Americans Now Eat Less Meat – But the Rest of the World Wants More

Bad news for the meat industry, good news for the planet: Americans are eating less meat. The United States Department of Agriculture predicts that U.S. meat consumption will decline for the fifth straight year in 2012 –  a decline of more than 12% since 2007. Beef, in particular, is no longer what’s for dinner in America: per capita beef consumption in the U.S. has declined nearly 25% since 1980.

Economic forces are one probable reason behind the decline. According to the USDA, U.S. prices for beef hit a record high in December 2011. The average price of ground chuck rose to $3.27 per pound that month — up from $2.70 per pound in 2007. Severe drought in the southern United States and wildfires in Texas created challenging environmental conditions for cattle last year and drastically drove up the price of livestock feed; in response many cattle farmers were forced to reduce their herds.

Consumers, still struggling to recover from a devastating recession, have responded to higher meat prices by choosing lower-priced plant-based protein alternatives at the grocery store. But falling incomes and rising food prices aren’t the only factor driving a change in the way Americans think about eating meat.

Rising public awareness of the negative impact excessive meat consumption can have on the environment — and specifically, climate change — has been shifting attitudes toward meat as well. According to WaterFootprint.org, on average, it takes 2,500 – 5,000 gallons of water to create one pound of beef — that compares to just to 244 gallons of water to create a pound of tofu. And the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology estimates that producing one pound of beef generates nearly 42 pounds of carbon dioxide — far more than most vegetable foods.

Environmental organizations have made serious efforts over the past decade to raise Americans’ awareness of meat’s negative impact on the environment, and recent initiatives focused on encouraging Americans who are not willing to adopt a fully vegetarian lifestyle to reduce the amount of meat in their diets have met with increasing success.

The Environmental Working Group offers a Meat Eaters’ Guide that uses simple graphics to show the environmental impact of meat and encourages consumers to make more eco-friendly choices. The Meatless Monday movement trumpets the health benefits of eating more meatless meals in addition to promoting ecological advantages, noting that people who skip at least meat once each week may benefit from a lower risk of cancer and heart disease.

As New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman notes, a recent survey shows that half of American adults now say they are aware of the Meatless Monday movement, and 27 percent of those who have heard of the campaign have responded positively by choosing to cut back on the amount of meat they eat.

This shift in American attitudes toward meat eating has the potential to be a hugely positive development for the global environment. People in the U.S. consume more meat than any other population in the world; one sixth of the world’s meat supply is eaten in the U.S. yearly, even though the country only holds one twentieth of the world’s population.

But the Earth’s gains from Americans’ reduced interest in steak dinners could soon be swallowed up — literally — by sharply growing consumer demand for meat elsewhere. In December, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization issued a World Livestock Report that predicts global meat consumption will rise more than 70 percent by 2050. That prediction is based partly on projections that the world’s population may increase by as much as 35 percent by that date. But the biggest factor behind the UN FAO’s prediction of a sharp increase in global meat demand is not the projected increase in the world’s population but an increase in the amount of meat the average person in 2050 will want to consume.

As globalization has led to drastic lifestyle changes worldwide, over the past decade, people in developing countries have dramatically increased the amount of animal products they consume. In China, between 1990 and 2005, average yearly meat consumption rose from about 57 pounds per person per year to 119 pounds per person per year. Even in India, where the prevalence of Hinduism makes vegetarian diets popular — the average Indian eats roughly one tenth the amount of meat the average American does — per capita meat consumption rose to a record high in 2011.

Even as Americans make some small progress toward a less meaty, more sustainable diet, much of the rest of the world seems to be moving toward a more Americanized, less sustainable cuisine. To prevent Americans’ unsustainable food habits from spreading across the globe, people of all nations may want to consider officially adopting Meatless Mondays. And Tuesdays. And while we’re at it, why not Meatless Wednesdays, too?

 

Related Care2 Content

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128 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

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Diane L.
Diane L4 years ago

"You want your meat,pay up!!! Tax all meat Eaters!!!".........Natasha, are you oblivious to reality? We who eat meat DO pay up, and those of us who want healthy, organic, naturally fed meat/poultry from grass-fed animals pay even more much of the time. Tax all meat eaters? Guess what, babe, unless one lives in a state that does not tax food, period, we pay our share of taxes. What about vegans who eat soy and other products that contribute environmental issues? Why not tax them more as well? What about taxing even MORE (a luxury tax) on junk food such as chips, soda, cookies, cake? Would you agree to that?

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Natasha Salgado
Past Member 4 years ago

These greedy meat Mongrels outta be paying double for that meat. You want your meat,pay up!!! Tax all meat Eaters!!!

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Dale Overall

Interesting discussion going on here but do we really need to be told constantly what we all should be doing by one generic sweeping and encompassing "solution"?

There are those who wish to give guidance for the entire populace of the planet with the directive that everyone should: "We all need to entirely cut meat out of our diets."

We? If you do not wish to eat meat, don't do it! But kindly don't speak for those of us who do eat meat, be it a few days a week, often or once a month. I will stick to meat, veggies, fruit, quinoa and look for organic sources but I will not tell someone else to eat meat if they do not wish to. Please don't expect everyone to go vegan or vegetarian either.

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Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

Not sure what you're disagreeing WITH, Pego? Do you think that watching an animal be slaughtered will not cause a little PTSD with some, no matter how quickly or humane the process? I've read that some people who witness capital punishment (a murderer being hanged or given lethal injection) suffer PTSD for a long time, even if they were all for it and were family of the victims. I think no matter how justified the death is (was), it's still traumatic to watch. I'm sure those who administer the injection or pull the lever of the "trap door" do so, but it's their job.

Yes, it would be good to have a "counterpoint" to PETA's propaganda and misleading videos, but they are there now, one just needs to be able to locate them, and slaughterhouses ARE open for inspection by those interested, especially if they have nothing to hide.

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