Student Name: Laura Sellick - n8883203
Tutor: Michelle Cornford

Meat The Facts - On Global Warming

The cultural artefact presented, ‘Meat the Facts – On Global Warming’ is a video from late 2008 providing statistics and visuals on our environment as a result of our current meat consumption and production. It includes scenes that prompt thought on how much meat we actually consume, and the costs that arise from our excessive consumption. The video analyses the effects of meat in relation to land clearing and deforestation, water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, allocation of grain and the prevalence of hunger despite the capacity to prevent it. ‘Meat the Facts – On Global Warming’ provides evidence and statistics on how the environment and population are effected, suggesting how little the consumer is aware of the effects choosing meat have on a global scale.

The production of meat effects the environment on a global scale, and with increasing demands for its consumption, it will be an issue that is only going to continue to grow. The emerging urban middle class economies such as China, Korea, Malaysia, Philippians and Indonesia are growing, along with their increased demand for meat (McAlpine et al, 2009). Resulting in these new economies competing for the same level of meat consumed within already industrialised countries (McAlpine et al, 2009). The issue of climate change and the excessive use of our water, land and energy for the production of meat are all factors that are and will continue to effect the environment from its constant demand. The intensification of production in feedlots and the geographical increase of managed grazing systems in order to keep up with our society’s reliance on meat, are contributing to deforestation, increase in greenhouse gas emissions, pollution of waterways and the unequal distribution of grain to feedlots despite the issue of world hunger (McAlpine et al, 2009).

It is shocking to know that since 1961, the world’s meat consumption has quadrupled from 70 million tonnes a year to 2012’s statistics of 283 million tonnes per year (Global Agriculture, 2013). You’re probably wondering how this could happen? Where is this insane demand for meat consumption coming from? The fact is that the urban middle class is growing in many emerging economies, to the point of trying to catch up to the already high existing levels of meat consumed within industrialised countries. And in order to meet these rising demands in meat consumption, it is taking its toll and environmentally impacting on a regional and global scale. One aspect of its effects is resulting in changes to tropical and sub-tropical land-cover which are therefore effecting many aspects of the environment (McAlpine et al, 2009).

Meat consumption, being the greatest contributor to global deforestation, is not only an issue of excessive amounts of land being cleared, but the further methods that are influencing the continual degradation of our environment. The deforestation and bulldozing of large sectors of land are needed to make room for animal farming, yet also the crops to feed them (McAlpine et al, 2009). More than 90% of the Amazon forest that has been cleared since 1970 has been for livestock pasture (World Preservation Foundation, 2013). If we look at Australia’s contribution to the meat industry, you’ll see that beef is our most common enterprise, with 40-45% of it farmed in Queensland. Each year 300,000 to 700,000ha of land are cleared particularly in central and southern woodland and forested areas, which are supported by fertile clay soils with the capacity for regrowth (McAlpine et al, 2009). Yet unlike the northern areas where there is less clearing because of the more native Savana woodlands and grasslands (McAlpine et al, 2009). And with soil acidification and erosion increasing in Australia, along with compaction and overgrazing throughout the rest of the world, is of great concern for the future of livestock and the agriculture sector. Dr Clive McAlpine from The University of Queensland has highlighted the need for policy change. He proposes: a stop to the subsidising of beef production and the promotion of its consumption, control over future expansion of soybeans and grazing, a restoration of forest regrowth and grazing lands and finally the allocation of resources to less environmentally damaging alternative land uses. He writes ‘This would make a major contribution to reducing carbon emissions and biodiversity conservation, maintaining ecosystem services and relatively cooler, moister climates in deforested and adjacent regions’(McAlpine et al, 2009).

The global emissions from the livestock sector as reported by the United Nations accounts for 18% of global greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions (Stehfest et al,2013), which is 40% more than global transportation. The current rates of meat production and consumption, contribute 65% of nitrous oxide and 37% of methane production which has 23 more times the potential of supporting global warming than carbon dioxide (Ghandi, 2010). It is confronting to know that the world watch institution’s report findings have shown 51% or more of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions are coming from animal livestock and their by-products (Anhang & Goodland, 2009). The GHG emission methane (CH₄) is released from enteric fermentation and manure management; nitrous oxide (N₂O) which is released from manure and also the effects of deforestation releases carbon dioxide (CO₂) (Henning, 2011). However, the costs of transportation, farm fuel use and the cultivating soil emissions, processing, the production and usage of chemical fertilizers all add to GHG emissions within the animal agricultural sector (Henning, 2011).
global warming pic.gifemissions pic.jpg
The livestock sector is not only the greatest contributor to global deforestation accounting for 18% of GHG emissions, but is possibly the largest source of freshwater pollution and usage (Henning, 2011). Just as our consumption of meat is increasing so is our consumption of water, which we are now using three times more water than that which was used in 1960. To produce a single kilogram of beef, the usage of water needs to be at least one hundred times more than that required to produce a single kilogram of grain. The livestock sector accounts for over 8% of global human water usage, which is also contributing to the degradation of coral reefs and marine ecosystems (Henning, 2011). The chemicals from fertilisers and pesticides along with the livestock excrement (which contain potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen) can enter our waterways from runoff and pollute our natural sources of freshwater (Henning, 2011). 1.1 billion People are living without clean drinking water (Jain, 2012), yet this isn't surprising when compared to the statistics within the United States alone, with livestock excrement being ten times higher than the human population’s. This supports the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) discoveries of it being the largest sector to contribute to water pollution.

Not only is an excessive amount of water required to produce meat, but also an excessive amount of grain. A large proportion of Queensland’s beef is exported yet the Queensland Department of Primary Industries has highlighted the fact that in order for cattle to have a weight gain of 1.1kg, 7.45Kg of feed is required (Sustainable Table, 2013). This alone shows how much grain is needed to be provided for cattle, and only proves that it uses up more food than what is supplies, raising the question of its sustainability? Globally we produce 50% more than what is required to feed everyone in the world, yet why is it that we have the issue of 27,000 children under the age of five dying each day because of starvation? (Sustainable Table, 2013) To put things into perspective the amount of grain in one hectare that is needed to produce beef is 78 times less than the amount of food it could provide in the form of vegetables (Sustainable Table, 2013). According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation in 2010, half of the 2232 Mt of grain produced went to animal feed or bio-fuels alone (Moriarty, 2012).
grain allocation pic.jpg
So it is clear that this is an issue that is going to continue to grow, from either population increase or the urban middle class societies demand for meat consumption, despite the degradation of the environment around us. By adopting a vegetarian diet or one with a smaller amount of meat consumption, you’re actively choosing to reduce your ecological footprint by being aware of the costs it has on the environment. By making choices to not support the ever-growing demand for meat, you’re taking into account that at the rate of current meat productions, it is an unsustainable preference in our diets that is only adding to destruction of the planet.

The population health issue we are facing is the over-consumption of meat and the effects that its production have on our environment and society. The consumption of meat has played a significant part between how different parts of the population are either suffering from obesity or hunger and starvation. Being polar opposites of each other in numbers, where 1.2 billion are obese while a further 1.2 billion are hungry (Gardner & Halweil, 2000), makes you question how we've gone on for so long knowing that it is not an issue of not having enough food, rather the allocation and distribution of it. And with the continual effects on the environment, the question of the future sustainability of our current practices within the livestock and agricultural sectors are of great concern, especially when the global population for 2050 is estimated to stabilise at 9 billion (Henning, 2011).
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1.2 billion suffer from hunger, while 1.2 billion are obese

In order to direct the population in a safer and more sustainable future, we need to reign in on the livestock sector. Current evidence is only showing that the continual demand for meat is only putting further pressure on the environment at a rate where our natural resources are not having enough time to recover. The deforestation, increase in GHG emissions, effects of livestock on ground fertility and the pollution and over-usage of water are only some of the major factors the population need to consider when proceeding with their choice of diet that relies heavily on meat (Henning, 2011). However, although making the assumption that once educated about the effects meat consumption is having on our environment, everyone’s opinions will instantly change is ridiculous. We firstly need to look at what is causing the problems, and this takes into account the social determinants.

The social determinants will help explain why there is a vast difference between hunger and obesity, for example those who are suffering from obesity are most likely to be of a lower socioeconomic background, and the convenience and affordability of “fast food” are the main factors of having a diet that can only afford so much food to feed a family, and the factor of nutritional value is not a priority. So by allowing the consumption of meat to be at such low prices, it encourages the consumption of meat, yet if raised to the “true value”, it could help in reducing its demand. The geographical location of populations in developing countries where there is a prevalence of hunger and malnutrition fall under Weber’s theory of groups being excluded of receiving less time, care and attention than they need. The theory of McDonaldization focuses on efficiency, calculability, predictability and control of a rational system. For example the fast food industries and their overproduction and demand for meat have resulted in adverse effects on society (such as obesity) and the environment (all the factors required in the meat production processes).

The artefact displays a series of visuals that highlights the effects the increasing demands for meat have on the environment. By showing statistics and images of deforestation, GHG emissions, world hunger vs. obesity from grain allocation, and water usage and its pollution, it clearly shows the viewer a series of detrimental effects that are result from meat. By having a sound of a heartbeat from the opening scene of the video, it symbolises the heartbeat of the planet, and when it died out, it plants the thought of ‘what will happen once meat production is no longer an option because of the degradation we inflicted on the environment?’.

From this assessment piece, I feel I have gathered a greater insight into just some of the factors meat has on the environment. I found it quite confronting to read the statistics of what our environment will be like in less than 50 years if continuing to provide for the ever-growing demand of meat. It has made me more aware of how the actions I choose will not only affect me but ones around me. I am definitely more conscious of my choices of meat consumption and I’m wanting to change to a more plant based diet now knowing how much the environment will be effected if I don’t.

Anhang, J. and Goodland, R. (2009) Livestock and Climate Change, Retrieved from

Gardner, G. and Halweil, B. (2000). The world pays a heavy price for malnutrition. International Herald Tribune, pp. 9.

Ghandi, M (2010) Global Warming and Methane Production, People For Animals, Retrieved from

Global Agriculture (2013) Meat, Retrieved from

Henning, B. (2011). Standing in livestock's '‘Long shadow'’: The ethics of eating meat on a small planet. Ethics & the Environment, 16(2), 63-93. doi:10.2979/ethicsenviro.16.2.63

Jain, R. (2012). Providing safe drinking water: A challenge for humanity. Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy,14(1), 1-4. doi:10.1007/s10098-011-0446-1

McAlpine, C. A., Etter, A., Fearnside, P. M., Seabrook, L., & Laurance, W. F. (2009). Increasing world consumption of beef as a driver of regional and global change: A call for policy action based on evidence from Queensland (Australia), Colombia and Brazil. Global Environmental Change, 19(1), 21-33. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2008.10.008

Moriarty, P. (2012) “Vegetarians cause environmental damage, but meat eaters aren’t off the hook”, Animals Australia the voice for animals, Retrieved from

Stehfest, E., Van den Berg, M., Woltjer, G., Msangi, S., & Westhoek, H. (2013). Options to reduce the environmental effects of livestock production - comparison of two economic models. Agricultural Systems, 114, 38. doi:10.1016/j.agsy.2012.07.002

Sustainable Table (2013) Meet your Meat - The environmental impacts of eating meat, Retrieved from

World Preservation Foundation (2013) Deforestation, World Preservation Foundation, Retrieved from

YouTube (2008) Meat The Facts – On Global Warming, Retrieved from

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