• Environment
  • Society
  • Economy
  • Food For Thought

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Subsections: Land, Water, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Ecosystems, Comparisons

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Subsections: Animal Cruelty, Environmental Justice, Feeding The World, Public Health, Nutrition

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Subsections: Subsidies, Sales Growth, Big Players

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Things to consider before drastically changing the current meat & dairy industry

Environment

Land

• Livestock (meat and dairy) accounts for 77% of global farming land whilst crops account for 23%.

• More than 80% of all Amazon rainforest land cleared since 1970 is used for grazing livestock.

• Although livestock takes up most of the world’s agricultural land it only produces 18% of the world’s calories.

• Beef needs more than 25x more land per gram of protein than wheat.

Chart data published by: Clark & Tilman (2017). Comparative analysis of environmental impacts of agricultural production systems, agricultural input efficiency, and food choice. Environmental Research Letters, Volume 12, Number 6.

Water

• Beef has a particularly high water footprint at about 1,800 gallons per pound, while pork follows at 578 gallons and chicken with 468 gallons.

• On average, the water footprint of a vegan or vegetarian is around half that of a meat-eater.

Chart data published by: B. Hallock, “To Make a Burger, First You Need 660 Gallons of Water,” Los Angeles Times, 27 Jan 14.

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions

• Nearly a quarter of all planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions come from food production and associated land-use change. With this projected increase in population and shifts to higher-meat diets, agriculture alone could account for the majority of the emissions budget for limiting global warming below 2°C (3.6°F).

• Producing beef emits 20 times the emissions as producing beans, per gram of protein. 

Chart data published by: GlobAgri-WRI, 2016

Ecosystems

• High quantities of nutrients in water from industrial crop fertilizers and animal waste cause excessive aquatic plant growth which causes water with low oxygen. It can kill fish and other aquatic life and cause human illnesses, while others use up the oxygen in the water producing “dead zones,” where aquatic creatures cannot live.

90% of global fish stocks are over-fished. Commercial fishing methods such as bottom trawling and long-lining often clear the ocean floor of all life and destroy coral reefs. They also kill dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and other “bycatch” animals.

Comparisons

• A quarter-pound Beyond Burger (plant-based meat) requires 99% less water, 93% less land and generates 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, using 46% less energy to produce in the U.S. than its beef equivalent. 


• The Impossible Burger requires approximately 75% less water and 95% less land, generating about 87% lower greenhouse gas emissions than beef burgers.

Published by: “Go Beyond This Earth Day,” Beyond Meat, 22 Apr 2019.

Society

Animal Cruelty

• In 2014, humans slaughtered 65.42 billion animals for meat (which does not include the egg and dairy industry or other animals besides chicken, pigs, turkeys, goat, cattle, and sheep). Since 2014, there has been a 2.81% average annual increase in the livestock that is slaughtered, which means an estimate of 75 billion livestock animals were slaughtered in 2019. From 1961, there has been a 750% increase in the amount of livestock that has been slaughtered. 


Mercy for Animals went undercover in factory farms and discovered the way animals were treated. New York Times described it as, “Cows too sick to walk are dragged by the neck across cement floors. Pigs are stabbed and beaten with sledgehammers. Chickens are thrown against walls and stomped to death. And accepted industry practices, like confining animals in impossibly small cages, are just as brutal.”


• Industry’s lobbyists have pushed for the passage of “ag-gag” laws, which ban undercover recordings on farms and in slaughterhouses.

Chart published by: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2017)

Environmental Justice

• A study published in 2018 by the North Carolina Medical Journal concluded that families living near hog CAFOs saw higher rates of infant mortality and deaths from anemia, kidney disease, and tuberculosis. Other studies have associated the state’s hog-farm emissions with asthma, elevated blood pressure, sleep disruptions, and depression. 

• The University of North Carolina study from 2014, found these issues “disproportionately affect” people of color: African Americans are more than 1.5 times more likely than whites to live within three miles of an industrial hog operation in North Carolina. Latinos and Native Americans are also more likely to live near CAFOs.

• A Harvest Public Media investigation found that the more than 500,000 men and women who work in slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants have some of the most dangerous factory jobs in America. Government fines for abuses are low and lines speeds are so fast that workers are often crippled for life with repetitive motion problems, the investigation found.

• In a report issued in 2016 called “No Relief,” Oxfam charged that workers at the four largest U.S. poultry companies — Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms, Perdue Farms and Pilgrim’s Pride — are routinely denied bathroom breaks, forcing some to wear adult diapers to work and others to urinate on themselves in order to avoid retribution from supervisors. The workers are most often immigrants and refugees.

Rene Miller is currently involved in a lawsuit against the hog farm which sprays hog waste on to a field across the street from her home. Photograph: Alex Boerner
Image published in: “A million tons of feces and an unbearable stench: life near industrial pig farms,” The Guardian, 20 Sept 2017.

Feeding The World

By 2050, the world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion, which means more food will be needed. 

The land gap, which refers to the difference between global agricultural land area in 2010 and the area required in 2050, is estimated to be 593 million hectares, an area nearly twice the size of India.

• Consumption of ruminant meat (beef, lamb and goat) is projected to rise 88% between 2010 and 2050. Limiting ruminant meat consumption to 52 calories per person per day by 2050—about 1.5 hamburgers per week—would reduce the GHG mitigation gap by half and nearly close the land gap. This would give more room to grow crops for human consumption.

Picture published in: “How to Sustainably Feed 10 Billion People by 2050, in 21 Charts”, World Resources Institute, 5 Dec, 2018.

Public Health

• In CAFOs, excessive amounts of heavy metals like copper and zinc are fed as supplements to pigs and chickens, to promote growth and prevent disease. Other metals present in animal waste can include cadmium, lead, mercury and arsenic. These metals accumulate in soil when animal waste is sprayed on farm fields and can contaminate water supplies. In humans, copper toxicity can cause gastrointestinal and liver disorders, as well as other health problems. 

• Elevated nitrate levels in drinking water can be dangerous to humans, causing low oxygen levels in infants (known as “blue-baby syndrome”) and low birth weight. 

• In September 2016, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly recognized the inappropriate use of antimicrobials in animals due to the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which can lead to untreatable infections for animals and humans.

• 80% of antibiotics in the United States are given to livestock. In relative terms, humans and animals use comparable amounts of antimicrobials, but given that the biomass of animals raised for food exceeds by far the biomass of humans, new resistant mutations are more likely to arise in animals.

• Unlike in humans, antimicrobial use in animals is primarily intended for growth promotion. These uses are often administered both through feed and in low-dose patterns that promote the evolution of resistance.

Image published in: “What is Blue Baby Syndrome?​”, Medical News Today, 29 May, 2018.

Nutrition

• A vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower rates of hypertension, and type 2 diabetes than meat-eaters. Vegetarians also tend to have a lower body mass index, lower overall cancer rates and lower risk of chronic disease. 

 The addition of all other meat alternatives into diets has positive effects on health, with a maximum predicted reduction in mortality rates of 5–7%.

Chart published in: “Meat: the Future series”, World Economic Forum, Jan 2019. 

Economy

Trends

• Grocery sales of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products have grown 31% in the past two years to reach $4.5 billion.

The total U.S. retail food dollar sales grew just 4% over the past two years.

• Total export of meat and poultry in the U.S is estimated to increase 3.3% between 2018-19 and 7.1% between 2019-20. 

Graph published in: “Plant-Based Market overview”, Global Foods Institute, 2019. 

Investments

Beyond Meat went public in April 2019 and started at $66.79. Its 52 week range is $45.00 – $239.71, indicating that it has seen extreme growth, but is volatile. 

Tom Hayes, CEO of Tyson Foods (largest US meat processor) stated, “Plant protein is growing faster than animal protein. For us, we want to be where the consumer is,” and invested $2.2 million in Israel-based Future Meat Technologies, a biotech company producing clean meats. 

Major food companies like Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue, Hormel and Nestlé have rolled out their own meat alternatives.

• Within 2 years, over 17 fast food and casual dining chains added plant-based alternatives on their menu, including Denny’s, Del Taco, and Burger King.

Image published in: “McDonald’s Tests New Plant-Based Burger in Canada”, McDonald’s, 26 Sep 2019. 

Food For Thought

• What would livestock employees do? More than 1 billion people are involved in livestock value chains globally, with more than half of these dependent on livestock for their livelihoods. 

• How would it affect the economy? Globally, livestock contributes an average of 40% to agricultural GDP, with this percentage rising fast in developing countries.

• What would happen to all the animals? Where would the billions of animals go? Some farm breeds, like broiler chickens, would not survive in the wild.

Image published in: “Tyson Foods Promises Better Conditions And Safety For Meat Workers”, National Public Radio, 26 Apr 2017.