Eat Less Meat - Less Climate Change:

Meat production creates ~15% of the global carbon footprint – more than cars and trucks combined (1); of these livestock GHG emissions, 44% are CH4 from enteric fermentation, 29% are N2O from fertilizer and animal manure and 27% are CO2 from production, processing and transportation of fertilizer, feed and animal products (2).  Beef has 2 times more greenhouse gas emissions than pork, 4 times more than chicken, 10 times more than tofu and 25 times more than lentils (3).     

Most U.S. livestock is fattened on grains that require large quantities of fertilizer, fuel, pesticides, water and land - 149 million acres of cropland, 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer (3).  The fertilizer applied to soil generates nitrous oxide (N20).  Animal manure, 500 million tons yearly in the U.S., is 3 times the amount of human waste and produces both methane and nitrous oxide (3).  Methane is 21 times and nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (4).  Enteric fermentation (cows, sheep…) produces 22%, landfills 20% (mostly food waste) and livestock manure 6% of our methane emissions (4).  Nitrogen fertilizer use produces 79% and livestock manure 4% of our nitrous oxide emissions (4).  

To give up meat  one day a week for a whole year saves ~700 lbs a year of carbon.  To be vegetarian saves ~4,900 lbs a year of carbon, which is about the same as giving up driving a gasoline-powered vehicle (3).  A vegan diet saves even more.  

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Eat Less Meat - Other Benefits:  

Meat also has a large water footprint.  Beef requires 30 gallons of water per gram of protein, chicken 9, milk 8, eggs 8 and beans, lentils 5 (5).  Thus, reducing our meat consumption (particularly beef) will help conserve water.  

Producing and eating less meat will allow us to better feed the world’s growing population.  Transitioning to a plant-based diet would increase the world’s food supply by 50% and allow us to feed an additional 2.9 billion people (6).  

Eating less meat globally will reduce world-wide deforestation, since beef production is driving 65% of this deforestation (7); other contributors are soybeans 16%, palm oil 10% & wood products 10%.  This ongoing deforestation is driving 10% of global warming (7).

Pesticides and fertilizer often end up in run-off that pollutes our rivers, lakes, groundwater and oceans. 

Less meat in the diet is heart-healthy, reduces the risk for some cancers and is associated with less obesity.  Sustainable eating is healthy eating.

Less dietary meat means less exposure to meat-born illnesses (e.g. mad cow disease, E. coli O157:H7 …). 

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Ways to Eat Less Meat:

We all need protein. Eat more plant protein and less meat and cheese (8). Vegetarians tend to rely on dairy for protein.  Vegan’s rely on complementary plant proteins.  As you make diet changes, please make sure that you’re getting adequate protein and other essential nutrients. Vegetarian and vegan diets can be very healthy but must be planned carefully.  As Dr. Walter Willett has said “… an All-American vegetarian diet is a coke, pizza and ice cream … clearly not healthy” (9).  Vegetarian and vegan diets can be associated with nutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium and iron (10).  B12 deficiency is particularly dangerous because it develops insidiously over years and can lead to permanent cognitive impairments.  Other issues can also predispose to nutrient deficiencies, e.g. pregnancy, weight-loss diets, old age, lower income status, alcoholism, smoking and treatment with various medications that interfere with nutrient absorption (10).  Consider taking a multivitamin and mineral supplements (10,11).   

Eat Meat with Lower GHG Emissions - e.g. Chicken & Pork Than Beef & Lamb.

Eat Less Meat. Less Dairy & More Plant-Based Proteins. Try Meat as a Garnish - a Small Amount in Soups, Salads or Casseroles.  Substitute Tofu for Shrimp or Pork in Recipes.  Substitute a Plant-Based Milk.  Eat Out at a Vegan Cafe.    

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Policy Advocacy to Reduce GHGs from Meat:

U.S. federal subsidies for corn and soybeans (mostly grown for industrial meat production) are 10 times greater than for all fruit and vegetable production combined.  Environmentally-friendly, pasture-grown livestock receive almost no subsidies (12).    

Provide New Incentives to Farmers to Grow More Fruits & Vegetables (12)

Provide Greater Financial Incentives to Farmers to Implement More Conservation Measures & More Sustainable Agricultural Practices (12)

Promote Farming Practices That Reduce Nitrogen & Phosphorus Run-Off (12)

Increase Publicly Funded Research to Improve Sustainable Farming Practices (12)

Eating For a Healthy Planet 2016