The historical world record of meat consumption, so far, has been established by the Germans, who in 1988 ate 70 kilograms per capita per year. Today, this value has dropped to 60 kilograms per year, or 165 grams per day. It is still too much meat though, much more than what the majority of the inhabitants of the earth can afford. It is a quantity that is more than what has been historically available, and more than what our planet can sustain.
We must also consider that there is a close link between hunger and the export of fodder in the countries of origin: one-third of Mexico's wheat crops are turned into fodder and two-thirds of imports of animal feed in Europe come from developing countries.
The production of meat shows a relationship decidedly disadvantageous in terms of initial costs and final results. A living creature transforms only 10% of the energy contained in any food consumed into body weight. The rest is lost as heat and manure and this applies to all animal species. In animal husbandry this means that for one kilogram of meat produced, there must first be tens of kilograms of forage. In 2004, the Worldwatch Institute outlined the inputs and outputs of the meat industry.
Input of the meat industry
Feed. A calorie of beef, pork or poultry requires 11 to 17 calories of animal feed. 95% of the soy produced is consumed by farmed animals, not man. Animal feed containing bone meal could cause mad cow disease, which has affected thousands of cattle in industrialized countries.
. To produce about 230 grams of beef (one steak) 25,000 liters of water is required.
Additives. In the United States, cattle, pigs and chickens receive 70% of all antimicrobial drugs.
Fossil Fuels. Taking potatoes as the benchmark, one calorie of beef requires 33% more energy from fossil fuels in comparison.
Output of the meat industry
Fertilizer. The manure from intensive farming of pigs can seep into groundwater or pollute surface waters.
Methane. Flatulence of cattle each year gives rise to 16% of global emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
. The consumption of animal products with a high content of saturated fat and cholesterol is associated with cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases. Factory farms can spread E. coli, salmonella and other agents that produce food-borne infections. Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, the human variant of mad cow disease, has killed at least 100 people.
Reduce CO2 emissions by eating less red meat
It is already known that the production of meat has a heavy impact on the environment, but one study showed more clearly the extent of the damage caused by beef in particular results in a much heavier environmental impact than meat derived from other sources, including chicken and pork.
According to new research published in the journal Proceedings, of the National Academy of Sciences, the production of red meat requires a land area 28 times larger than that required for the farming of pigs or chickens. Farming cattle needs amounts of water 11 times greater and generates five times the amount of the polluting emissions than raising pigs or chickens. Also in comparison to the impact that vegetables such as potatoes, corn and rice have on the planet, the inequality grows exponentially: the land area needed to raise cattle is 160 times larger than what is necessary to grow plant crops.
"Cutting subsidies for the production of meat would be the least controversial way to reduce its consumption," said Professor Gidon Eshel, a researcher at Bard College who led the research on the impact of beef. Agriculture has a significant role in global warming and causes 15 percent of all emissions, but half of these are caused by cattle herds. The huge amount of grain and water needed for the pastures of these animals is what worries experts who predict a significant growth of the world population by 2050. Up to now, however, calls for reducing the consumption of meat in order to help the environment have been greeted with skepticism.
"Governments should carefully consider these messages if they want to improve production efficiency and reduce the environmental impact - said Mark Sutton, a professor at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the UK - but the message to the consumer is even stronger. Avoid excessive consumption of meat, especially of beef, as it is good for the environment. "