat. It’s not meat in general that’s causing a major problem, but specifically raising livestock to support the consumption of beef. About 40% of the land on our planet is used to grow food, with 30% of that land being used to support the livestock that feed us.

Compared to other meats, like poultry and pork, raising beef requires more land and water usage. It also produces more carbon emissions that are being released into the atmosphere. The problems don’t stop there though. Aquatic dead zones, ozone depletion, deforestation and nitrogen pollution from fertilizers have all been found to be problems that can be caused by the raising of livestock. If nitrogen levels get too high in a body of water, algae blooms can develop and that causes the oxygen levels to be depleted. This can cause harm to aquatic environments and lead to the dead zones being found.

An aquatic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that’s caused by excessive amounts of nutrients from fertilizers and runoff. 

Deforestation is also a common problem associated with raising livestock. Forests are cleared so that the land can be used to raise livestock. However, forests are also cleared so that crops can be grown on that land in order to feed the animals. The Amazon Rainforest is well known for being subjected to deforestation. Raising cattle is one of the biggest contributors to deforestation in that region. It has caused such a problem that supermarkets in Brazil have decided to no longer sell meat that comes from cattle being raised in the Amazon.

Setting fires is a method used to clear land for cattle in the Amazon. 

In recent years, countries around the world have been working toward cutting their carbon emissions. Typically the highest contributors to carbon pollution are the transportation and energy industries. The United Nations are trying to eliminate some of these emissions, but it will not make that much of a difference due to increasing emissions caused by the agricultural business. In order to decrease the agriculture emissions there has to be a decrease in consumption of meat and dairy products.

It’s clear that actions need to be taken to minimize the impacts to the environment caused by raising livestock. New technological advances and increased efficiency in meat and dairy production can help with this. The biggest contributor to helping the environment appears to be people themselves. There are people out there that are making dietary choices to lessen the environmental impact. Most wouldn't cut meat out of their diets completely, but even cutting back on consumption could make a difference. Improvements need to be made and consumption of beef and dairy products needs to be reduced in order to protect our environment.

1 comment:


    Here is a "lifestyle" article from the Wash. Post that includes analysis of data about environmental benefits of *how* cattle are raised. Conclusion? The benefit (or not) depends on the management approach (density per area, etc.).