Humans evolved to eat meat — we don’t have those pointy little canines for nothing. However, many people nowadays choose vegetarian diets, including an estimated 12 percent of Millennials in the United States. There are multiple reasons people choose this lifestyle, including the support of animal rights causes and the reduction of environmental footprints. It may be surprising to learn that consumption of meat is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Washington Post, “Global livestock contributes an estimated 14.5 percent to annual greenhouse gas emissions. In raw numbers, that’s more than emissions from every car, train, ship and airplane combined.”
“Global livestock contributes an estimated 14.5 percent to annual greenhouse gas emissions.”
Yet some people just can’t give meat up. And that’s okay. However, if you’re going to continue to enjoy sizzling hamburgers and roasted chickens, you may want to know more about what your options for meat products are and where they come from. The more sustainable products are not only better for your health — they also taste better. The same goes for egg and dairy products. This will be more expensive than purchasing non-sustainable farm animal products, so you may want to consume less but better quality meat, dairy products and eggs.
If there’s one meat to cut back on, it should be red meat.
There are several ways that raising livestock contributes to global warming. Cows, for instance, release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Even though methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long as other greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), it’s still a big part of climate change. For this reason, if there’s one meat to cut back on, it should be red meat. The Washington Post has written that, “Pigs and poultry contribute only 10 percent of total livestock emissions.” Additionally, one-third of the world’s land is devoted to the raising or feeding of livestock. Much of the land devoted to livestock has been clear-cut and is absent of trees to create grazing pastures for cattle. This speeds up climate change because trees take in CO2, which is a long-lasting greenhouse gas. With fewer trees in the world, more CO2 gets into the atmosphere, which raises global temperatures. According to Farm Forward, “The chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that the best and fastest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce meat consumption.”
“The chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that the best and fastest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce meat consumption.”
Animal rights abuses are another critical problem within the food industry. According to the environmental organization Friends of the Earth, industrial farms often keep their animals in cramped conditions and inject them with synthetic hormones and routine antibiotics. They do this so the animals don’t get sick from the unsanitary conditions and also to quicken growth. As a matter of fact, 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. go to farmed animals, most of which live in filthy and cramped conditions — a regular occurrence that makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics and contributes to the emergence of drug-resistant superbugs.
According to the website BuyingPoultry, egg-laying hens have the worst conditions of all the livestock animals as they “have less than a sheet of paper on which to spend their entire lives.” Not only is that an animal rights violation — it’s unsanitary. Use BuyingPoultry’s helpful search engine to find local, sustainable chicken products near you.
It’s difficult to know which meat, dairy or egg products in the supermarket come from well-treated animals because many of the phrases on packaging — such as “free range/roaming” or “natural” — can be deceiving. Just because the packaging has those phrases on it does not mean the animals enjoy a high-welfare life. Recommended terminology to look for in the supermarket includes words like “grass-fed” and “pasture-raised,” which indicate better standards of living for the animals. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration provides some oversight for label claims, third-party verified standards provide greater assurance that the claims being made are robust. You can find those verifications in the form of stickers or seals. The “Animal Welfare Approved” seal or the “Global Animal Partnership” (tiers 4, 5 or 5+) are important to look out for. Recently, President Obama signed the DARK Act, which allows industrial food and chemical companies to withhold the labeling of certain GMOs in food products. This is just another example of how little American consumers know about the food that goes into their mouths. For more information on different food labels and seals, so that you are cognizant of where your food comes from, click here.
Many of the phrases on packaging — such as “free range/roaming” or “natural” — can be deceiving.
For the greatest assurance that the meat you buy matches your values, get to know local farmers and ranchers who raise their animals on pasture and do not use routine antibiotics or synthetic hormones. You might be able to buy their products directly and find them at farmers’ markets or at stores like Whole Foods.
Don’t forget that as a consumer, you have the ability to demand better products of your local supermarket or butcher shop. Ask questions: “Are any of the meats sold here organic or sustainably-raised? Are they from local farms?” If the answer you receive is “no,” ask that they start to carry those types of meat products.
Don’t forget that as a consumer, you have the ability to demand better products of your local supermarket or butcher shop.
And remember, the most impactful action you can take to better the environment is to reduce your meat consumption. Animal products are unbelievably resource intensive — even if they are sustainably raised! Friends of the Earth U.S. lists some of the global problems related to the meat industry as, “deforestation, habitat destruction, water scarcity, climate change, water pollution, diet-related disease, antibiotic resistance, intolerable animal cruelty and more.” Even if you cannot imagine living without meat, attempt Meatless Mondays which would not only be better for your health — it would also benefit the Earth! Besides, the less meat you eat, the better quality meat you can afford to eat.
The most impactful action you can take to better the environment is to reduce your meat consumption.