Worldwide, agriculture accounts for more than 70% of water usage, and it's in the highest category for energy-use. Each year, about 2.3 million tonnes of pesticides is used for agriculture, and more than 180 million tonnes of fertiliser is used. In relation to land use, more than 30% of the earths (ice-free) land surface is taken up to produce food, of which about 70% is used for livestock production.
This outrageously high use of the earths resources is already well over capacity, burdening our planet, contributing largely to climate change, and of biggest concern, is getting worse. The world population is set to grow by a few billion people by 2050, with each extra person putting stress on increased food production and therefore extra use of the earths resources.
It has been estimated that about 2 billion people worldwide live primarily on a meat-based diet and about 4 billion people worldwide live primarily on a plant-based diet. In the United States alone, the average person eats around 125kg of meat per year. In relation, the energy costs to produce this amount of meat is substantial.
It takes about 4 calories of fossil fuels to produce just 1 calorie of chicken protein. For cows milk, it takes 10 calories, and of most significance, it takes 57 and 40 calories, to produce just 1 calorie of lamb and beef protein, respectively. This means these animals need to consume excessively high amounts of calories to produce very small amounts of protein calories in return. For example, to produce 1kg of animal protein, the animal needs to consume about 6kg of plant protein.
On average, to produce 1 calorie of:
Animal protein - it takes 25 calories of fossil fuel energy
Grain protein - it takes 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy (10 times less)
Another example, to produce just 1kg of beef protein it takes:
282.6 metres2 of land
18 times more land than it does to produce 1kg of kidney bean protein
109 metres3 of water
10 times more water than it does to produce 1kg of kidney bean protein
2.7 litres of fuel
9 times more fuel than it does to produce 1kg of kidney bean protein
1945 grams of fertiliser
12 times more fertiliser than it does to produce 1kg of kidney bean protein
93 grams of pesticide
10 times more pesticide than it does to produce 1kg of kidney bean protein
Looking at these numbers, you can see that animal/meats require significantly more resources, including land, water, fuel, fertiliser and pesticides, than that plant foods. Furthermore, to raise livestock, excessive amounts of manure is produced along the way. Manure is a major contributor to green-house gas emissions.
Significantly, the worldwide production of meat tripled to over 600 billion pounds from 1971 to 2010. At this rate, production is predicted to double by 2050. That’s 1.2 trillion pounds of meat per year, which ultimately will require excess land use, extreme amounts of water, fuel, pesticides and fertilisers, resulting in detrimental impacts to the earth.
A recent study...
On the 1st of June 2018, a very large study was published on the environmental affects of food. The study analysed the environmental impacts of over 38,000 farms from around the world and found that limiting or avoiding meat and dairy foods from one’s diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by more than 70%. Further to this, the study showed that if everyone stopped eating meat and dairy foods, global farmland could be reduced by up to 75%.
If you limit or avoid the consumption of animal products, this delivers far better environmental benefits than cutting your use of electricity, taking fewer flights overseas, or even buying and driving an electric car.
To put these actions into numbers, it has been calculated that if everyone in the United States of America ate a vegetarian diet, it would be the equivalent of taking more than 46 million cars off the road. Imagine if the whole world did this!
Eat for health, eat for earth, eat more plants.