With the news abuzz with the recent horsemeat scandal in Europe, there has been a lot of discussion about how to prevent such issues in the future. What’s the most effective solution? Eating less meat.
This idea is nothing revolutionary, as scientists have been proposing that meat consumption in wealthier countries should be reduced for some time now. A recent United Nations study suggests that people in rich countries halve their meat intake both for the good of human health and the environment. They suggest that the horsemeat incident revealed the Western world’s insatiable appetite for meat, driving countless undocumented meat facilities and misleading labels on cheap meat products. Grain supplies for livestock must match the high demands for meat, which requires more fertilizer and pesticides, which pollute air and water, thus ruining the balance of ecosystems and harming the organisms in them. Run off from the chemicals increases toxic algae blooms in the oceans and dead areas in wetlands and rivers. So, the chemicals used to produce cheap meat are destroying both our own health and that of our planet.
Our answer, as scientists suggest, is to eat less animal protein so fewer illegal and dangerous practices are followed by companies struggling to keep up with high demands. People need to shrink their portions and get protein from other sources, such as vegetables. This would also allow people in third world countries to increase their meat consumption more, as billions of people are in need of this protein. But they cannot eat more meat without severe environmental repercussions until people in richer countries, particularly in Europe and the U.S., cut back.
The UN study suggested better farming methods, including using fertilizer and pesticides more cautiously, minimizing their greenhouse gas emissions and reusing waste and manure in soil. Without a dedicated effort to decreasing meat consumption and improving unsafe farming practices, scientists warn, pollution to the environment will continue on a grander scale with adverse effects on our climate and biodiversity. Not to mention the appearance of certain “mystery meats” in our grocery stores. Halving our meat consumption to save the environment would certainly seem a fair tradeoff, in the grand scheme of things.