New study on meat consumption

New study on meat consumption

A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences raises questions about consumption and food production.

A new paper released by Nathan Pelletier and Peter Tyedmers of the Dalhousie University School for Resource and Environmental Studies raises some thought-provoking questions about consumption and production in our food systems and in particular, the livestock industry. “Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000-2050” has been published in the October 2010 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Dr. Pelletier, a self confessed “foodie” and ecological economist, is interested in studying food systems and how they effect the environment both at the local and global levels.

Food was a really unique area of consumption in that people have a great deal of control over what and how much we choose to consume, he says. As a result, people also have direct control over the environmental implications of our dietary choices.

Focusing on the global livestock industry, the paper explores the relationships between projected growth in livestock production and world-wide sustainability thresholds for human activity as a whole. The paper focuses on three domains: greenhouse gas emissions, reactive nitrogen mobilization and appropriation of plant biomass.

Drs. Pelletier and Tyedmers’ research focuses on the 50-year period between 2000-2050. Using published data of the environmental impact of livestock production from the year 2000 and projections of livestock production and consumption from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the authors were able to estimate the potential environmental impacts in the 50-year period.

It is estimated that global production of livestock will double in the next 50 years, which will in turn, greatly increase the environmental impacts of the livestock industry. Drs. Pelletier and Tyedmers estimate the livestock industry alone will account for 72% of humanity’s total “safe operating space” for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, 88% of safe operating space for biomass appropriation and nearly 300% of the safe operating space for reactive nitrogen mobilisation.

It is estimated that nearly 60% of the biomass currently harvested annually to support all human activities is consumed by the livestock industry.

For example, the paper also examines similar environmental projections that explore the implications of a shift away from livestock production to a more low impact source of protein such as poultry or soybeans. Although the authors stress that a total switch to poultry or soybeans is unrealistic, even a marginal decrease in livestock production would help to reduce environmental impact.
Source: Dalhousie University