The Ecological Impact of Eating Meat

Kazuo Uyehara

I chose to do my Final Project on the ecological impact of meat consumption because of my personal interest in the subject as a vegetarian. I have found that the majority of people do not account for the environment in their dietary choices, and raising awareness alone can sometimes change peoples' habits.

Meat consumption negatively affects the environment in a few major ways:

  • Livestock farming heavily pollutes water in the form of animal waste.
  • Animal manure also contaminates soil.
  • Animal waste also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and acid rain
  • Wildlife and natural ecosystems can be destroyed by overgrazing and feeding
  • Fishing is decimating stocks and threatens species and their ecosystems
  • The massive amounts of land used for livestock negatively affect biodiversity and can limit available land for other purposes.
  • Meat production is extremely inefficient when compared to agriculture in terms of calorie conversion
  • Food used to feed animals could be used to feed humans
  • Livestock require large amounts of water
  • The negative health effects of high meat consumption can lead to higher health costs

The proposed solution for limiting the environmental damage caused by meat production is a large decrease in overall meat consumption, not a completely vegetarian society.  If animals were raised where agriculture would not be productive and animals could comfortably graze, food production could be maximized.  Likewise, if there were a reasonable number of animals per acre of land, their waste would not be so environmentally destructive.

Discussion Questions

  • Is reducing meat consumption a reasonable way to limit human environmental impacts?
  • What is the likelihood that a large-scale change in diet will actually happen?
  • What conditions would be necessary for you to personally significantly lower your meat consumption?
  • Does “environmental” eating favor certain groups within society?
  • What cultural associations are important in meat consumption?
  • Could economics be used to deter excessive meat consumption?
  • How much meat is “O.K” to eat?

Reading assignment:

"Will We Still Eat Meat?" by Ed Ayres. Visions of the 21st Century,

"The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat" a report by Compassion in World Farming Trust. 2004.

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last updated 4/24/07