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Waste in Animal Produce

Animal products are the most inefficient and environmentally damaging to produce. Simple dietary changes could solve the problem.

Photo of George Richardson
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Animal agriculture is resource intensive and inherently wasteful.

Animal products use:

Animals cannot convert resources into useful produce at high efficiencies, wasting vast amounts of energy, crops, water and land. This effectively means that huge losses occur before waste in the supply chain or by the consumer have even happened.

Additionally, livestock production is responsible for 8 - 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, depending on what types of meat are included and whether embedded sources such as feed production and deforestation are taken into account. Poorly managed production leads to land degradation and water contamination, and is associated with bacterial antibiotic resistance.

While we need to address all types of waste across the food system and increase food equity, reducing the consumption of animal products will free up precious resources that can be used to grow the crops suitable to feed current and future populations.

The challenge of changing our relationship with animal based food can be contentious and strikes at the heart of social norms ingrained in many cultures. However, many people successfully reduce their meat consumption or become vegetarian or vegan happily and healthily with the help of many information resources and recipes. In some cases, whole communities adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.  Technology is also delivering new plant based foods to replace animal produce, publicity stunts are raising awareness and chefs are catching on.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

The reality and true cost of the animal produce industry is hidden and often obfuscated by consumer-friendly marketing. Vegetarian or vegan food is satisfying. It's not all rabbit food! Trial periods or slowly introducing change into the diet are succesful methods of transitioning.

Tell us about your work experience:

Scientific PhD, data analysis, community bicycle project, environmental groups

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Photo of Kate Rushton

Thank you George Richardson for your post! I really like the fact that you are highlighting the environmental impact of the production of meat. How do you think you could/would encourage people to eat less meat, especially in cultures where eating meat is linked to prosperity?

Photo of George Richardson

That's a good question, Kate. The Wikipedia article on the psychology of eating meat cites several articles, linking consumption to masculinity, status, personality, moral disengagement and other factors. These seem to focus more on the moral dilemma of the act of killing animals for food. It’s not clear to what extent participants in the studies have been exposed to information about the industry. Melanie Joy has developed the concept of carnism, that conditions us to eat certain animals.

From a totally personal anecdotal perspective, people can be highly defensive when the subject of diet comes up in conversation with a non-meat eater. Though taste may be a primary factor in why people choose to eat meat, it becomes clear that psychological factors prevent them from giving it up. However, after continual discussion and exposure to the facts, I have known even ardent meat eaters to start to modify their diet. I think that it would be difficult to directly attack the link to prosperity that meat can have, but simply normalising meat-free food might be effective. I recently wondered about a series where food leaders/celebrity chefs take some kind of challenge where they spend a week learning about the issues first hand, coming up with new recipes, and seeing how their attitudes have changed by the end.