There are two kinds of meat. One that starts at the flats, within crowds of fattened cows that live on an excessive amount of corn. And another that starts in a lab with clean dishes and fancy pieces of machinery.
Each has its own environmental impact.
Let’s start with traditional meat. Or let’s better say, not so traditional because most of today’s meat gets produced on giant farms. That kind of farms are called “CAFOs” or “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation”, these operations are part of the reason why the price of hamburger beef is so low. Millions of cows get stuffed in a small area to maximize profit – definitely not animal-friendly. These facilities are more like a factory than a farm. (They received the name “factory farms”)
Young cows that enter such a “factory farm” are forced to consume massive amounts of food that consists of corn, protein supplements and antibiotics. They have to eat it until they are about 500 kg or 12-14 months old. Then their short life ends.
But let’s ignore the ethical concerns for a moment and concentrate on the environmental issues.
Stuffing thousands of cows on a small amount of space is always a bad idea. Especially cows that get feeded with food that their stomachs aren’t equipped for. One of the most significant issues is, to say it straight forward, their poop. Large farms can easily produce over 1,6 million tons of waste a year. That’s more than some U.S. cities. All of this poop has to be stored somewhere. It’s often just piled up like mountains. Farmers wait for it to spread with the rain and finally disappear. That causes pollution of drinking water with antibiotics and higher levels of nitrates. Not just unhealthy for humankind, it also kills many unseen animals and destroys the ground. Another factor is the emitted methane. It’s worse than CO2 and the main reason that has caused life stock to account for between 14,5 and 18 % of global greenhouse gas emission.
If we are looking to find an alternative to conventional meat, that is what we are trying to replace.
What about plant-based meat?
Beyond meat is currently the company with the most significant market share; it’s valued at about 7,5 billion U.S. dollars and its products are available at over 35 000 locations. That speaks for itself; people want to buy plant-based burgers. But are they better for the environment? Well, a study (sponsored by Beyond Meat) claims that the Beyond Meat burger has 90 % fewer emissions, 46 % less energy, 99 % less water and 93 % less land use. That would be extraordinary. Can it be true? Yes, it can be, but we need more independent studies on this topic. One thing we can say for sure is that it is the most ethical method of producing a burger that tastes, feels and has the same nutrition as meat.
You can think whatever you want, but in fact the growing demand for meat destroys our rainforests (the lung of our planet) and drives extinction forward. Something needs to change.
What is the solution?
We need to think over our approach to our food system. That means, doing everything at once. Eating more vegetables, veggie meat and supporting sustainable ways of raising life stock. That’s the way into a sustainable future.