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Why it's important

We don't have enough earth to feed everyone meat. Meat production is very energy intensive, water intensive, produces a huge amount of emissions, and has a number of negative indirect effects. Eating high energy meats is one of the most damaging things you can do to the environment in your daily life. Learning what the impacts of our food are and making intelligent decisions based on this information is going to be critical to reducing our total impact on the world around us. If everyone knew that it took approximately an order of magnitude more fossil fuel energy to produce some amount of beef than a comparable amount of chicken, perhaps we would eat less beef.
A typical steer will in effect consume 284 gallons of oil in his lifetime

Energy

A typical steer will in effect consume 284 gallons of oil in his lifetime. The primary reason to eat less meat and to eat smarter meat when you do is because of the amount of energy that goes into meat production. It is inherently more work to keep an animal alive off of plant protein for a period of time before eating it than it is just to simply eat the plant protein yourself. In the United States, an estimated 19% of the total energy used is from the production and supply of food. While there would still be a large amount of energy used in the production and supply of food if no one ate meat, the number would drastically reduce. Check out the pie charts below that show how much energy a person on various diets uses.

The graphs below (coming soon!) show the relative amounts of fossil fuel energy that go into producing a set amount of protein from various plant and animal sources.

Water

Animal agriculture is a leading consumer of water resources in the US. Although livestock don't consume very much freshwater directly, the process of creating food to keep them alive is very water intensive. The amount of water needed to produce a kilogram of beef is 45 times the amount needed to grow a kilogram of wheat, for example, and over 12 times more than needed to produce one kilogram of chicken. Take a look at the chart below to see the relative comparisons. To read more about why this is so important, check out the Clean Water section.

Emissions

Livestock are responsible for 18% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. A 2006 UN report found that the meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than all the SUVs, cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined. A large part of this is the fossil fuels needed, releasing CO2, but animal agriculture is also responsible for more methane than any other source as well as 65% of the world's nitrous oxide emissions in addition to being one of the leading emitters of CO2.

Indirect Effects

Besides energy, water, and emissions issues, the meat industry has a number of negative effects in other areas. With regards to food availability, more than half the US grain, and nearly 40% of the world's grain is being fed to livestock. The 7 billion livestock animals in the US consume 5 times the amount of grain as the US's population. The grains fed to livestock could be used to feed 800 million people. The amount of feed grains in a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet (a typical vegetarian) is about half that of those fed to livestock to produce the meat-based diet.

The meat industry also has negative effects on soil quality because of the high demand they create for grains. About 90% of US cropland is losing soil at 13 times above the sustainable rate. A large amount of this erosion is a result of grain overproduction and overgrazing by livestock.
Up next: Where we are
Foodrevolution.org
Grassfed beef information.
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Science Daily - Vegetarianism
Article on how reducing fossil fuel usage by reducing the amount of meat and junk food one eats
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Cornell News - Pimentel
Cornell News article about Pimentel's views on eating meat
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Toronto Vegetarian Society
Toronto Vegetarian Society facts on meat consumption.
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GoVeg.com - Vegetarianism and Climate Change
Article on the climate change effects of eating meat
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GoVeg.com - Vegetarianism and Climate Change
Article on the climate change effects of eating meat
Click now to view
Cornell News - Pimentel
Cornell News article about Pimentel's views on eating meat
Click now to view
Cornell News - Pimentel
Cornell News article about Pimentel's views on eating meat
Click now to view
Cornell News - Pimentel
Cornell News article about Pimentel's views on eating meat
Click now to view
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Scientific article about the sustainability of meat-based diets
Click now to view
Cornell News - Pimentel
Cornell News article about Pimentel's views on eating meat
Click now to view
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