The Hidden Cost of Beef: is it Sustainable?

In this infographic, I tell how sustainable beef is and what can be done to make it more sustainable.

The Hidden Costs of Beef:

Beef is the third most eaten protein in the world. The average person eating above 18 kg of beef each year.
Is beef sustainable?

Production Cycle of Beef:

  1. Cow
    • water
    • imported or local feed
    • farm
  2. slaughterhouse, factory
  3. Beef and beef products

Water usage:

The amount water needed to make 18 kg of beef = 279,000 liters

Vs 18 kg of:

Chicken = 70,200 liters

Soya = 49,500 liters

Pork = 91,200 liters

Air Pollution:

Producing 18 kg of beef releases:

909 kg methane (30x more potent than co2)

240 kg CO2

Unknown kg Nitrous Oxide

Total Pollution: 27,510 kg co2

That’s equal to driving 211,680 km by car! (This number can increase if the beef is imported or produced with imported feed.)

The Unsustainable effects of beef:

How beef does more harm than you think.

  1. Climate change: 18-51% of all climate change is due to livestock.
  2. Deforestation: 60-91 % of all deforestation is due to livestock and livestock feed.
  3. Inefficient land use: 1 acre of land can produce 33,565 kg of vegetables, versus 3,364 kg of beef.
    • Worldwide, 80% of all agricultural land is used for feed, the rest for food.
  4. Dead zones: nitrous oxide and cow manure flow into streams and create dead zones in oceans.
  5. Soil erosion: deforestation and agrochemicals render soil unusable and polluted.
  6. Health: global warming, soil erosion, water and air pollution, will affect humans.
  7. Food and water insecurity: in 2050, beef demand will double, increasing food insecurity.
  8. Hidden costs: governments pay for environmental and health damages caused by the beef industry.
    • If all humans became vegetarian, the total savings could add up to 1 trillion dollars.
  9. Temporary improvements: deforestation and growing feed will temporarily boost economy.
    1. A majority of imported beef comes from South America, where e.g. the Amazon rainforest is cut down.
  10. Indirect Subsidies: without knowing, people pay for the environmental damages caysed by beef production
  11. Unfair displacement: small-scale farmers, like in Argentina and Paraguay, are forced out of their land.

How can Beef be More Sustainable?

A sustainable product must be socially, environmentally and economically benefiting.

To produce beef this way, all the following methods should be used:
  1. Grass-fed: this eliminates the need for imported feed.
  2. Organic: this eliminates the use of agrochemicals
  3. Locally-produced: this can boost the local economy, increase jobs and decrease inequality
  4. Pasture-raised: Allowing a cow to graze in meadows can eliminate the need for changing forests into farm land. It also prevents the overgrowth of some plants and cow manure can fertilize the ground.
Economic Benefits:
  1. Sustainably grown beef is high quality, giving the farmer more profit
  2. Governments will pay less for environmental and health damages.
However, Earth doesn’t have enough grasslands.
The only way to produce beef sustainably is to eat less or stop eating beef.

This will also result with:

  1. Decreased pollution and deforestation
  2. Decreased climate change
  3. Decreased inequality
  4. Money saved
  5. Water and food saved

What can you do?

To help make beef sustainable, it is up to you to:

  1. Eat less or stop eating beef
  2. Buy sustainably grown beef
The decision you make today will have a permanent effect on Earth and future generations
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