Whether you’re serious about going vegan (or even just vegetarian) or just want to avoid eating meat for some reason, you’ll probably defend your action with the benefits of eating greens. But when it comes to the eco-friendly side of the story, is eating meat bad for the environment?
Today, meat usually comes from mass-produced cows, pigs, chickens, goats, lambs, and the like. They aren’t hunted from the wild but are raised from farms. That’s because fast-food giants now exist and the overwhelming demand for burgers and various other processed meat products becomes high due to their cheap price.
The mass production of such meat products is the very concern that environmentalists are pointing out. Sure, meat products are okay if they were raised in the right way. However, when you consider the industrial meat system, you’ll find a lot of faults when it comes to eco-friendliness. In this article, we’ll shed a light on why eating meat is bad for the environment and what you can do about it.
To raise cattle and various other livestock, you need a plethora of space for them to graze. The problem with some areas is that they don’t exactly have flat greenery, so they resort to destroying forests by burning them down.
For instance, the Amazon rainforest fires are not always an accident – they could be secretly caused by manufacturers of food items to prepare bigger livestock grazing lands. While your cows and pigs have enough place to be raised for big companies, you are displacing other creatures when you burn down forests, especially if the animals and plants involved are near extinction or are endangered.
Moreover, it’s not just cattle space that’s valuable – even the crops needed to be fed for them. For example, soya is a crop that’s used for feeding livestock, such as cows. This helps them with the manufacturing of dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and butter.
Likewise, as mentioned above, burning trees and forests will cause an environmental consequence. If we no longer have enough trees, we’re cutting down our defense against carbon dioxide emissions and we also get warmer climates due to less protection from the UV rays of the sun.
Transporting Meat Causes Emissions
Moving your product from point A to point B, whether it’s by land, air, or sea, requires transportation. The problem lies in the gas emissions that we create when we transport on the road, on the sea, and up in the air. Carbon dioxide goes into the ozone layer, which further enhances the greenhouse effect, thereby causing global warming and climate change to worsen.
Aside from the issue with fuel emissions, we’re also running out of fossil fuels in the future if we keep depending on transportation this way. Nonetheless, even if cargo trucks and deliveries all switched to cleaner and sustainable energy, such as with the use of electric cars, it would still be a problem if there are too many vehicles on the road out for delivery of pigs and other livestock.
Water Resources Get Depleted
Due to the constant irrigation of grass and feeding livestock, water resources are bound to get depleted with the continuation of mass-produced meat.
To feed cattle, pigs, and other livestock, we’ll need a ton of water. The water resource is not just for irrigating the crops that we’ll feed to the livestock but also needed to clean their pens. The overall result is a threat to the world’s water supply.
When other countries have great droughts and lack of supply and access to clean, potable, and usable water, industries need to use a lot of water just to keep their farms alive and to support large companies. If we could cut down on our production of meat, we’ll conserve water for our future generations.
Consumption of Fossil Fuels
As mentioned above, producing meat from livestock requires transportation, which, in turn, consumes fuel. The fuel system that we’re currently using today is based on fossil fuels, which are not renewable unlike solar, hydro, and wind energy.
Fossil fuels cannot be brought back so easily once wasted – the same goes for mining. If we keep using fossil fuels through constant transport, we’ll end up having little to no resources for the future. Similarly, if we depend on fossil fuels alone, it doesn’t burn clean energy and ends up in the atmosphere, causing global warming to take place.
By lessening the supply and demand of industrial meat, we’re saving tons of barrels of petroleum at hand. In the long run, we’re doing a big favor to Mother Nature if we demand fewer meat products.
Generates a Ton of Raw Waste
If you own a piggery, you’ll know that raw waste is a big problem. This raw waste goes hand in hand with excessive water usage, so it isn’t exactly eco-friendly, either. Therefore, if we reduce our demand for pork, we’ll end up with considerably fewer waste materials to worry about.
Soil Erosion Threats
Soil erosion can be caused by excessive livestock raising. That’s because when you create a livestock farm, you have to perform clearing operations in a given land. If the land doesn’t have stable soil, it could erode. In the same way, soil erosion happens if we often mess up our agricultural land for use in industrial meat production.
Overgrazing is a problem that goes hand in hand with livestock raising. When too many livestock animals graze on a given area, there’s a big chance of soil erosion taking place, destroying homes and properties.
Livestock Food Resources
When we raise a farm of livestock, which includes cows, chickens, pigs, and even a fishery full of marine animals for human consumption, we have to feed them. The problem lies with gathering the necessary food resource, and so we have to plant them somewhere else. This goes to the additional cost of the farmers and the companies.
Aside from the costs, we’re also running out of farmland because we do not have to establish a farm for human food and for livestock food, which is just kind of inefficient (see below section on food inefficiency).
This is why many farmers resort to feeding their livestock with low-quality food filled with not-so-eco-friendly fillers and chemicals that we might ingest in small amounts, so it’s also detrimental to our health.
Use of Toxic Pesticides
When you want to grow food for feeding a thousand cows or more, you’ll have to resort to using pesticides to reduce manpower. The problem lies in the toxicity of these pesticides.
Pesticides have the following disadvantages to nature:
- They go into the seas and rivers and get absorbed by marine animals
- They put chemicals into your plants and crops
- They could vaporize into the atmosphere and return as rainfall
- Pesticides contain harsh chemicals that cause cancer and other diseases in humans
Faster Spread of Diseases
We could be headed for future pandemics if we cut down forests and destroy ecosystems. When animals get displaced and disturbed, they’ll live alongside humans. Unbeknownst to us, we could be catching some disease from them, which then gets passed on.
Meat farms are also at a greater risk for passing diseases due to the lack of space and the not-so-healthy immune system of industry-raised cows and livestock. This is why we often get reports of the African Swine Fever, Bird Flu, Red Tide, and the like.
By food inefficiency, we mean that instead of the corn, wheat, and rice getting into our tables directly, they have to go through cows and chickens, which then get turned into processed food. It’s like the meat becomes our middlemen, which adds up to the cost.
This is why many people go vegan because they want to support the lessening of usage of farmland that’s only meant for cows, pigs, and chickens. If more people went vegan, we could have additional farmland for other resources. We’d have easy access to organic food rather than just mass-produced chickens and other livestock.
The problem in the world market is that people tend to produce more and invest more in meat production rather than have a more diverse and relaxed way of producing food through organic fruits and vegetables. If we cut down on our meat production, we could find more suitable use of land for other crops that we can eat.
As a whole, eating meat is okay but the problem lies in the meat-manufacturing industry. Due to bad practices, mass production, depletion of natural resources, and many other threats to the environment that we mentioned above, we’re causing a great deal of damage and inconvenience to our future generations if we keep supporting these companies.
For such companies, we can only hope that they would slowly cut down on their meat production by offering alternative food sources. In this way, we have less risk of emptying our forests into pastures for cows and displacing wildlife. We hope that this article cleared up facts about the meat industry in general.
Name: Rebecca Tarvin
Discipline: Integrative biology
Degrees: B.A., Biology, Boston University, 2010; Ph.D., Biological Sciences, University of Texas at Austin,2017
Rebecca Tarvin is broadly interested in integrating studies of natural history with molecular genomics and phylogenetics. Specifically, she aims to elucidate causal genetic mechanisms underlying novel traits, characterize phenotypic diversification at macro and micro-evolutionary scales, and identify factors that promote and constrain biodiversity.
She also likes to write about eco-friendly lifestyle and other material alternatives that are eco-friendly, aside from other ways to save Mother Earth