Here's how much meat you should be eating if you want to save the planet
New research outlines exactly what sustainable meat consumption looks like.
We are a diet-obsessed culture. Yes, much of our interest lies in how what we eat makes us look, but most people also care about their health and the health of the planet. Animal-loving activists have been telling us for decades that our level of meat consumption is harmful in several crucial ways and more recently climate change scientists have been scrutinizing how the meat industry impacts climate change. Now, new research by economists suggests that people in the E.U. should reduce their meat consumption by 75%. What does that mean for us?
The research, which was published yesterday, is a deep dive into the sustainability of meat production in the E.U.. Researchers analyzed data on multiple aspects of meat consumption — studies on health, climate, and economic effects — in order to create a set of recommendations for E.U. citizens and policymakers alike. The conclusion researchers came to was that if we want to eat sustainably, i.e. in a way that the earth and our economies can support, individuals should reduce their meat consumption by 75%.
"We need to significantly reduce our meat consumption, ideally to 20 kilograms [about 44 pounds] or less annually,” Matin Qaim, Professor of International Food Economics and Rural Development at the University of Bonn in Germany and co-author of the study, told EurekAlert. Importantly, Qaim pointed out that not only is overconsumption of meat damaging to the planet, it’s also not sustainable for making sure everyone gets fed in our globalized economy. “The war in Ukraine and the resulting shortages in international markets for cereal grains also underline that less grain should be fed to animals in order to support food security,” Qaim told EurekAlert.
Yes, these recommendations they made were directed at the E.U., but their statements indicate that their findings could be applied globally. "If all humans consumed as much meat as Europeans or North Americans, we would certainly miss the international climate targets and many ecosystems would collapse," Qaim told EurekAlert. In other words, the way people here and in Europe consume meat is simply not sustainable.
Before you get all worked up over some krauty nerd trying to impinge on your right to eat steak, no one is recommending full veganism here. In fact, researchers on the study clearly stated that worldwide veganism is not the solution. "We can't live on grass,” Martin Parlasca, a researcher at the University of Göttingen and co-author of the study, told EurekAlert. Parlasca went on to explain that it makes sense to use land that can’t grow edible crops for livestock and that poorer countries need the protein and the income they get from livestock. “Animals are often a key element of a healthy diet. For many people, they are also an important source of income,” Parlasca said.