Environment meat industry

Published on December 5th, 2013 | by No Artificial

Global Raise In Meat Consumption

A new study shows that humans are becoming more carnivorous.

Reduced meat consumption is becoming increasingly popular, due to concerns about personal health and animal welfare.

Unfortunately, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the fast-growing economies of China and India are driving a global increase in meat consumption, cancelling out decreases in different countries.

This new research of global food consumption shows what people eat, as well as trends from one country to the next.

For the first time, a team of researchers has calculated the Human Trophic Level (HTL), a metric used in ecology to position species in the food chain.

The metric places plants and algae, which produce their own food, at trophic level 1. Rabbits, which eat plants, at level 2. Foxes, which eat herbivores, occupy level 3. Cod, a fish that eats other fish, sit at tropic level 4. Polar bears and orcas, which have few or no predators and eat other mammals, hold the levels up to 5.5.

Sylvain Bonhommeau, a fisheries scientist at the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea in Sète and the study’s leader, estimates that humanity’s global median trophic level was 2.21 in 2009, which leaves us on a par with other omnivores, such as pigs and anchovies, in the global food web.

“We are closer to herbivore than carnivore,” explained Bonhommeau. “It changes the preconception of being top predator.”

The research has also indicated that over a 50 year period, the global median trophic level increased 3 percent.

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Globally, the human trophic level increased by 3% from 1961 to 2009, driven largely by more meat consumption in India and China. Image: Bonhommeau, S. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA

“It seems like a small difference, but when you think about how it’s calculated, it’s big,” said Thomas Kastner, an environmental scientist at Alpen-Adria University in Vienna, who did not participate in the study. An organism’s trophic level is calculated by summing the trophic levels of the foods in its diet and the proportion in which they are consumed. “A change by 0.1 means you are eating considerably more meat or animal-based foods,” explained Kastner.

The environmental impact of meat production, from carbon footprint to water use, is generally many times larger than that of producing vegetable foods.

Moreover, a 2006 study found that the livestock industry is directly or indirectly responsible for 18% of global greenhouse-gas emissions — a larger share than all modes of transport combined. “If we all increase our trophic level, we’ll start to have a bigger impact on ecosystems,” claimed Bonhommeau.

While it’s hard for most people to give up meat entirely, reducing consumption, changing the kinds of meat eaten, and switching to organically raised meat could make a significant difference for the environment.


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