As global meat consumption continues to drive accelerating deforestation, drought and other threats to endangered species, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) launched a new campaign this week urging Americans to “take extinction off your plate.” The campaign says eating less meat is one of the best ways people can reduce their environmental footprint.
“Many people don’t realize the devastating toll meat production has on wildlife and the planet,” said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the CBD. “The livestock industry has nearly driven animals like wolves extinct, and it’s responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than cars, trains and airplanes combined.”
According to the “Earth-Friendly Diet Pledge,” cutting just one-third of your intake of factory-farmed meat can save as much as 340,667 gallons of water, more than 4,000 square feet of land, and the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 2,700 fewer miles a year.
“Americans already eat more meat per person than almost anyone else in the world, and our wildlife and climate are paying the price,” said Feldstein. “As our population grows, we’ll face worsening problems of livestock-driven drought, pollution, climate change and wildlife extinctions unless people start choosing to eat less meat.”
Earlier this year the Center surveyed its members to learn more about attitudes toward meat production among the conservation-minded. More than 75 percent said the biggest barrier to reducing meat consumption in the United States is lack of awareness about issues related to meat production, and 80 percent believe environmental groups should be doing more to reduce overall meat consumption as a way to address environmental problems.
But a number of recent studies point to a growing awareness and concern for sustainability when it comes to food: New research released last week revealed Americans are willing to sacrifice variety and dollars in order to eat more consciously. Although family satisfaction reigns supreme (97 percent), health and nutrition (93 percent) and sustainability (77 percent) are now also important factors when deciding which foods to buy. And a report released in August by the Center for Culinary Development projected that growing consumer awareness of the vulnerable state of the global environment and food supply, along with increased education about ecologically sound foods, will lead to a long-term increase in environmentally conscious eating.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. The CBD’s population and sustainability program recently distributed more than 500,000 Endangered Species Condoms (just in time for Valentine's Day) as a way to highlight the connection between unsustainable human population growth and the effects on wildlife around the world.
US consumers aren’t the only ones who love their red meat — it figures prominently in traditional cuisines around the world, particularly in Latin America, and increasingly in Asia — so reducing widespread demand for meat enough to halt its devastating effect on planetary health may not be a realistic goal. A number of savvy entrepreneurs and researchers are assessing the viability and scalability of using crickets as a sustainable alternative to beef and other resource-intensive livestock as a source of protein (which may be a challenge for Western palates), but ultimately, the onus is on major beef producers/consumers such as McDonald’s to demonstrate whether or not ‘sustainable beef production’ is an oxymoron.