BeaconStreet USA

Environmental Cost of Meat

Posted on April 8, 2023  •  3 minutes  • 543 words

The U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock consume say Cornell University ecologist researchers. If the grain were exported, it would increase the U.S. trade balance by $80 billion per year.

The American system of feeding livestock grain rather than allowing cattle to feed on pastureland consumes resources far disproportionate to the yield. What’s more it accelerates soil erosion, uses huge amounts of water, and affects world food supply in a negative way.

Grass-fed livestock yields more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of meat and dairy protein. While it’s true that the protein yield of beef is greater than that achieved by high-protein plants in the human diet, it is only 1.4 times more nutritious in comparable amounts. And with the quantities the average American eats in a day, the protein yield is more than enough to meet the RDA.

According to animal production data that tracks use of fossil energy from the feed trough to the dinner table, broiler chickens provide the most efficient use of fossil energy—beef the least. Producing chicken meat consumes energy in a 4:1 ratio to protein output, whereas the ratio is 54:1 for beef. Mutton is nearly as inefficient at 50:1.

Animal agriculture is a leading user of water resources in the U.S. For every kilogram of meat produced by grain-fed beef production, 100,000 liters of water are required, Chickens take dramatically less to make a kilogram of meat: 3500 liters of water per kilogram. In contrast, soybean production uses only 2000 liters. Potatoes require 500 liters.

With severe water shortages in the Western and Southern U.S., the situation is rapidly worsening as the growing population needs more and more water to meet its needs—not only urban users, but also farmers and ranchers.


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