Will going meat-free save the planet?
As the scale and effects of climate change become increasingly alarming, meat has become a popular target for action, with advocates urging the public to eat less meat in order to save the environment. A key claim underlying these arguments holds that global meat production generates more greenhouse gases (GHG) than the entire transportation sector.
This research, produced in 2006 by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has long since been proved incorrect, with the organisation admitting to skewed methodologies. Yet the misconception persists.
Prof Frank Mitloehner, animal science and air quality extension specialist at the University of California in the US, states that the global transport sector is in fact responsible for 14% of direct emissions, while agriculture accounts for only 5%.
The skewed methodologies used in the FAO study included using every factor associated with producing meat, including fertiliser production, converting land from forests to pastures, growing feed, and direct emissions from animals (belching and manure) from birth to death. But only the exhaust fumes were considered for transport’s impact, ignoring the impact on the climate from manufacturing vehicle materials and parts, assembling vehicles and maintaining roads, bridges and airports.
Mitloehner says that many people continue to think that if they avoid eating meat as infrequently as once a week, it will make a significant difference to the climate.
“But even if Americans eliminated all animal protein from their diets, they would reduce GHG emissions in the US by only 2,6%. If Meatless Monday were to be adopted by all Americans, we’d see a reduction of only 0,5%.
“The world population is currently projected to reach
9,8 billion people by 2050. Feeding this many people will raise immense challenges. Meat is more nutrient-dense per serving than vegetarian options, and ruminant animals largely thrive on feed that is not suitable for humans. According to the FAO, as much as 70% of all agricultural land globally is rangeland that can only be utilised as grazing land for ruminant livestock.”