Dining on a roast dinner with meat as a centrepiece used to be a weekly event. But over the past 50 years, the demand for meat products has skyrocketed. Nowadays, eating lamb, beef, pork, chicken, seafood and processed meat is a daily occurrence for the average family. And farming practices have been forced to adapt to meet demand.
But these farming practices are not sustainable. At some point, we’re going to have to address the problems caused by the mass production of animal products and the toll it’s taking on our environment.
Why Animal Agriculture Is So Damaging to Our Environment
Over 900 million livestock animals are bred each year in the UK alone. This figure rises to 56 billion worldwide. Raising this number of animals takes vast amounts of land and water at a time when both of these commodities are becoming scarce.
In turn, we see forests cut down and biodiversity shrink. And we’re seeing a growing number of indigenous communities forced out of their homes to make way for crop farming. Meanwhile, world hunger continues to plague the planet. Yet over half the soya produced globally is used to feed animals which will end up in Western supermarkets.
Animal waste releases harmful gases such as methane which pollute our air, water and soil. And its thought that the farming of livestock is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gases. That’s more carbon emissions than all the cars in the world put together. Now that’s a thought to chew on whilst walking to work with a BLT sandwich in your bag.
Which Meats Are Worst for the Environment?
Let’s take a look at each one in turn, starting with lamb, the least planet-friendly meat.
Based on figures from the Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change and Health report, lamb has the highest carbon footprint. Even before beginning its journey to our supermarkets, lamb produces an average of 20.44 kg of C02 emissions per kg of product. Sheep are ruminant mammals, which means they release methane in their belches and waste. Methane is, per unit, the most harmful of greenhouse gases and even more damaging than carbon dioxide.
We should remember, however, that this figure doesn’t take into account the emissions produced post-farmgate, which includes transporting the product from the barn to your plate. The environmental impact of this will vary widely depending on whether your lamb is homegrown or imported from New Zealand.
On average beef produces 5 kg fewer C02 emissions per kg than lamb but over three times more than pork. Cattle farming uses billions of gallons of water and, like sheep, cows produce methane as a by-product. Again, food miles need to be considered and the environmental impact will depend whether the beef is grown in the UK or imported.
Pork is a better option but that still doesn’t make your bacon butty eco-friendly. 4.62 kg of CO2 per kg comes from pig farming. It’s carbon footprint rises as the meat is transported and turned into processed meat.
#4 Farmed Salmon
Waste, pesticides and other harmful chemicals leached from salmon farms pollute the sea. This goes on to destroy habitats and kill other underwater life. Salmon farms are also energy intensive and produce 4.14 kg of C02 per kg of salmon.
#5 Turkey and Chicken
These birds do not produce methane and need less food and water than sheep and cows. If you want to minimise your carbon footprint without giving up meat, chicken is your best option. It produces only 2.33 kg of C02 per kg of meat before transport and processing.
What Can I Do to Ensure My Environmental Impact Is Low?
Whichever meat you choose to consume there will be some negative effect on the environment. But if you want to carry on eating meat, then you can help by eating less meat.
Leaving steak off the menu for just one day a week is equivalent to taking your car off the road for three months. Another option is to source a sustainable RSPCA approved farm in your area such as Coombe Farm in Somerset. Better still, leave red meats off your plate altogether.
Enjoying the Taste of Beef Without a Guilty Conscience
Luckily for meat lovers today’s plant-based food industry is thriving. Ethical and sustainable alternatives easily pass meaty ‘taste tests’ with flying colours. They’re affordable and now widely available in supermarkets.
Plus, we’ve recently seen the release of the B12 burger, a plant-based burger that is uncannily like the real thing. And what’s more, it’s much less damaging to our environment. So with mock meats getting better and better, everyone benefits. What’s not to like about that?