• Todd Petrella

How the Meat Industry Affects the Environment

Updated: Apr 6

You might not know it, but the meat industry is one of the main contributing factors to climate change, and the bad health of the environment overall. Not only does the industry create an exceptional amount of greenhouse gases, but it is also linked to the loss of biodiversity and poor environmental health.

Cattle standing in field with meat factory in background

What exactly does the meat industry do to the environment? There’s no simple answer for this, so let’s break it down into a few reasons.


The industry destroys wildlife. Thousands upon thousands of acres of natural land and habitat are cleared out to make room for pastures for livestock to graze. The animals already living in this habitat are pushed out and forced to find other places to live, and unfortunately nature is not that forgiving, leading to the extirpation of many species.


Not only is the wildlife negatively affected but the quality of the land is ruined too. Overgrazing destroys vegetation, depletes nutrients, and waste deposited into rivers and streams ruins the quality of water too. Areas that were once lush and full of life are now barren and flat due to the overgrazing of livestock.


And of course, greenhouse gases are an issue, too. One cow can produce 220 lbs of methane per year. There is an estimated 1 billion cattle in the world, therefore, the cattle industry alone accounts for 220 trillion lbs of methane annually. Methane itself accounts for 30% of increased global warming. When coupled with the other types of meat industries and their equipment, this number only gets bigger.

Burping brown cow releasing methane
A cow releasing methane by burping

So, how can we make the meat industry have fewer negative impacts on the environment?


The issue of methane producing livestock is actively being worked on. It’s been discovered that not all livestock produce the same amount of methane, and it comes down to the individual. Scientists across the world are studying the microbiomes of cattle to find cows that produce less methane and breed them, hopefully creating lineages of climate-friendly cattle.


On the other hand, some scientists are also working on producing new diets for livestock that are made mostly out of seaweed. Seaweed helps reduce the amount of methane the cow’s microbiomes produce, and some scientists believe that seaweed in their feed (seafeed?) can cut methane emissions by 82%.


The average meat consumer can help, too. Switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet creates less of a demand for meat-based products, and in turn less of a need for livestock. Does switching your entire diet sound like too much to do? No worries, I get it. Meat is delicious. Just try to eat less of it. By eating less meat and incorporating other proteins into your diet such as beans and fish, you can still help cut down on that demand for meat. I’ve never had it myself, but I’ve heard from multiple sources that plant-based meat is just as tasty as regular meat.

Plant-based burger with greens, cherry tomatoes, herbs, and crema on a bun
A tasty looking plant-based burger

Climate change is a ginormous puzzle, and the effects of the meat industry are a small piece in that puzzle. Loss of habitat and biodiversity, poor environmental quality, and high methane emissions are products of the meat industry, but we can work to change this. While science works its microbiome magic and scientists develop their seafeed, we can help by changing our diets and not being so dependent on meat.


If you need suggestions, check out the websites for Beyond Meat or Deliciou.

 

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