Choosing Our Future

By the year 2025, 2/3 of the world population may encounter water shortages as there's over 8,2 billion of us.
Meanwhile, in the grocery store, there are two identical 8-ounce (0.23kg) steaks that cost and taste the same. The first one is labelled ‘animal-grown’ and the other ‘cultured meat’. The label on the first one shows that approximately 3,515 litres of water was used in its production as well as enough energy to fully charge one laptop sixty times, and it emitted 4.54kg of greenhouse gases. The other product’s label shows that a less than a tenth of the water and land was used in its production as well as significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.If this information was on the label of the two steaks, which product would you choose?

Negative future

The growth in demand for animal products over the coming decades will be significant.
Although the annual growth rate will be somewhat slower than in recent decades, the growth in absolute volume will be vast.
Global production of meat is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050 [over 320 million in 2013], and that of milk to increase from 580 to 1043 million tonnes. [over 850 million tonnes of milk in 2020]
The bulk of the growth in meat and in milk production will occur in developing countries.Taking into account likely changes in the structure of the industry, while there has been no attempt to quantify the environmental impacts of livestock, it is probably safe to state that under a "business as usual" scenario:

  • Pollution- The spatial and commercial concentration of livestock production will continue to grow, leading to large areas with high nitrogen and phosphorus surpluses, concentrated discharge of toxic materials, polluting and contaminating land and ground and surface water, and destroying terrestrial and aquatic bio-diversity. Continued geographic concentraion, with large-scale commercial production growing but with less intensice, widely scattered smallholder production still existing alongside, will exacerbate the risk of emerging and traditional zoonotic diseases.
  • Losing land- Demand for feedcrops will grow, causing a further conversion of natural habitats into cropland in some places, notably Latin America. The factors that slowed use of feed grain in the period 1985 to 2005, including EU agricultural policy reform, drastic structural changes in the previous socialist countries of Eastern Europe and CIS. and the global shift to poultry as efficient converters of feed crops, are likely to wane; therefore feedgrain use is projected to expand more in line with output growth in livestock products. The pressure on crop agriculture to expand and intensify will remain high; and so the associated environmental impacts, in terms of water depletion, climate change and biodiversity loss, will grow.
  • Cleaner water- The world will only have 60% of the water it needs by 2030 without significant global policy change, according to a recent report from the U.N. Contaminated water and poor sanitation affect 780 million people according to WHO, who for the most part live in water-deficient economically poor places. The organization estimates that contaminated drinking water causes 502,000 deaths a year from diarrhea alone. Although statistics vary, it is safe to say that it takes at least three times the amount of water to feed a meat eater compared with that used to feed a vegan. For example, it takes 15,400 litres of water to produce 1 kg beef, contrasted with 214 litres for 1 kg tomatoes and 290 litres for 1 kg potatoes, contrasted with 180 litres for 1 kg tomatoes and 250 litres for 1 kg potatoes.
  • Health- By 2030, antimicrobial resistance could force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty. By 2050, infectious diseases could surpass heart disease as the world’s number one killer and create healthcare costs of at least $100 trillion, according to a leading research institute in San Antonio. (60% of all human diseases originate from animals) Currently, at least 700,000 people die each year due to drug-resistant diseases. If no action is taken - warns the UN Ad hoc Interagency Coordinating Group on Antimicrobial Resistance who released the report – drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths each year by 2050
  • Clean air- Livestock's contribution to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions will increase, in particular of the more aggressive nitrous oxide, raising the sector's already significant contribution to global climate change
  • Climate change- Livestock-induced degradation of the world's arid and semi-arid lands will continue, in particular in Africa and South and Central Asia, again contributing significantly to climate change, water depletion and biodiversity losses, and sometimes leading to irreversible loss of productivity. The poor who derive a living from livestock will continue to extract the little they can from dwindling common property resources while facing growing marginalization.
  • Money- Governments provide an astonishing £560bn a year in farm subsidies, and almost all of them are perverse and destructive, driving deforestation, pollution and the killing of wildlife. Research by the Food and Land Use Coalition found that only 1% of the money is used to protect the living world. It failed to find “any examples of governments using their fiscal instruments to directly support the expansion of supply of healthier and more nutritious food.”

Positive future

  • Climate change- Of the world’s approximately five billion hectares (12 billion acres) of agricultural land, 68% is used for livestock. Food production accounts for one-quarter to one-third of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and if the world went vegan instead, emissions declines would be around 70%.
  • Health- Marco Springmann's, (a research fellow at the Oxford Martin School’s Future of Food program) computer model study showed that, should everyone go vegetarian by 2050, we would see a global mortality reduction of 6-10%, thanks to a lessening of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers. Eliminating red meat accounts for half of that decline, while the remaining benefits are thanks to scaling back the number of calories people consume and increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables they eat. A worldwide vegan diet would further amplify these benefits: global vegetarianism would stave off about 7 million deaths per year, while total veganism would knock that estimate up to 8 million. Fewer people suffering from food-related chronic illnesses would also mean a reduction in medical bills, saving about 2-3% of global gross domestic product.
  • Food- Research by the thinktank RethinkX suggests that proteins from precision fermentation will be around 10 times cheaper than animal protein by 2035. Not only will food be cheaper, it will also be healthier. Because farm free foods will be built up from simple ingredients, rather than broken down from complex ones, allergens, hard fats and other unhealthy components can be screened out. Meat will still be meat, though it will be grown in factories on collagen scaffolds, rather than in the bodies of animals. Starch will still be starch, fats will still be fats.
  • Nature- Repurposing former pastures into native habitats and forests would alleviate climate change and bring back lost biodiversity, including larger herbivores such as buffalo, and predators such as wolves, all of which were previously pushed out or killed in order to keep cattle. Friends of the Earth estimates that around 6 million hectares of forest land a year – an area equivalent to Latvia or twice the size of Belgium –(and a similar acreage of peat and wetlands elsewhere) have been felled to provide burgers for the US and more recently animal feed for farms for Europe, China and Japan. Wildfires, arctic ice melting and sea level rise would top and save billions of animal lives.
  • People- Everybody currently engaged in the livestock industry would need to be retrained for a new career – this could be in agriculture, reforestation or producing bioenergy. Taking livestock like sheep away could actually have a negative impact on biodiversity, as their grazing has helped to shape the land for centuries – so some farmers could be paid to keep animals for environmental purposes. The jobs generated by the plant-based foods industry are better than most, with an average income of $59,400 — or about $13,000 more than the average income in the United States

"Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options", 2006 By Henning Steinfeld, Pierre Gerber, T. D. Wassenaar, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Vincent Castel, Mauricio Rosales, Mauricio Rosales M., Cees de Haan

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