We need to halve the amount of meat we eat or risk causing even more damage to the natural world than we already have, says a new report from the United Nations Environment Program. Entitled Our Nutrient World: The challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution, the report underscores the unpleasant truth about how modern farming practices are creating more food, and more meat in particular, at lower cost but at a terrible price to the long-time health of the planet.
Eating less meat is a challenge many may shrink from, but it is one that people in wealthy nations must take up, says Professor Mark Sutton, the lead author of the report. Just a generation or two ago, people ate quite a bit less meat. The U.N. report asks people not to stop eating meat entirely, but presents the case for a more measured approach, urging people to go “demitarian” and cut the amount of meat they consume by half.
Raising Livestock Consumes Precious Natural Resources
Previous studies have underscored how many more resources — water, arable land, grain — are used up in raising livestock rather than in cultivating crops. In addition, to provide plenty of meat at cheap prices, the farming industry has come to rely on an ever-larger arsenal of techniques and tools (pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, fertilizer, cages so small that animals cannot move) that are unethical and inhumane.
Our insatiable demand for meat has actually “caused a web of water and air pollution that is damaging human health.” The numerous chemical substances we have devised to improve the quality of meat has only done so in the short run. Run-off from chemicals has played a role in “dead zones in the seas, causing toxic algal blooms and killing fish, while some are threatening bees, amphibians and sensitive ecosystems,” says the Guardian.
We need look no farther for evidence of what is wrong with the modern meat industry than the ongoing horse meat scandal in Europe. Just this week, Nestle announced that it was withdrawing some of its products over concerns about horse meat, which has turned up in other manufacturers’ frozen meals and “extra value” — cheaply priced — burgers. “The attention this meat scare has drawn [highlights] poor quality meat. It shows society must think about livestock and food choices much more, for the environment and health,” said Sutton in the Guardian.
Can You Be a “Demetarian”?
Nonetheless, billions of people in developing countries should still increase their meat consumption, says Sutton. In order for this to happen, people in wealthy nations need to reduce their consumption of meat, in a sort of global give-and-take with the goal of extending the nutrition benefits of animal protein to those whose diets are insufficient.
The UN report is a wake-up call to take a good, hard look at how our taste for meat, and lots of it, has created a product that is not exactly appetizing and is endangering the world’s food supply. The report’s call to many in richer countries to “do the demetarian thing” is a call to consider what we consume and to ask, do we really need to eat all that?
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