By Mihai Andrei • Originally published on ZME Science
Whether it’s Meatless Monday, Weekday Vegetarianism or simply cutting down meat consumption – people from developed countries are eating less meat, and it’s already making a difference. Even though some argue that cutting-back-consumption campaigns don’t push enough of a paradigm-shift, we’re already seeing the changes: 400 million animals were spared in the US alone in 2014 because people ate less meat.
Some 93 percent of people still eat meat and it’s difficult to imagine a future where most people won’t, but a world that eats less meat is already on the right way. According to a new report, meat consumption has been steadily declining in the U.S.—by 10% per capita since 2007. In 2014, the U.S. raised and killed 9.5 billion land animals for food, but 400 million (almost 4%) were saved simply because people skipped a few meaty meals.
Paul Shapiro, Vice President, Farm Animal Protection for The Humane Society of the United States explains:
“What that means is that compared to 2007, last year almost half a billion fewer animals were subjected to the torment of factory farming and industrial slaughter plants–and that’s despite the increase in the U.S. population,” Shapiro explains.
Things are starting to change in the US when it comes to meat – and the same trend can be noticed in most of the developed world. In 2012, the average American consumed 71.2 pounds of red meat (beef, veal, pork, and lamb) and 54.1 pounds of poultry (chicken and turkey), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and that number has went down significantly.
It’s worth noticing that on the other hand, developing countries are generally increasing their meat consumption so that on a global level, meat consumption has actually grown by a small margin – but this takes nothing away from the people who actually made a difference and consumed less meat; and as more and more countries go through this cycle, they too will ultimately reduce their consumption.
So why is this a good thing? Aside for the ethical reason of saving the animals themselves why is eating less meat a good thing?
The reasons can be split into two main categories: it’s good for you, and it’s good for the planet.
Why eating less meat is good for you:
- reduce cancer risk; hundreds of studies suggest that diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce cancer risk. Both red and processed meat consumption are associated with colon cancer.
- reduce heart disease risk; it’s well known that (especially red) meat increases heart disease risk and can damage blood circulation.
- reduce diabetes risk; research suggests that higher consumption of red and processed meat increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- reduce obesity; people on low-meat or vegetarian diets have significantly lower body weights and body mass indices.
- live longer; red and processed meat consumption is associated with increases in total mortality, cancer mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality.
- improve the quality of your diet; if you eat less meat, you’ll have the chance to substitute it with a healthy alternative. For example, consuming beans or peas results in higher intakes of fiber, protein, folate, zinc, iron and magnesium with lower intakes of saturated fat and total fat.
Why eating less meat is good for the planet:
- reduce your carbon footprint; the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions – far more than even transportation. Other foods don’t generate as much greenhouse gas.
- reduce water usage; the water needs of livestock are huge, far outweighing vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.
- reduce fossil fuel dependence; on average, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S. Compare this to the 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein.