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Does Eating Meat Contribute to Environmental Damage?

Eating Meat Can Negatively Impact More Than Just Health

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Updated December 08, 2011

Eating Meat May Cost More Than You Realize

People may decide to eat less meat for a variety of reasons. Improving overall health, reducing risk of heart disease and cancer, wanting natural approaches to wellness, food safety, animal welfare, religion, and weight loss are some of the things that can prompt someone to eat less meat or forgo meat altogether.

One additional reason for minimizing meat that you may not have considered is the environment. Concern about the environment is beginning to receive more attention when people think about what to eat, and with good reason.

Producing animal food, such as beef, chicken, eggs, pork, and dairy, takes a lot of resources. As an example, experts estimate that animal food production requires 2-5 times the water needed to produce plant food of the same caloric value. Water is a precious resource and the more that is used for food production, the less that is available for other uses.

Beyond water use, there are other effects on the planet of meat-eating too. In the United States, livestock production accounts for 55% of erosion, 37% of pesticide use, 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of antibiotic use, and a third of damaging nitrogen and phosphorus releases into surface water, such as lakes and streams. It's clear that raising animals for food costs the environment more than many people realize.

Meat's Place on the Plate

If you really enjoy meat, there's no reason to shun animal foods altogether. Enjoying meat, in moderation, isn't the problem. The meat-centric eating style popular among many people is.

When we base our eating habits around meat, we damage not just the planet, but our health too. Eating less meat is an important way to improve health, especially for people concerned about colon cancer. In fact, health experts cite "eating too much meat" as one of the most important preventable causes of colon cancer.

To get an idea of how to include meat in your diet in a way that is healthful for both your body and the environment, picture a plate. Now divide up that plate into four, equal, pie-shaped wedges. Two of the wedges should be filled with vegetables and fruit. One wedge should be filled with whole grains and legumes (beans and peas). This leaves one wedge, or one-quarter of your plate, for animal food, such as lean beef, fish, or chicken.

You can use this simple, visual method to start putting meat into it's proper place on your plate. And remember that even if you don't get the meat portions down to one-quarter of your plate, any steps you take in that direction are healthful and helpful. Eating is not an all or nothing proposition. Every healthy choice you make is a good choice, even if your diet is not "perfect"!

Sources

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Livestock’s Long Shadow. Environmental Issues and Options. Accessed September 28, 2009: http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.htm

Popkin BM. "Reducing Meat Consumption Has Multiple Benefits for the World's Health." Archives of Internal Medicine 2009 169:543-545.

Vegetarian Times. Vegetarianism in America. Accessed September 28, 2009: http://www.vegetariantimes.com/features/archive_of_ editorial/667

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