The meat industry is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases, mainly methane, leading to climate change and global warming. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock industry accounts for around 14.5% of the carbon emissions. It is likely to increase two-fold times in the next 30 years. Let’s dive into detail about the environmental impact of the meat industry.
How does the meat industry affect the environment?
The production of meat has three major environmental issues viz manure processing, feed sourcing, and climate change. Producing meat requires large amounts of feed for which a million acres of area has been converted into livestock feeding. This leads to deforestation. The conversion of natural habitat for agricultural fields leads to pollution and carbon emissions, leading to climate change. The crop fields are treated with fertilizers and other toxic chemicals in excess quantities than required by the plant, which leads to contamination of water. As the manure decomposes, it releases harmful gases like methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change and global warming.
China is one of the significant consumers of meat in the world. The statistics show that the country consumes 28 percent of the world’s meat—twice as much as the United States. Chinas love for meat has become a threat to the environment. Chinese eat around 140 pounds of meat in a year.
The primary concern over the years has been how to meet the increased demand for meat without disturbing the environment and rising global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. The production of meat involves many climatic changes and other environmental issues at every stage of production. It leads to an increase in greenhouse gases, mainly methane, which is more potent than carbon dioxide. All these leads to change in climatic conditions detrimental to both human and animal life. China is one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the world. Its livestock industry is responsible for producing half the world’s pork and 10 percent of the world’s beef. If the meat consumption increases like this, the country will account for growth in greenhouse-gas emissions from 1.2 gigatons in 2015 to 1.8 gigatons by 2030. In the United States also, animal agriculture contributes around 2.8% of the greenhouse gas emissions. The statistics might seem meager but are not complete. 2.8% is only from the eccentric fermentation and manure. The whole process of meat production contributes to 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is alarming.
Apart from these environmental impact of the meat industry, meat production also causes water shortage and scarcity. It also leads to water contamination. This contaminated water can lead to health problems like blue babies and miscarriages. Harmful gases like nitrogen and phosphorus from manure cause eutrophication, which leads to the death of fishes. Around 35,000 miles of rivers are contaminated by waste from hogs, chickens, and cattle in the US. The conversion of forest land into land for livestock feed and cattle ranchers. All this leads to deforestation, which increases the emission of carbon dioxide and the loss of biodiversity. The statistics state that 40% of the rain forests have been cleared burned down for cattle rearing in the last 40 years. This data clearly shows the environmental impact of the meat industry in the US and China.