Meat Production

Mar 28, 2017 by Mir Ziemkiewicz

How can the act of not eating meat for one day of the week reduce an individual's carbon footprint as well as global emissions?

Meat is tasty. Not to mention, it has some of the necessary nutrients to keep us moving from day to day. Many (though not all) people in this world can agree with this, yet what people might not know is that the production of meat is significantly affecting our world. My partner and I have decided to researched into the effects of meat production on both a global and national scale using a variety of online and physical sources. The little research we did into the global effects of meat production was our basis for all other research to get a basic idea of what’s going on. From there, we've researched into how Canada is affected (mostly in our popular beef industry) and how it varies from the global effects. We've also researched a fair amount into how our proposition of skipping meat for a single day a week can help and what we can do to work towards it. What we’ve researched into is only the tip of the iceberg however. There is still much we need to research into, like how the other meat industries are affecting Canada and how to raise awareness of this problem; but so far we believe we've made progress. There have been numerous intriguing results, both negative and some positive. Here's a bit of what we've found so far:

Animal agriculture is responsible for 14-18% of human GHG emissions and it produces 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide (otherwise known as laughing gas). This gas is no laughing matter however as nitrous oxide effects climate change 296 times more than carbon dioxide. In US alone, over half (55%) of water is used to provide for animal agriculture. Deforestation for land to grow food and hold livestock also has a massive impact, emitting 9% of carbon dioxide emissions globally, the largest of such due to meat. Beef is especially wasteful; only 1% of what a cow eats turns in the calories we consume. Not to mention, the consumption of meat doesn't have its risks health wise. The consumption of red meat increases an individual’s chance of getting heart disease by 50%. Located in meat, there even is a compound called carnitine that hardens blood vessels and block arteries. Unfortunately, meat consumption is only expected to double by 2050.

Beef In Canada:

If there is one thing Canadians can agree on it's that we have a great cattle industry. It's something we take great pride in. However, 2.4% (0.04% globally) of Canadian emissions come from beef cattle in addition to the 5.6% due to the rest of agriculture (that's practically ⅓ our agricultural total for cattle alone). From all this, there are three main emissions produced by beef production, carbon dioxide, methane gas, and nitrous oxide.

Carbon Dioxide accounts for approximately 5% of emissions for Canadian cattle. The reason why this amount is so ‘minuscule’ is because Fossil Fuels are associated with crop production (fertilizer and fuel) and the transport of feed, cattle and beef to market: they are produced outside in nature, somewhat cancelling out their emissions. Beef manure (Methane Bass) also accounts for about 5% of emissions. Now people would believe that manure also benefits the environment acting as a natural fertilizer, but it would be noted manure is only economical if transported within a radius of 20-30 km of the feedlot, not a very large distance. Meanwhile, Methane Gas from the gastrointestinal tract amazingly accounts for over 60% of total emissions. The last, Nitrous Oxide, has much higher global warming potential than either of the other two yet accounts for 25% of total GHG emission in the beef industries. Air from cattle farms can cause quite a fair amount of concern as well. Dust, ammonia, and odoriferous organic compounds (eg. Volatile fatty acids) can come into the air and transported several kilometers. The latter two can impact water quality and ammonia can contribute to indirect nitrous oxide emissions. Another concern to mention with the beef industry is that it is estimated that an amounted range of 3700 L to 20,000 L of water is needed for a single kilogram of beef. As mentioned in an article from,Water plays a critical role in beef cattle production. Many of Canada’s largest feedlots depend on irrigation water during arid periods. The impact of climate change on water availability in these areas remains unknown, but many models predict an increase in rainfall in the prairie regions where the majority of beef cattle production occurs.” Water creates a significant amount of oxygen and yet such a large amount is being used for the beef industry.

But the beef industry doesn't just take away from the environment. It's not the sole cause of all these emissions and it certainly does benefit the environment as well. Grassland worldwide store nearly 30% of global soil carbon (pastures also store carbon). Both protect land from erosion and tillage, plus they provide habitat for wildlife while simultaneously promotes biodiversity. Canada alone currently stores about 1.5 billion tones. Another asset is, although 32% of Canada’s agricultural land is unsafe for crops for human consumption, this land is perfectly fine for grazing cattle, meaning this space is not wasted. The plants on that land, also unsafe for human consumption, can also be eaten by cows. Not much space is needed to provide food for the cattle. Less than 9% of Canada’s cropland is necessary for cattle feed; most come from glass land and pastures which provide 80% of the cattle feed. And finally, in Canada, it currently requires 29% fewer cattle and 24% less land than it did 1981 to provide a kilogram of beef on farm due to technological advancements, meaning the industry has gotten better.

With all this in mind, how might one single day without meat hurt? A person doesn't need to go full on vegetarian or vegan to help the environment. There is no harm from simply skipping it for one day a week. Reducing red meat consumption as a population could reduce GHG emissions between 15-35% by 2050. If we just skip a pound of beef, we could save more water than skipping showers for a month. In addition, in North America, food waste is 95-115 kg/person/year, but simply cutting down meat waste by half would lower emissions by 5%. So why not? It doesn't cause any real harm. There is a multitude of others floods that can be substituted to receive proteins, which we've listed down below.

  • Soy
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Peanut butter
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Flax seed
  • Tahini
  • Chia seeds
  • Tofu
  • Avocados
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Hemp seeds
  • Nuts
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Walnuts
  • Pistachios
  • Cashews

“People eat meat thinking they will become as strong as an ox, forgetting that the ox eats grass.” - Pino Caruso

What We’re Doing (Or as M. says it, Leading By Example): Robert Thirsk High School has already been working towards reducing meat consumption at our school. We have been trying to integrate Meatless Mondays to our school cafeteria (a day each week where no meat will be sold to the students) and the process is going smoothly. With this, we hope to encourage less meat consumption and to raise awareness of the situation, as well as to make our school more ecologically friendly overall.

“Climate change is the single biggest thing that humans have ever done on this planet. The one thing that needs to be bigger is our movement to stop it.” - Bill McKibben

…Although… even if everyone in Canada stopped eating beef one day the effect in overall emissions would be minimal compared to reducing reliance on fossil fuels...

*Also this seems more like an article than a blog but whatever~*

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1 Comment(s)

Mar 31, 2017

Hello Mir,

Have you heard of Meatless Mondays? It is a program in which everyone skips eating meat on a Monday. Also, many vegan and vegetarian restaurants have cropped up in many cities due some of the climate change problems you mentioned around animal production. Would your school or community benefit from a vegan meal program / restaurant? 

Mir Ziemkiewicz
Apr 1, 2017

Yeah, I have heard of Meatless Mondays. We're actually trying to incorporate it into our school cafeteria and should be in due time. I briefly mentioned this at the end of our blog but, honestly, it was getting so long we couldn't exactly expand on it, not to mention it was quite hidden. As for if it would be beneficial, I believe so... and that she not just for the environment. Sure, it would benefit us ecologically (something, though I feel we're doing quite well at, could always use more work), but also, I have heard complaints from my vegan/vegetarian friends that there weren't enough options for them. And, looking at our weekly menus, I quite agree; quite a bit of meat is being used in our food. That's practically why our school has been trying to implicate it into our system. We wanted more options for everyone and a number of people like the ecological aspect of it. Anyways, thanks for your consideration and, of you have any more questions or concerns, ask away. I'll try to respond to them as best I can.

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