Last month, in observance of Earth Day, a number of people celebrated by not eating meat. Of course, many of those people celebrate every day by not eating meat, but that’s another issue.
Specifically, a growing number of activists are claiming the production of beef, pork and poultry are responsible for a significant share of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. These activists are calling on concerned people everywhere to stop eating meat in an effort to slow global warming.
In an editorial in The Boston Globe last month, “One less burger, one safer planet,” Derrick Z. Jackson called on the next U.S. president to “put meat on the bones of environmental policy by telling us to eat less of it.”
Jackson promotes several myths about livestock production in the editorial as he loosely ties meat consumption to the destruction of the environment and the endangerment of fish and wildlife.
Citing a study from British, Australian and Chilean authors, Jackson noted that “livestock occupy nearly a third of the land on earth,” and “agricultural greenhouse gases are about 22 percent of all emissions around the world. The study said that stabilizing agricultural emissions would require a 10 percent cut in global meat consumption.”
Such statements are intended to gain the attention of consumers, but they’re mostly hogwash, says Alex Avery, director of research and education for the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues.
Avery says, pound-for-pound, beef produced with grains and growth hormones produces 40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions and saves two-thirds more land for nature compared to organic grass-fed beef.
Additionally, Avery says that without the technological advancements utilized by beef producers over the past 50 years, our nation’s cattle herd would need to be roughly 180 million head to produce the same amount of beef we are now producing from 95 million cattle. And all those additional cattle would require additional land area about equal to the combined acreage of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Kansas to provide the additional pasture and feed grains.
One of the myths promoted by consumer activists is that organic farming is the answer to saving the planet. Last year, a University of Michigan study said that “organic farming can feed the world.”
Avery says, “Not even the United Nations believes this fabrication.” The UN Food and Agriculture Organization released a statement saying, “FAO has no reason to believe that organic agriculture can substitute for conventional farming systems in ensuring the world’s food security.” Director Jaques Diouf said, “You cannot feed 6 billion people today and 9 billion in 2050 without judicious use of chemical fertilizers.”
Avery acknowledges that a peak population of 9 billion humans will demand more than twice as much farm output by 2050. Already, he says, the world’s farmers are using 40 percent of the world’s land area, and clearing forests to double cropland would crowd out many thousands of wild species.
But many environmental activists such as Jackson of The Boston Globe ignore the fact that it would be impossible to raise fruits and vegetables on every tillable acre. Further, they also conveniently ignore the fact that livestock convert photosynthesis into edible protein from vast areas of the Earth that are not tillable.
Rapidly rising food prices have already sparked riots in some countries, and more unrest will surely follow if food prices continue to rise as expected. We can’t logically expect to solve the issues of food shortages and greenhouse gas emissions through organic farming and swearing off meat consumption.
Alex Avery is the author of The Truth About Organic Foods.