Sunday, April 5, 2009

Another environmental cost of beef production

My work on the environmental impact of diet has focused on its contribution to CO2 emissions. One impact I was not aware of until recently though is the runoff from manure. Nitrogen from manure ponds is incredibly concentrated and toxic to the land, and, it now seems, the water. Science Daily reports that The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted a "dead zone" the size of New Jersey from manure runoff:

From the U.S. Geological Survey, the major contributor is the Mid West:

In addition to CO2, I originally had also looked into data on the effect of meat production on land usage and degradation. The data was not clear, so I decided to restrict my attention to what I can easily quantify.

The basic statistics for land though don't look good. From Gerbens, P. W. and S. Nonhebel (2002) (Consumption patterns and their e ffects on land required for food. Ecological Economics 42, 185-199), the amount of land per commodity (square meters) is, as might be expected, biased towards beef:
  • Beef 20.9
  • Chicken 8.9
  • Pig 7.3
  • Fruits 0.5
  • Vegetables 0.3
Multipling these numbers by the total world consumption of each meat product produces the following figures (km2):
  • Beef 134,732
  • Chicken 89,404
  • Pig 338,109
  • Total 562,245
Thats 36% of the total arable land (1,548,500 km2) in the world used just for meat production.

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