But how much did you eat? How much do you eat in an average day? Week? Year? Now consider this on a global scale, how much do we collectively consume and what are the environmental impacts of our food choices?
A new paper released by Nathan Pelletier and Peter Tyedmers of the Dalhousie University School for Resource and Environmental Studies raises some very thought-provoking questions about consumption and production in our food systems and in particular, the livestock industry.
Pelletier, a self confessed “foodie” and ecological economist is interested in studying food systems and how they effect the environment both at the local and global levels. “Food is a really unique area of consumption in that we have a great deal of control over what and how much we choose to consume,” says Pelletier. “As a result, we also have direct control over the environmental implications of our dietary choices.”
Focusing on the global livestock industry, Pelletier and Tyedmers’ paper explores the relationships between projected growth in livestock production and world-wide sustainability thresholds for human activity as a whole. The paper focuses on three domains: greenhouse gas emissions, reactive nitrogen mobilization and appropriation of plant biomass.
Pelletier and Tyedmers’ research focuses on the 50 year period between 2000-2050. Using published data of the environmental impact of livestock production from the year 2000 and projections of livestock production and consumption from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the authors were able to estimate the potential environmental impacts in the 50 year period.
The news is not great.
It is estimated that global production of livestock will double in the next 50 years, which will in turn, greatly increase the environmental impacts of the livestock industry. Pelletier and Tyedmers estimate that the livestock industry alone will account for 72 per cent of humanity’s total “safe operating space” for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, 88 per cent of safe operating space for biomass appropriation and nearly 300 per cent of the safe operating space for reactive nitrogen mobilization.
Nitrogen plays a pivotal role in both our natural and agricultural ecosystems. It is the most abundant element in our atmosphere, but when the nitrogen cycle is overloaded, the consequences can be very serious. An abundance of nitrogen can lead to ecosystem simplification and a loss of biodiversity as well as contribute to global warming, acid precipitation and eutrophication of bodies of water. Industrially-fixed nitrogen is a large component of commercial fertilizer but it is estimated that only 10-20 per cent of the nitrogen applied to crops is actually consumed by humans. The remainder is lost to the environment. While reactive nitrogen is not directly used in livestock production, it is used to fertilize the crops and pastures that feed livestock.
It is estimated that nearly 60 percent of the biomass currently harvested annually to support all human activities is consumed by the livestock industry. This underscores the dependence of this industry on biological productivity and raises some serious questions about the sustainability of devoting such a large portion to the livestock industry.
This doesn’t mean that you should immediately stop eating burgers and steak and become a strict vegetarian. Human beings need protein to survive and livestock is a valuable source of protein and other nutrients. There are, however, also many other sources of protein that have the potential for a far less dramatic impact on the earth.
For example, Pelletier and Tyedmers’ paper also examines similar environmental projections that explore the implications of a shift away from livestock production to a more low impact source of protein such as poultry or soybeans. Although the authors stress that a total switch to poultry or soybeans is unrealistic, even a marginal decrease in livestock production would help to reduce environmental impact.
As consumers, we can also make a difference. “It is very well established that making changes in our diets can help reduce our individual and collective environmental impacts. What we need to focus on is a change in expectations. We need to re-establish appropriate levels of consumption in developed countries (where overconsumption of livestock products is prevalent), and curtail the rise of diets overly dependent on livestock products in the developing world. This will have both health and environmental benefits” says Pelletier.
So maybe the next time you’re in the grocery store, or farmers market, contemplating the 14oz rib eye steak, opt instead for the chicken breast, or try that delicious tofu curry recipe you found on the internet. Your planet will thank you.
Charles Crosby | Newswise Science News
Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product
02.12.2016 | Purdue University
New findings about the deformed wing virus, a major factor in honey bee colony mortality
11.11.2016 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
06.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
06.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
06.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering