#FoodforChange – Our Meat Consumption is Out of Control

07 Oct 2018

 width=We’ve gone too far, and we are showing no signs of slowing down. We consume too much meat, and the figures continue to rise: we already consume as much as six times more than our grandparents did, and current trends point to that coming close to doubling again over the next generation:

1950: 45 million tonnes

2018: 300 million tonnes

2050: 500 million tonnes (estimate)

Predictably, these figures are largely the linked to the habits of those of us in the West. Consumption tends to be much higher in highly developed countries and regions, where highly processed and intensively sourced meat products are cheaply accessible. The table below, listing the figures for per capita meat consumption around the world paints a clear picture: Responsibility is in the hands of those of us in wealthier and more developed countries.

ZONE kgs/year – Per Capita
USA 120.2
CHINA 58.2


While the responsibility is in the hands of the West, so is one of the solutions! Reducing our consumption of meat would be a massive step towards cutting down the greenhouse gas emissions related to animal agriculture, and the fastest way that any one of us can have an impact. Studies indicate that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by the agricultural sector contribute around one-fifth of all global emissions, and of these, around 80% come from meat production.[1] Between meats, the largest polluter is the cattle industry, due to production processes (CO2), ruminant digestion (methane) and the cultivation of fodder and the use of fertilizers (NO).[2] Significant emissions also come from the transport of meat: Out of European countries, Italy is one of the biggest importers of red meat, particularly from France and Poland.[3] width=What would happen if we reduced our consumption of animal protein?A recent study, based on food consumption in the UK,[4] showed that even a small change to diets, with a reduction of meat consumption, would not only bring it in line with nutritional guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization and consumer acceptance levels, but could lead to a 20% decrease in GHG emissions from the agricultural sector. It doesn’t take much to have a lasting impact, but we cannot wait around until its too late, we must do our part now.

Take part in the Food for Change Challenge! Eat no meat for a week, and less meat, of better quality, for the rest of the year!

[1] 1 1. Pachauri RK, Allen MR, Barros VR et al. Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Geneva, IPCC, 2014.

[2] de Vries M, de Boer IJM. Comparing environmental impacts for livestock products: A review of life cycle assessments. Livestock science 2010; 128(1-3):1-11.

[3] Caro D, LoPresti A, Davis SJ, Bastianoni S, Caldeira K. CH4 and N2 O emissions embodied in international trade of meat. Environmental Research Letters 2014;9(11):114005

[4] Milner J, Green R, Dangour AD et al. Health effects of adopting low greenhouse gas emission diets in the UK. BMJ Open 2015;5(4): e007364

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