Shifting diets away from meat could slash in half per capita greenhouse gas emissions related to eating habits worldwide and ward off additional deforestation which is a major contributor to climate change. The Environmental impact of meat production varies because of the wide variety of agricultural practices employed around the world.
By Arthur R.M. Becker
All agricultural practices have been found to have a variety of effects on the environment. Some of the environmental effects that have been associated with meat production are pollution through fossil fuel usage, animal methane, effluent waste, and water and land consumption. Meat is obtained through a variety of methods, including organic farming, free range farming, intensive livestock production, subsistence agriculture, hunting, and fishing.
The 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, states that “the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases (GHG) and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution. A 2017 study published in the journal Carbon Balance and Management found animal agriculture’s global methane emissions are 11% higher than previous estimates based on data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.Some fraction of these effects is assignable to non-meat components of the livestock sector such as the wool, egg and dairy industries, and to the livestock used for tillage. Livestock have been estimated to provide power for tillage of as much as half of the world’s cropland.
According to production data compiled by the FAO, 74 percent of global livestock product tonnage in 2011 was accounted for by non-meat products such as wool, eggs and milk.Meat is also considered one of the prime factors contributing to the current sixth mass extinction. A July 2018 study in Science asserts that meat consumption will increase as the result of human population growth and rising individual incomes, which will increase carbon emissions and further reduce biodiversity.
In November 2017, 15,364 world scientists signed a Warning to Humanity calling for, among other things, drastically diminishing our per capita consumption of meat
Changes in demand for meat in Liberia may change the environmental impact of meat production by influencing how much meat is produced. It has been estimated that global meat consumption may double between 2000 to 2050, mostly as a consequence of increasing world population, but also partly because of increased per capita meat consumption (with much of the per capita consumption increase occurring in the developing world). Global production and consumption of poultry meat have recently been growing at more than 5 percent annually. Trends vary among livestock sectors. For example, global per capita consumption of pork has increased recently (almost entirely due to changes in consumption within China), while global per capita consumption of ruminant meats has been declining.
The effects of meat consumption in Liberia like many other countries contributes significantly to the emissions driving climate change. It has been estimated that livestock production contributes:
• 14.5% of overall greenhouse emissions;
• Significant amounts of particular gases (5% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions; 44% of anthropogenic methane emissions; and 53% of anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions);
Sources of emissions include:
• Direct sources such as enteric fermentation by ruminants (39% of emissions) and manure (26%)
• Indirect sources such as the production, processing and transport of animal feed (which accounts for 45% of sector emissions).
Wider environmental problems include the degradation of grazing land due to problems such as overgrazing, as well as pollution from animal waste and runoff from pesticides/fertilisers used to grow feed crops.
Climate change potentially affects quality and availability of fodder and feed and may accelerate degradation of grazing land (e.g. because of increased drought or flood risk) as well as the threat of disease (e.g. because of warmer temperatures). At particular risk are arid and semi-arid grazing systems in vulnerable regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.
What needs to Change in Liberia?
If the effects of meat consumption is this challenging to causes of global warming and climate change the following need to change, through Climate SMART Animal.
Farming/Agriculture in Liberia:
• Breeding more productive animals;
• Improving diets so that animals produce more protein with less feed and lower emissions;
• Better manure management (e.g. composting);
• Better herd management to improve output, including better herd health management with less reliance on antibiotics;
• Better management of grassland (e.g. sowing improved varieties of pasture, rotational grazing)
• Public Awareness raising;
• Climate SMART Animal Farming/ Agriculture policies introduced and implemented;
• Trainings on Climate SMART Animal Farming for local farmers
We need to act now in a collective and global way to ensure that the impacts of Climate Change associated with meat consumption is robustly tackled by every person and every nation through the meaningful strategies and Climate SMART change behavioral patterns/trends we employ.
We are hopeful that Liberia and other countries will choose some of these best practices associated with Climate SMART Animal Farming or agriculture; as these steps recommended will help mitigate the herculean challenges associated with tackling the impacts of Climate Change due to the effects of meat Consumption.
Every steps counts in tackling Climate Change, and that first step begins with everyone and every country of which Liberians and Liberia is of no exception.
Arthur R.M. Becker is Project Officer for Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) Environmentalist & Junior Climate Change Negotiator at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Liberia