Americans need to stop eating beef. Now. The pleasures of the meat are being outweighed by the environmental and social implications of its consumption. These include the greenhouse gases emitted by the animals, the deforestation that the increasing demand causes, and the extensive amount of energy and resources necessary to raise a single cow.
According to a study published in the “Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies,” a scientific journal, a single cow can produce anywhere from 250 to 500 litres of methane a day. The methane is a bi-product of the digestive process of cows, and is literally belched into the atmosphere.
Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change, and makes up about 11 percent of the U.S. annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report by the EPA. The report goes on to specify that more than two thirds of that methane is generated by livestock — predominantly cows.
Not only is the demand for beef speeding up climate change, it is also increasing the speed of deforestation. As the demand for beef rises, forests are cut or burnt to create pastures for cattle. 65 – 70 percent of the deforestation in Brazil is driven by cattle raising, according to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research and its Agricultural Research Corporation.
The preservation of the Amazon, and rainforests around the world, is imperative not only to the conservation of biodiversity, but to the resources that humans depend on. Over 50 percent of the species in the world live in rainforests, which cover only six percent of the earth’s surface. Many medicines, including antibiotics, are found only in the rainforests.
Deforestation is actually also contributing to climate change. In the 1980s, the Amazon rainforest absorbed 2 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere. Now, according to a study released by the science journal “Nature,” it is only absorbing half of what it did two decades ago. This is due to environmental degradation and deforestation — directly linked to the cattle industry.
There is also the social aspect of widescale deforestation. In places like the Amazon, there are still tribes of indigenous people that rely on the forest for their livelihood. By supporting the market for beef, we are essentially supporting the destruction of not only their lands, but of their culture.
Finally, to fully understand the scope of this issue, we have to look at the resources that are required to raise cattle. According to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock currently graze 26 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial surface. Beef in particular requires 28 times more land and 11 times more water than the average of all other livestock resource requirements.
Eliminating beef from the diets of Americans would be a first step in checking our country’s huge overconsumption of resources. To give some perspective, if everyone were to consume resources like a U.S. citizen, we would need the equivalent of 4.1 earths to sustain us, according to a study by the Global Footprint Network.
It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat, according to the Water Footprint Network. With water shortages across the world, we cannot justify these massive quantities being used unnecessarily. How can we give our ability to consume beef, a luxury, precedent over another human’s ability to feed themselves at all?
There are so many nutritiously, ethically and ecologically superior alternatives to beef. Bugs, for example, are a great source of protein and are eaten by people all over the world. Crickets have become somewhat popular even in the U.S., as they require 6 times less nutrients than do cattle, while still offering a good source of protein. They can be raised in extremely condensed spaces, which would stop deforestation to create pasture land. They do not produce greenhouse gases and can be fed on organic food waste.
Once we consider all of the implications of society’s addiction to beef, we have to ask ourselves if we can continue to indulge ourselves with the consumption of this costly meat. It is clear that American’s partiality to beef is contributing to global problems such as deforestation, climate change and the overconsumption of resources.
As these issues become more dire, the justifications for consuming cow fade. It is easy to see that it is our moral responsibility as citizens of the United States to lead the world in finding ecologically sound alternatives to beef.