A plea to eat less meat

Human overconsumption of meat and dairy products creates serious environmental consequences. Consumption of meat and dairy requires animal agriculturalists to resort to the production of cheap and low quality corn and soy feed, which takes an immense toll on our environment.

Livestock produces environmentally harmful greenhouse gases. But the crops used to feed livestock produce more substantial amounts. Nitrous oxide, or N2O, is the single most destructive ozone-depleting emission, has 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide and stays in the atmosphere for 150 years. Only 5 percent of nitrous oxide emissions come from manure management of livestock. A monumental 75 percent comes from agricultural soil management. 

Yes, much of this is from crops being grown for human consumption. But of the most environmentally unsound crops, 60 percent of corn and 47 percent of soy in the United States is used to feed animals. These crops have a detrimental effect on the environment, and our hunger for meat only encourages their growth.

The fact is that, while extremely popular, corn crops are terrible for our environment. Corn is immensely overproduced due to government subsidies and thus, is grown across approximately 97 million acres of land in the United States — more than any other crop. Corn is also grown in large monocultures, which means that there is little to no crop rotation, making the crops more vulnerable to insect infestations. Due to the likeliness of these infestations, more nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides are required with corn than any other crop. Every year, over six million tons of nitrogen is used on corn through chemical fertilizers and manure, which results in greater amounts of nitrous oxide being released into the atmosphere and depleting the ozone layer. Cornfields also consume over six billion gallons of fresh water each year in the United States. Not to mention that one acre of corn is responsible for using on average 60 gallons of fossil fuels for production and distribution.

Mass soy production has also led to monocultures, meaning heavy reliance on nitrogen-based fertilizers and pesticides. In the year 2000, 75.2 million pounds of herbicide was used for United States soybean production, according to the USDA. This number continues to rise. Increased demand for meat, and consequent livestock feed, causes the amount of chemical insecticides used to rise.

Deforestation to make room for soy plantation also takes a tremendous toll on the environment, accounting for about 15 to 20 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Since rainforests store all of their nutrients within living matter, destruction of these forests releases large amounts of carbon. In Brazil, for example, over 473 million tons of carbon dioxide was released to make room for soybean plantation. Also, soybean production requires immense quantities of water. Approximately 530 gallons of water are needed to produce a mere two pounds of soybeans.

The livestock itself also plays a dangerous role in the deterioration of our environment. Cattle ranching alone accounts for 80 percent of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. The feed crops for this cattle accounts for another 10 percent, meaning that 90 percent of the loss of the Amazon rainforest is directly attributed to animal agriculture. A 2006 study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) finds that 18 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions come directly from livestock production, which is more than the emissions attributed to transportation. Mass produced livestock is not environmentally responsible or a viable option for feeding the world.

The effects of mass demand for livestock and their feed crops on the environment is demonstrated to be detrimental. The one thing each of us can do is reduce meat and dairy consumption. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends consuming no more than 4 oz. of meat per day, American men on average eat 6.9, and women eat 4.4. On average, we only need 2 ounces of protein daily. Even those trying to build muscle only need 4 ounces. a day to do so. Anything more is overkill. If the average American cut down their meat consumption even to what is a healthy amount of protein, we could begin to fix the issues caused by industrial animal agriculture. We need to be more conscious about what we eat — more protein through beans, nuts, and grains and less through processed meats which are killing our bodies and environment. So please, if you want to preserve our rainforests, our water supply, and our atmosphere — eat fewer animal products.

Krystal Bagnaschi is an intern at the Office of the Community Lawyer. She is a senior at The Gilbert School.