Meat consumption continues to rise

Grilled meatAmericans are eating even more burgers, chicken fingers and bacon, and the trend could say a lot about our health, the environment and, of course, the farm animals.

American consumption of red meat and poultry per capita is forecast to hit 222.2 pounds per person in 2018, up from 216.9 pounds in 2017 and 210.2 pounds in 1998, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s the highest amount of meat consumption within the last 50 years. Production of both red meat and poultry will increase in 2018, at the same time the U.S. economy is growing and Americans have more money to spend on food.

The world is eating too much meat, and that’s bad news for the earth’s forests, arable land, and scarce water. That’s the conclusion of a report entitled “Peak Meat Production Strains Land and Water Resources” by the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.

Global production of meat hit a new high of 395 million tons last year (2017). According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),  “In response to growing purchasing power, urbanization, and changing diets, meat production has expanded more than fourfold over just the last fifty years” says the report.

The global average during 2014 rose to 75 pounds per capita and is projected to rise further to 78 pounds by 2024. While people in the developed world eat more meat than in the developing world they are starting to catch up.

Not surprisingly, Asia, home to the fast-growing, populous countries has already become the world’s largest meat-producing region at about 43 percent of world output.

Raising all that livestock requires lots of land and water. More than two thirds of all agricultural land is used for animal pasture, with an additional 10 percent used to grow feed grains consumed by meat- and dairy-producing animals. Agriculture overall consumes about 70 percent of the world’s fresh water, a third of which goes just to grow feed grains.

“Industrial methods in the livestock sector cut down forests to expand grazing lands and use large quantities of water. Production uses crops such as corn and soybeans for animal feed and relies on heavy doses of antibiotics in animals” says Worldwatch Institute Senior Researcher Michael Renner. The rise in meat consumption is also bad news for the effort to limit global warming. See our article on the surprisingly strong connection between raising livestock and climate change.

All of this adds up to a very scary picture of what the ever-increasing demand for meat means for our planet.  Let’s hope we can get the word out before we have no planet left!