Why Are GHGs So High For Meat Production and Consumption?
In our blog post ,The Carbon Footprint of Your Food, we saw how food derived from animals has a much higher carbon footprint than plant-based food. We’re sure you must have wondered why that is.
In this post, we shall explain the reasons why animal-based foods produce more GHGs than plants.
Let’s start with…
The reason why meat production has such a massive carbon footprint compared to plant-based food is partly that plants absorb CO2.
However, the other reason is that breeding livestock requires space. Often, that space is created by clearing trees. Beef cows, in particular, are large animals that graze across a vast area. Poultry and pigs, on the other hand, require less space.
Gas Produced By the Animals
Unfortunately, cows also produce greenhouse gases in their stomach. Cows have stomachs designed to break down cellulose, which makes the cell wall in vegetable matter. In the process of breaking this down, they produce CH4 (methane), which they release in the form of flatulence.
Whilst these are the main reasons why meat production has a high carbon footprint, meat consumption has other drawbacks as well.
Shorter Shelf Life
Meat products have a shorter shelf life than plant-based foods. They have to be consumed within a short time window. Grains and dried legumes, on the other hand, can be stored for months under the right conditions.
Even vegetables keep for longer than meat. And, when they start decaying, it is possible to cut out the affected part and use the rest. Meat, once it starts going off, cannot be consumed at all.
So, not only is meat producing more greenhouse gases in the production process, but it also has to be discarded relatively quickly. That contributes to food waste.
Livestock require more space to keep and raise.
Cows produce CH4 (methane), which they release in the form of flatulence.
Meat products have to be consumed within a short window and spoil faster.
Why Is My Meat Consumption Affecting the Whole Planet?
We’ll start by saying, we’re not anti-meat-eating, but education around food waste is important to us so let’s look at the effect of meat-eating on the plant,
Food Waste From Households
The problem is, 70% of the food waste comes from households, not food and hospitality businesses. That implies that people may be buying more than they can consume, storing food incorrectly, or not using it efficiently.
As a result, a total of 9.5 million tonnes (costing around £19 billion) of food is thrown out each year, with nearly three-quarters of that coming from people’s homes.
While some of it is inedible, in the form of peels, shells, bones, and seeds, up to 70% of it could have been consumed.
If your council doesn’t yet provide you with a separate food waste collection bin, it will likely go to landfill and decompose in the absence of air and produce methane (CH4).
As we mentioned earlier, animal husbandry requires space. Since arable land is used for agriculture, space for breeding livestock is created by clearing forests in some countries. These forests are giant carbon sinks and green lungs for the planet.
They consume and trap carbon and keep it out of the atmosphere. When you chop down trees, you’re taking away the mechanism that provides us with fresh air to breathe. And, that’s not even considering the massive impact on the local biodiversity.
The Water Footprint of Meat
Meat production uses water as well—in large quantities. Whilst over three-quarters of our planet is covered by water, it’s still a valuable resource. That’s because all the blue areas on the map are seas and oceans, which are saltwater.
Water from both saltwater and freshwater bodies needs to be processed to make it potable. And, remember, each process from source to your table adds to its carbon footprint.
That’s why you need to consider your water footprint as well as your carbon footprint. And, the fact is, one kilogram of chicken meat has a water footprint of 4,325 litres, whilst a kilogram of beef has a water footprint of 15,415 litres.
Compare that to 322 litres for vegetables, 962 litres for fruits, and 4,065 litres for pulses, and you can see how much water meat production consumes.
(On a side note, a kilogram of chocolate uses 17,196 litres of water!)
So, it’s not you individually who is causing global warming, but your choices, when multiplied across thousands of people add up.
Mitigating Your Impact on the Planet
The good news is, just like the poor food choices of thousands of individuals add up, the good choices also make a difference.
In our next post in this series, we will discuss how you can reduce the carbon footprint of your food. However, you can also take a look at apps that help you reduce food waste in your home.
Also, if your council does not collect food waste separately, speak to them about doing so. And, if you have other like-minded people who can add their voice to yours, even better.
When unavoidable food waste is collected separately, it can be recycled through the process of Anaerobic Digestion. In this process, it generates biofuel and biofertilisers. As a result, it can provide an alternative fuel source to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
BioteCH4 – Recycling Your Food Waste
Whilst it’s not possible for us to collect food waste from individual households, we do work with councils. If your local authorities are willing to collect food waste separately, we are happy to recycle it. They can contact us for more information.