The True Cost of Meat
Cultivating animals for food has profound ecological consequences. When you include the land, food, water, and energy it takes, the cost is astonishing. So the next time you’re eying that delicious, fatty steak in the supermarket, consider some of the following:
Animal farms use a tremendous amount of land. 30% of the Earth’s land mass is used for raising animals, grazing, and growing animal feed. That makes it the most land intensive industry in the world. Over 260 million acres of forest have been cleared to grow animal feed crops in the U.S. and worldwide, more than 7 acres of land are being bulldozed every minute to clear more room for livestock production.
Almost half of all water used in the U.S. goes toward raising animals for food. It takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce a single pound of meat. In terms of water saved, eating one less pound of meat is roughly the same as if you avoided showering for 6 months! And much less stinky. Water contamination is also a pandemic problem with farming animals, which have already polluted 35,000 miles of rivers across the country.
Meat production is extremely energy intensive. 11 times more fossil fuel is used to create one calorie from animal protein than is needed to produce the same from plant protein. You know that scary pollution monster in Ferngully? Yeah, that’s what happens when you raise delicious animals.
Raising animals for food produces large amounts of greenhouse gases. In fact, the United Nations has identified livestock as the greatest threat to the climate. Livestock produces more than a third of the world’s methane–a gas which heats the atmosphere 20 times more than carbon dioxide. In total, livestock operations are responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Raising livestock requires large volumes of food, which brings with it its own ecological costs. More than 70% of grain grown in the U.S. is used to feed farmed animals. Think of all the grain alcohol we could distill if we stopped raising animals for food! Who needs meat when you’ve got whiskey? Amazingly, it can take as much as 16 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat.
In the Immortal Words of Lenin: What Is To Be Done?
Knowing these statistics is liable to make the most carnivorous among us go vegan–and we would be well to do so. The ecological costs of raising plants for human consumption are negligible compared to doing the same with animals. If every American simply substituted vegetarian options for one chicken meal per week, the carbon dioxide savings would be equivalent to taking 500,000 cars off the roads. So when you’re planning your diet, even if going entirely vegetarian or vegan seems too intimidating or unappealing, at least consider the occasional substitution. Think of the children!
[Photocredit: NDSU; Janie Hernandez;