Roll of Plant-Based and Meat-Based Foods in Sustainability Efforts

It promises to be the hottest of hot-button issues in the coming decade. It’s the idea that to save the planet from a dire ecological meltdown, the world’s population must stop eating so much meat.

The issue came to the fore recently when a major news network falsely reported that the Biden Administration already had a plan to limit the American consumption of meat to three pounds per year. The Biden Administration has no such plan — but major universities and top scientists worldwide would like to see something similar happen.

That’s because meat consumption is a highly inefficient way to feed the seven-billion-plus people now crowding the planet. Raising meat is an energy-intensive process, from production to processing, storage, and final distribution to consumers. Compared to the production and consumption of plant-based foods, the carbon footprint of meat is off the charts.

For example, raising livestock accounts for 18% to 51% of today’s global greenhouse gases. Yes, that figure varies widely because not everyone agrees on how to calculate this measure. However, it’s clear that the carbon footprint of meat production is enormous.

Even at the low-end 18% figure, the carbon footprint of meat production is greater than the total output of every car, truck, airplane, jet, motorcycle, and moped put together.

Meat-based agriculture is a significant source of methane. This gas bears 23 times the global warming effect than does the CO2 produces by burning fossil fuels. Another byproduct of animal meat production is nitrous oxide. Livestock accounts for 65% of the human-related output of this significant greenhouse gas, and it has 296 times the greenhouse potential of CO2.

All scientists agree that cutting back significantly on animal product consumption will be a significant step toward conquering climate change.

Unfortunately, the mere suggestion of “taking away my hamburgers” or banning the enjoyment of a juicy steak is rife with emotion and controversy. To date, all suggestions of limiting meat consumption have met with enormous backlash from an American public that can’t imagine life without a Big Mac, hotdogs on the grill, or the enjoyment of a delicious spaghetti meat sauce — not to mention a pepperoni pizza!

Whatever the case, global meat consumption is an issue not likely to go away any time soon.

From San Francisco, Vivian Qu is a biotech professional and the founder of material sciences company ViaeX Technologies Inc. For more visit