Editing Office - Geneva
You walk into a burger restaurant. What’s going through your mind? Double meat with extra bacon and cheese? Brown bun or added slice of avocado? Environmental degradation or ecological preservation? You probably don’t think about the latter. But maybe you should. Research shows that if cows were a nation, they would be the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter. As humans, meat production is one of the most destructive ways in which we leave our footprint on the planet. Hectares of rainforest in South America are cleared for cattle, to make our favorite classic burgers and steaks. One average quarter pounder beef burger drains around 1,695 liters of water, depending on where it is made, from precious resources. Yet our demand for meat is going up. The Food and Agriculture Organization projects an increase of 76 per cent in global meat consumption by 2050. More meat will be eaten than ever before in our history. And we will pay the environmental and human price—unless we make a change now.
Hidden costs add up
“We need to be realistic. Cutting meat out of the diet entirely is for many people just not an option,” said James Lomax, Sustainable Food Systems and Agriculture Programme Management Officer at UN Environment. “Livestock production is a really important source of vitamins and protein—and income generation—for the world’s poor. And, small organic husbandry operations have a very different environmental footprint compared with industrial type livestock production,” he said. From grazing and pastoral systems in Africa and Latin America, to draft power in Asia and industrial farms in Europe and North America, each system has advantages and disadvantages, he added. “But at the core of the environmental issue is the way meat is produced, and crucially, consumed. We must explore ways to strike an ecological balance. Reducing intensively farmed meat consumption is good for people and the planet. That means eating a sustainably reared or alternative burger or steak now and then, rather than an intensively-farmed mass-produced version three times a week.”