Cowspiracy exposes industrial meat’s contribution to methane release, vast consumption of water, deforestation & destruction of swathes of arable land… Yet it barely registers a whisper from environmentalists. What gives?
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Cowspiracy paints meat production with very broad strokes and has acknowledged the inaccuracy of their initial projection that the meat industry contributes 51% of the world’s emissions. However, even with down-scaling that claim from 51% to 14-18%, there is no question that industrial scale grazing is a huge problem. The growth of the meat industry and the world’s appetite for meat isn’t just a methane emissions problem but, as explained in Cowspiracy, industrial meat production contributes to deforestation, and with mono-cropping of corn and grain needed to support it, destroying our arable land. For a multitude of reasons the scale of meat consumption and production is simply unsustainable.
So while regenerative ranchers have criticized Cowspiracy for not fairly treating regenerative ranching, that practice is a very small fraction of the ranching done worldwide and could never meet the world’s voracious appetite for meat. And regenerative ranchers do not in any way dispute the negative impact of industrial ranching. And how destructive is our appetite for meat? From Ecowatch:
“If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million,” reports ecologist David Pimentel of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He adds that the seven billion livestock in the U.S. consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire U.S. population.”
Livestock emissions make up anywhere between 14.5 and 18 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Comparably, the transportation sector is responsible for around 14 percent of emissions. By those numbers alone, our current system of meat production is extremely damaging. Perhaps more looming, however, is that while transportation creates CO2, livestock farming is hugely responsible for producing methane. As you may know, methane is 23 times more potent when it comes to warming the planet.”Ecowatch
And from the Center for Sustainable Systems: Each of the statements below is footnoted on the Sustainable Systems site.
- On average, U.S. household food consumption emits 8.1 metric tons of CO2e each year. The production of food accounts for 83% of emissions, while its transportation accounts for 11%.
- The emissions associated with food production consist mainly of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (NO2), which result primarily from agricultural practices.
- Meat products have larger carbon footprints per calorie than grain or vegetable products because of the inefficient transformation of plant energy to animal energy.
- Ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats produced 170 million metric tons (mmt) in CO2e of methane in the U.S. in 2016 through digestion.
- Eating all locally grown food for one year could save the GHG equivalent of driving 1,000 miles, while eating a vegetarian meal one day a week could save the equivalent of driving 1,160 miles.
- A vegetarian diet greatly reduces an individual’s carbon footprint, but switching to less carbon intensive meats can have a major impact as well. For example, replacing all beef consumption with chicken for one year leads to an annual carbon footprint reduction of 882 pounds CO2e.
- Organic food typically requires 30-50% less energy during production but requires one-third more hours of human labor compared to typical farming practices, making it more expensive.
So with that as your context, check out Cowspiracy. Click here.
Given all of this, my question is: why is the beef industry given a virtual pass while the major environmental organizations focus almost exclusively on carbon?
Click here for a Cowspiracy rebuttal. There is a good short video at this site along with info about where Cowspiracy over-stated the impact of ranching in terms of emissions. Nonetheless, regenerative ranchers can’t dispute the catastrophic impact of industrial scale, grain-fed ranching on our ecosystem: methane release, water use, deforestation, and the destruction of invaluable arable land due to mono-cropping and over-grazing.
Bottom line, unless we consume far less meat, industrial scale beef, pork and lamb production will only continue to increase and that is not even remotely sustainable.
In solidarity, Paul & Roxanne….time for a salad.