“If a billion people stop eating meat, it has a big impact,” was an idea floated at the WEF in Davos this year.

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash.

“If a billion people stop eating meat, I tell you, it has a big impact,” said Siemens chairman Jim Hagemann Snabe at last week's annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

“Not only does it have a big impact on the current food system, but it will also inspire innovation of food systems,” Mr. Hagemann Snabe continued during a panel discussion on “Mobilizing for Climate.”

“I predict we will have proteins not coming from meat in the future, they will probably taste even better,” he predicted. “They will be zero carbon and much healthier than the kind of food we eat today. That is the mission we need to get on.”

Not everyone agrees, of course.

Don’t let vegetarian environmentalists shame you for eating meat,” declared Bjorn Lomborg for USA TODAY on July 25, 2019. “Go ahead, grill a burger. Going vegetarian can help our climate a little bit, but it’s an inefficient policy to try to push on people worldwide.”

“I’m a vegetarian myself for ethical reasons,” Lomborg admitted. “But the climate scientists’ barbecue prescription leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth — and it’s not just the vegetable spread.”

Lomborg chafed at climate scientists suggesting that, “we all need to replace our burgers with ‘veggie sausages,’ swap the cheese for half an onion and replace the butter with ‘vegetable spread.’”

Among other objections, dissenters like Lomborg believe the environmental impact of adopting a vegetarian diet is being wildly overestimated.

“A systematic peer-review of studies on going vegetarian shows that a non-meat diet will likely reduce an individual’s emissions by the equivalent of nearly 1,200 lbs carbon dioxide,” wrote Lomborg. “For the average person in the industrialized world, that means an emissions cut of just 4.3%.”

But by Bjorn Lomborg’s own admission, even the skeptics agree on one thing: Eating less meat is one way to reduce your environmental impact.

How much of an impact may be debatable. Whether giving up meat cuts the average person’s emissions by 50% or 5%, the animal agriculture industry is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to some environmental experts, the animal agriculture industry is responsible for around 14.5% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from the production of methane and nitrous oxide.

There are other negative environmental impacts of industrialized animal agriculture to consider as well:

  • Deforestation: Worldwide, large areas of forests are being cleared to create pastures for grazing animals and to grow crops to feed them. This contributes to the loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, and the displacement of indigenous communities.
  • Water pollution: Animal waste and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on feed crops can contaminate water sources, leading to noxious algal blooms, fish kills, and other ecological problems.
  • Land degradation: Intensive animal farming can lead to overgrazing, soil erosion, and even desertification.
  • Antibiotic resistance: The widespread use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which may eventually pose a serious public health threat.
  • Animal welfare: Industrialized animal agriculture is often criticized for the poor living conditions and lack of adequate space for animals, which can lead to health problems and suffering for the animals.

The environmental impact of industrialized animal agriculture is significant and complex, and it is important to consider these issues when making food choices.

Many experts think lab-grown meat may eventually resolve the problem.

Though lab-grown or cultured meat is still in the developmental stage, several companies have made significant progress recently and some have announced plans to bring lab-grown meat products to market within the next few years.

Some companies plan to release lab-grown meat products as early as 2023, while others are aiming for a commercial launch by 2025. However, this is still an emerging technology, and the timeline for commercial availability could change as research and development continues apace.

The regulatory environment and public perception may also play a role in determining when lab-grown meat will be widely available.

Until it is, there are already plenty of other delicious and healthful alternatives to animal products.

  • Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made from soybeans and is a good source of protein. It can be grilled, stir-fried, or used in soups and stews.
  • Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and has a nutty, meaty flavor. It can be sliced and used in sandwiches or stir-fries.
  • Lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes are high in protein and can be used in a variety of dishes such as soups, stews, and salads.
  • Seitan, also known as wheat gluten, has a texture similar to meat and can be used in a variety of dishes such as stir-fries, kebabs and even “meatballs”.
  • Quinoa, an ancient super-grain, is another good source of protein and can be used as a meat substitute in dishes such as salads, burritos, and bowls.
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds can be used to add nutrients and deliciousness to meatless dishes.
  • There are also meat-alternative products made from plant-based ingredients that strive to mimic the texture and taste of meat, such as soy-based burgers, sausages, and ground beef.

The emerging availability of meat alternatives may soon make the discussion of giving up meat to save the planet moot. Until it does, reducing meat consumption is one simple and effective way for the average concerned environmentalist to do their small part.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)