The 'Livestock Revolution' is Environmental Disaster & Social Mess

dairy cow photo

photo: Wm Jas via flickr.
Science Daily has some more compelling stats about the impact of the the growing global and increasingly industrialized meat industry's impact on the environment and on society. The top line is that global meat production has tripled in the past thirty years and will double present levels by 2050 at current growth rates, hence the "livestock revolution".Here are the of the other key findings of the Livestock in a Changing Landscape report:

One-Quarter Earth's Surface, One-Third Arable Land Goes to Livestock
The global livestock trade involves some 1.7 billion animals, occupying 25% of the Earth's land.

One-third of arable land goes to production of animal feed.

40% of global agriculture's economic output comes from livestock production.

Livestock, feed production, and transport accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. [TH note: That's quite a bit lower than recent Worldwatch analysis, which cast a pretty wide net in counting what should be considered emissions related to livestock raising.]

Poor Farmers Being Displaced by Factory Farms
One billion poor people throughout the world derive some part of their income from raising domesticated animals, but rapid growth of factory farms has reduced employment opportunities. In India and China, many small-scale farmers (who are the bulk of farmers in India, for example) have been displaced by factory farms.

In terms of environmental impact, report co-editor Henning Steinfeld of the UN FAO says,

Without a change in current practices, the intensive increases in projected livestock production systems will double the current environmental burden and will contribute to large-scale ecosystem degradation unless appropriate measures are taken.

Why Avoid The Obvious Recommendation...Vegetarianism
It's interesting that when it comes to solutions to this, at least one of the report's coeditors seems to miss the obvious: Become vegetarian. Fritz Schneider says, "People aren't going to stop eating meat, but I am always hopeful that as people learn more, they do change their behavior."

Well, who says people aren't going to stop eating meat. It is only a learned cultural behavior, not for the vast majority of people a biological need--certainly not at current levels of meat consumption. The report points out that global consumption of meat and dairy provides one-third of humanity's protein intake. However, in the United States that rises to 50%. Want to take a decisive step in make your life more environmentally sustainable? Start with your diet and, at minimum, cut down your meat intake to one day a week.

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