The world’s five biggest meat and dairy companies emit the same volume of greenhouse gases as fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil.
That’s just one of many shocking figures from the Meat Atlas 2021, a comprehensive look at the meat industry released by European nonprofits the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Friends of the Earth Europe and BUND Tuesday.
“Europeans today eat an average of 66 kilograms (approximately 146 pounds) of meat per year per capita, which is almost twice as much as the World Health Organization actually recommends, and this persistently high consumption and production also comes with immense social and ecological costs,” Lisa Tostado, head of the International Climate, Trade & Agriculture Policy Programme for Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, said at a public launch event. “And to raise awareness, provide information, and also foster a nuanced debate on the livestock center, the Heinrich-Böll Foundation and Friends of the Earth have compiled facts and figures on meat.”
Launch of the Meat Atlas 2021: Facts and figures about the animals we eatwww.youtube.com
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The Meat Atlas 2021 is a comprehensive account of the industry’s impact on environmental and public health, totaling more than 70 pages and covering more than 30 topics from land use to greenhouse gas emissions to pesticides. These impacts include:
- Climate Change: The food and farming sector in industrialized countries accounts for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The livestock sector alone is responsible for 14.5 percent of global emissions: 45 percent of that from feed production and processing, 39 percent from methane release from ruminants and 10 percent from the storage and management of manure. In fact, 20 top livestock companies together emit more than Germany, the UK or France.
- Land Use Change: Meat and milk require more land than any other consumer product, and 77 percent of agricultural land is used for either livestock or livestock feed. This means that the expansion of livestock agriculture is a major driver of land conflicts that displace Indigenous and traditional communities. The conversion of land into cattle pasture drives at least two-thirds of deforestation in the Amazon region, for example.
- Public Health: The coronavirus pandemic has drawn attention to the dangers of zoonotic diseases, diseases that pass from animals to humans. Almost 75 percent of these diseases can be traced to wildlife, and the land grabs of the meat and dairy industry increase the chance that humans will encounter new zoonotic diseases as habitat is destroyed. The rampant use of antibiotics in agriculture also increases the risks that bacteria will evolve to resist these drugs. Already, drug-resistant bacteria kill 700,000 people a year, yet 73 percent of the antibiotics used worldwide are used on animals.
Despite these and many other consequences, both meat consumption and meat production are on the rise. Meat consumption has more than doubled in 20 years, and is expected to rise another 13 percent by 2028. Meat production has also been trending upwards. In the 1970s, it stood at one third of current levels, though it declined slightly in 2019 because of an outbreak of African swine fever.
The increase in production has been enabled by many of the things that make that production so problematic: more and more animals are kept in feedlots instead of pastures. This requires their feed to be grown somewhere else, gobbling up more land. Further, such crowding is only possible with antibiotics to prevent infections from spreading in close quarters.
With all of this evidence, the report argued that reducing meat consumption in industrial countries is a case of “listening to the science,” something world governments have yet to do seriously with regards to this issue.
“We are talking not about a lack of information, and politicians not acting because they don’t know,” the atlas’ chief executive editor and head of the International Agricultural Policy Division at Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Dr. Christine Chemnitz said at the launch. “We are talking about a lack of political will to steer or transition the agricultural sector into a climate-friendly and biodiversity-friendly direction.”