Beef is a notoriously not very good for the planet. It produces nearly double the amounts of carbon compared with small ruminants such as goats or sheep. The good news is its consumptions is dropping.
Get ready for more food to taste like chicken because the meat industry is getting a major shakeup.
Global meat production is expected to decrease for the second year in a row, an unprecedented event that could indicate a serious change for the livestock industry.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the decline comes on the heels of an African swine flu outbreak tanking usually stagnant pork production and a significant drop in bovine meat in major beef loving nations, especially the US and Australia.
This decline was further exacerbated by COVID-19 with social distancing forcing reduced staff in plants and an overabundance of unsold meat products creating a backlog in trade.
While meat production decreased overall, one meat, in particular, is rising to replace beef as a staple protein.
Before the pandemic, poultry grew on a rapid trajectory in the meat industry, tripling from 11 per cent to 34 per cent of the industry between 1961 and 2018.
Even with COVID-19, poultry is still expected to grow by 2.4 per cent, bringing it up to over 40 per cent of the world’s meat production. Though fears of bird-related diseases may reverse some of those advances.
Meanwhile, bovine meat has been on a relatively steady decline in proportion to the rest of the meat industry, only accounting for 21.6 per cent of the global meat diet and nearing the peak of its overall production.
While it’s easy to look at these numbers as just a menu change, this could be some great news for the environment.
A 2019 report on livestock’s contribution to climate change found that cattle accounted for a whopping 65 per cent of the 7.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent emissions produced by the livestock industry.
Beef itself is a notoriously carbon intense business, producing nearly 300 kg of CO2 equivalent emissions per kilogram of protein, nearly double the amounts from small ruminants such as goats or sheep.
Cattle also require large tracts of land to graze, leading to sweeping deforestation to make way for pastures.
Compared to cows, chickens pose a far more environmentally friendly alternative.
On a commodity basis, poultry accounts for only 8 per cent of the livestock sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, significantly lower than beef’s 40 per cent, and require far less land compared to cows or pigs.
As an added bonus, chicken could mean better human health (if we ignore potential impacts of avian linked diseases) as excessive amounts of red and processed meat have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and premature death.