For most of us, meat has been an integral part of our diet throughout our life. However, as the climate change voices grow louder, there has been an increasing number of people, more than ever, questioning meat consumption and the effect it has on our planet. Does meat consumption impact our environment negatively? While the answers to this question could be divisive, however, several studies suggest that our meat consumption is making our planet hotter. With the population, worldwide, to reach 10 billion by 2050, the meat industry is bound to grow multifold to feed the future generation. It is high time we started exploring the ways to mitigate the risks associated with meat consumption and introduce and promote better alternatives with nutrient-dense food in our diet.
Meat production process causes emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which is leading to global warming. Annually, the livestock sector contributes to 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, says a 2013 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. Further, livestock farming also promotes unethical practices like deforestation which not only destroys forests, but it also causes huge biodiversity loss. For instance, in South America, specifically in Amazon rainforests of Brazil, swathes of trees are being cleared to establish cattle ranches or growing animal feed like soybeans, which aims at boosting the Brazilian economy by scaling up its meat production and exporting the same globally. The incidents of the blazing fire in Amazon rainforest in 2019, which made the headlines in every daily newspaper worldwide, was also one of the effects of clearing land by controlled burning, which, unfortunately, spread to unintended parts of the forest. This resulted in tonnes of emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere too! Further, ruminants like cows and buffaloes produce a huge amount of methane gas, which has a greater warming impact than CO2 in the atmosphere.
As the world becomes more aware of climate change, more people want to understand the impact of their food choices on the environment. However, in a quest to make a point, it is imperative for us to not to exaggerate the negative footprint of all forms of meat consumption or demonise meat consumption, per se. Meat is a rich source of protein and protein is a vital building block for our bodies. Many nutritionists opine that a lot of our protein needs can be partially fulfilled by switching to a more plant-based diet. Also, the meat which comes from poultry or pork could have a lesser environmental impact than that comes from cattle. We need to be more inquisitive and make ourselves aware of the food with the highest nutrition density with minimum negative environmental footprint. So, do we need to reduce our meat consumption completely and switch to a vegetarian or a vegan diet? Well, the answer is not affirmative. What we require is to scale back our meat consumption and choose better meat alternatives, and include a wide variety of plant diets such as legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables which improve our well-being. This shift in our lifestyle can have tremendous positive effects on curtailing global greenhouse gas emissions and tackling the climate change crisis.