Environmental impact of meat production

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Environmental impact of animal agriculture

One issue that gets brought up a lot this day and age are the effects of eating meat on our planet, the animal and ourselves. This topic is usually addressed with a carte blanche response of either ‘We need to stop eating meat’ to ‘I am a meat eater I will always eat meat’. One thing that is never addressed by either party is its not so much eating meat that is the problem, it’s production.

There is a middle ground when it comes to this argument, to enjoy eating meat and have no moral issues with it but to know the industry needs change – it should be noted that the way meat is currently produced is not good for anyone.

Many animals are grown in terrible conditions suited to a ‘product’ not a ‘life’. I believe it is this attitude, of profit over lie, that has led to where we are today. Factory meat manufacturers have become faceless, with little product traceability and systemic abuse of animals.

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Eating less meat would be beneficial to Western society, we have become and are growing ever more overweight. This is not done by eating healthy vegetables, this is achieved, in most cases by neglecting to eat properly and lack of exercise.

Meat accounts for a large part of our diet, the meat consumed is usually from chain suppliers and supermarkets. Due to the intensive farming of these animals our meat has become cheap, but this has come at a cost to the health of the ‘product’ and it’s consumer.

Antibiotics in the Meat industry


80% of the antibiotics made in America go to the factory pig farming industry. This fact should be enough to scare anyone. Although antibiotic traces are low, the consumption of animals that have been fed antibiotics is being attributed to the rise in antibiotic resistant diseases.

The practice of giving animals medication has been implemented since the early 1940’s when farmers started giving their animals antibiotics to reduce infections and illness. There were also better rates of reproduction and lower mortality.

It was also noted that animals given antibiotics produced more meat and milk. The issue is that bacteria present around livestock become resistant to the antibiotics. Some of this bacteria can also affect humans, when this super bacteria enters the human system, it is free to wreak havoc, resistant to any antibiotics available.

Meat and the environment – facts

Farming large amounts of livestock, on large swathes of land causes air pollution, loss of biodiversity water pollution and antibiotic resistance. From the obvious ecological effect of having an area devoid of anything natural, to the chemical run off from the farm land into rivers and oceans the planet is slowly losing its delicate balance.


Fertilizer run off is attributed to dead zones in rivers and oceans, these ecosystems have been destroyed by dramatic PH shifts in the water which can in turn starve water of oxygen. Its currently predicted that the factory farming sector is responsible for 14.5% of Global greenhouse gases, aside from the greenhouse gases, agricultural air pollution comes from gases, odours, dust, and microorganisms. Intensive farming contributes to these global problems in a variety of ways.

How does meat production affect climate change?

  • Deforestation; caused by expansion of pastures and land for feed crops
  • Burning fossil fuel to produce fertilizers used in feed production
  • Maintaining Industrial animal production facilities
  • Transporting feed, processing and transporting animal based products
  • Methane; released from the breakdown of fertilizers and from manure
  • Methane release from by livestock

How eating meat can be good for the environment?

Meat is obtained through a variety of methods, including organic farming, free range farming, intensive livestock production, subsistence agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Within nature, a meat eaters purpose is to control populations of it’s prey, or this is how the predator to prey relationship has it has evolved.

For example, in Scotland wild Deer species were re-introduced into the wild. With no natural predators, the deer population soon grew. This led to large areas of natural habitat being over grazed, causing further issues for the rest of the ecosystem. Wolves had to be introduced to help control the numbers.

If humans were to approach eating meat in a more sustainable way, meat consumption is actually beneficial to the environment as it helps maintain natures balance. If we removed ‘Intensive Livestock Production’ from the other forms of meat procurement, we would have a lot less problems than we currently do with our meat production.

Reducing meat consumption – The environmental benefits

Reducing your meat consumption can have great benefits for not only you and your personal health, but also for the impact on the world as a whole.

The breeding, raising, slaughter, packaging and transport of meat accounts for a large amount of pollution, both on land, air and sea. If people made the change from eating cheap meat everyday, to a better quality supplier and then supplemented the difference with vegetables, we would see a huge positive change.

If meat consumption fell, so would the requirement for its production in an intensive & industrial scale. The carbon footprint from transporting livestock would fall, improving the global pollution rates. Large swathes of intensive farmland could be restored, bringing back wildlife and fauna. Less farming of cattle and other large livestock would reduce the run off that is currently causing dead zones in our oceans.

Even just by reducing your meat consumption, you can reduce your negative impact on the planet a great deal. Leading the way to improve peoples health, both mental and physical as their diet improves.

How can I eat less meat?

You may ask why not cut out meat altogether? Well, this idea is great in practice but the fact is we are omnivores. Whilst eating a plant based diet is know to bring great benefits, many people struggle to maintain it. Compared with the number of vegans and vegetarians out there today, there are more than five times as many former vegans and vegetarians! If it were a natural and easy thing to do, I would hazard a guess that number would be lower…

There are many ways you can eat less meat, contrary to popular belief it can also be done so you wont even miss it! The main thing is to learn how to cook, if you know how to do a few bits in the kitchen then your already one step ahead. We have become so accustomed to meat being in every dish it may feel slightly strange at first and meals may feel ‘empty’ without some meat in there. The trick here is to substitute meat for things like beans, lentils or mushrooms. These are bulky foods with great, almost meaty texture that will help cure the itch for meat!

What vegetables taste nice?

Try out different vegetables, fruits, recipes and plant based option. What works for you will not work for others. You need to find recipes that you like, one of my favourites is a Spanish Chickpea, Tomato and Spinach stew, delicious, filling and no meat! Sauces and marinades are also something important in a plant based diet, just like meat can be pretty boring without a little bit of flavour, so it goes with vegetables. I often feel that people will ‘go vegan’ eat lettuce and tomatoes for a day, then give up. There are more vegetables out there than potatoes, iceberg lettuce and cucumber. Get out there and try some different produce. Speak to your local greengrocer about his produce if you are unsure as what to try, you will rarely find one who is not willing to offer some advice.

Being that little bit more conscious of what you eat & with a little more effort into obtaining, cooking and eating your meals can help reduce the negative effects of the meat industry discussed here today. It will also improve your health & well being, if your not doing it for the planet, do it for yourself.

Did you know?

When and where were chickens first domesticated by humans?

Chickens and humans have been working together for a long time! Research shows that they were first domesticated at least 8,000 years ago in South China, 6000BC.

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