“If our planet Earth is to continue feeding us in the future, rich countries must significantly reduce their meat consumption – ideally by at least 75 percent.” This is the conclusion of a new review published by researchers at the University of Bonn. “The study reviews the current state of research on various aspects of meat consumption. In addition to the effects on the environment and climate, these include health and economic effects. A conclusion of the researchers: Eating meat in small amounts can be quite sustainable. The results are published in the journal Annual Review of Resource Economics.
…[T]here are good reasons for significantly reducing consumption of animal-based foods. “If all humans consumed as much meat as Europeans or North Americans, we would certainly miss the international climate targets and many ecosystems would collapse,” explains study author Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim of the Center for Development Research (ZEF) at the University of Bonn. “We therefore need to significantly reduce our meat consumption, ideally to 20 kilograms or less annually. The war in Ukraine and the resulting shortages in international markets for cereal grains also underline that less grain should be fed to animals in order to support food security.” At present, around half of all grains produced worldwide are used as animal feed, Qaim said.”
Mass vegetarianism is not the best solution
Would it not be better for humankind to switch completely to vegetarian or, even better, vegan diets? According to the authors of this study, this would be the wrong approach. “On the one hand, there are many regions where plant-based foods cannot be grown. “We can’t live on grass, but ruminants can,” clarifies Qaim’s colleague and co-author Dr. Martin Parlasca. “Therefore, if grassland cannot be used in any other way, it makes perfect sense to keep livestock on it.” From an environmental point of view, there is also no real objection to careful grazing with a limited number of animals.”
Poorer regions also lack plant sources of high-quality proteins and micronutrients. “For instance, vegetables and legumes cannot be grown everywhere and, moreover, can be harvested only at certain times of the year. “In such cases, animals are often a key element of a healthy diet,” Parlasca points out. “For many people, they are also an important source of income. If the revenue from milk, eggs and meat is lost, this can threaten their livelihoods.” In any case, the poorer countries are not the problem, the authors point out. For their inhabitants, meat is usually much less frequently on the menu than in industrialized nations. This means that the rich countries in particular must reduce their meat consumption.”
Citation: Parlasca MC, Qaim M. Meat consumption and sustainability. Annual Review of Resource Economics 2022 14:1. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-resource-111820-032340
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