Globally, 56 billion land animals are reared and slaughtered annually for human consumption, and this number is expected to double by 2050. The animal agriculture sector is responsible for 18 per cent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions through clearing land to graze farmed animals, growing feed, providing water, and processing and transporting the end products.
The inefficiency of animal agriculture in utilisation of agricultural resources and emitting greenhouse gases is unsustainable with an increasing world population. The majority of the increase in population will occur in the developing countries, which have higher levels of population growth, urbanization and rising per capita income. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global meat consumption will continue to increase till 2030, driven by population growth in developing countries.
In this briefing, we discuss the inefficiency of meat consumption and its impact on the environment, the animal welfare issues surrounding intensive animal farming, the growth in demand for meat and the relevance of population growth. We report that the animal agriculture sector is responsible for emitting nine per cent of global carbon dioxide, 35 – 40 per cent of methane, 65 per cent of nitrous oxide and 64 per cent of ammonia. It is further responsible for 55 per cent of erosion, 32 per cent of nitrogen and 33 per cent of phosphorous load in freshwater resources.
This increase in global greenhouse gases is driven by population increase and evolving food consumption patterns across the world. Although an increasing number of meat-eaters are shifting towards a vegetarian or vegan diet in the developed countries due to ageing populations and growing health awareness, the same demographic and cultural factors do not fit for the developing countries, where there is a steady growth in the consumption of meat.
We conclude by emphasizing that developing sustainable farming methods, reducing consumption of animal products and stabilizing population growth are key factors in alleviating the burden that animal agriculture places on our environment.