As a species we are eating an unsustainable level of beef and as the population continues to grow the problem across the world will become worse and the impact on our environment will be irreversible.
According to the World Economic Forum, 300 million cattle were eaten in 2014 and approximately 1.5 billion cows are alive today across the world.
We have eaten cattle since we learnt to hunt big game so why if it is in our nature do we need to change our eating habits now? Well there are actually quite a few reasons.
I am sure you have heard about the methane gas they release into the atmosphere. It is estimated that cows can produce between 70 and 120 kg of methane gas per year. Methane is a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide, but much worse for the environment. So with 1.5 billion cattle producing lets say 100kg of a gas, which is considerably more harmful than carbon dioxide, we are eating our way to disaster.
Agriculture across the world is responsible for 18% of the greenhouse gasses and cattle breeding is the biggest part of that.
Another reason to think again about eating beef and meat generally is because of the land they need to graze upon. 30 percent of the entire surface of land is given over to livestock and their pastures and when you include the additional arable land put aside to feed the livestock you can see it is a considerable proportion. Why does this matter? It is a major driver of deforestation and is driving our biodiversity crisis. Simply put, we are facing climate change that will have a catastrophic impact on the way we live our lives and we need to face the white elephant in the room, our relationship with meat, and in particular beef.
I do not believe we need to stop eating beef, although if we did it would make a huge positive impact on climate change, rising temperatures and antibiotic resistance. We certainly need to cut down how much beef we eat, and relying on individuals to make the choice for themselves quite simply will mean that we do not cut down quickly enough.
I believe it is time for our government to impose taxes on meat and dairy products, with higher taxes depending on how the meat is produced and its impact on the environment. An environmental tax placed on all meat and dairy products depending on their carbon footprint, with industrial meat, which is full of antibiotics at a higher tax than organic meat and beef taxed more than lamb, which is taxed more than pork and so on. By implementing such a tax you can use the revenue gained to help influence our buying habits, by offering greater subsides on fruit and vegetables. You can also plough the revenue gained into environmental policies like green energy, community gardens and the conservation of our countryside to help tackle our biodiversity crisis.
This approach, although radical means that people will be encouraged to switch to a more plant based diet, helping us dramatically cut down our carbon footprint. By reducing the cost of vegetables we will support people to live a healthier life and begin to tackle the obesity crisis we currently face in the Western World head on. By switching to a plant based diet we will be putting less antibiotics into our body and in doing so will help fight harmful bacteria that becomes increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
Article and photography by Ben Molyneux