Conference PaperPDF Available

Meat Production and Consumption: Environmental Consequences

  • Institute of meat hygiene and technology Belgrade Serbia
  • Institute of Meat Hygiene and Technology Belgrade Serbia

Abstract and Figures

Meat production is projected to double by 2020 due to increased, per capita global consumption of meat and population growth. The livestock sector is one of the most significant contributors to urgent environmental problems. In Europe, food consumption is responsible for approximately 30% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Meat generally has a considerably higher carbon footprint than plant-based food. This is especially true for beef, due to the emissions of methane (CH 4) from enteric fermentation in ruminants.
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Procedia Food Science 5 ( 2015 ) 235 238
2211-601X © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Peer-review under responsibility of scientific committee of The 58th International Meat Industry Conference (MeatCon2015)
doi: 10.1016/j.profoo.2015.09.041
Available online at
International 58th Meat Industry Conference “Meat Safety and Quality: Where it goes?”
Meat production and consumption: Environmental consequences
Zoran Petrovic
, Vesna Djordjevic
, Dragan Milicevic
, Ivan Nastasijevic
Nenad Parunovic
Institute of Meat Hygiene and Technology, Kacanskog 13, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia
Meat production is projected to double by 2020 due to increased, per capita global consumption of meat and population growth.
The livestock sector is one of the most significant contributors to urgent environmental problems. In Europe, food consumption is
responsible for approximately 30% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Meat generally has a considerably higher carbon
footprint than plant-based food. This is especially true for beef, due to the emissions of methane (CH
) from enteric fermentation
in ruminants.
© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Peer-review under responsibility of scientific committee of International 58th Meat Industry Conference “Meat Safety and
ality: Where it goes?” (MeatCon2015)”.
Keywords: meat production; gas emissions; environment; eco-efficiency; pollution; prevention
1. Introduction
The environmental impact of meat production varies because of the wide variety of agricultural practices
employed around the world. Some of the environmental effects that have been associated with meat production
are pollution through fossil fuel usage, and water and land consumption. Pre-farm production and transport of inputs
to the farm, are most importantly feed and fertilisers, but also fuels, pesticides, growth substrates, pharmaceuticals,
machinery, buildings and other capital goods; On-farm processes: soil emissions, emissions from enteric
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +381-11-2650-655; fax: +381-11-2651-825.
E-mail address:
© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Peer-review under responsibility of scientific committee of The 58th International Meat Industry Conference (MeatCon2015)
236 Zoran Petrovic et al. / Procedia Food Science 5 ( 2015 ) 235 – 238
fermentation in animals, emissions from manure management, emissions from energy use on fields, in greenhouses,
in animal houses; Post-farm processes: slaughtering, processing and pack
aging, storage and refrigeration, transport
and distribution.
2. Global trends in overall meat consumption
According to a report from the Worldwatch Institute (WI), global meat production and consumption continues to
rise (Fig. 1a). Meat production has tripled over the last four decades and increased 20 percent in just the last 10
years. Industrial countries are consuming growing amounts of meat, nearly double the quantity in developing
World beef production is increasing at a rate of about 1 percent a year, in part because of population growth but
also because of
greater per capita demand in many countries (Fig. 1b). The largest fraction of the greenhouse effect
rom beef production comes from the loss of carbon-dioxide (CO
) absorbing trees, grasses and other year-round
plant cover on land where the feed crops are grown and harvested. Second most important is the methane (CH
given off by animal waste and by the animals themselves as they digest their food
When considering the future of sustainability, the outline of the food syste
m is a critical aspect. An understanding
of the factors that influence meat and fish consumption is important for developing a sustainable food production
and distribution system
. This is especially the case because the importance of the food system as a driver of global
environmental change can be expected to increase
. National dietary patterns not only have ecological and economic
development contexts, but also a regional/cultural context. Food consumption patterns, particularly meat and fish
nsumption, have serious consequences for environmental sustainability
a b
Fig. 1. (a) World Meat Production 1961-2010
; (b) World Beef Production
3. Livestock and methane emissions
Beef and dairy farming operations produce the greatest amount of CH
from human-related activities
, so
methane generated by ruminant production systems and its effects on global climate change is a cause for concern
. In the United States, CH
comprised 14% of the total greenhouse gas 6 emitted in 2007 and 7% of this
methane was due to agriculture
. In an analysis of the EU-27countries, beef had by far the highest GHG emissions
with 22.6kg CO
. The consumption of meat, dairy and eggs is increasing worldwide
, and this will
aggravate the environmental impact related to livestock production
Human dietary changes could produce a cascade of effects, t
hrough reduced production of livestock and manure,
lower feed demand, resulting in lower nitrogen (N) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and freeing up
ltural land for other purposes
. Cultured meat (i.e., meat produced in vitro using tissue engineering
techniques) is being developed as a potentially healthier and more efficient alternative to conventional meat. In
Zoran Petrovic et al. / Procedia Food Science 5 ( 2015 ) 235 – 238
comparison to conventionally produced European meat, cultured meat involves approximately 745% lower energy
use (only poultry has lower energy use), 7896% lower GHG emissions, 99% lower land use, and 8296% lower
ater use, depending on the product compared
. Despite high uncertainty, it is concluded that the overall
environmental impacts of cultured meat production are substantially lower than those of conventionally produced
4. Eco-efficency and pollution prevention control in meat processing
Eco-efficiency is a concept being adopted by industries
world-wide as a means of improving environmental
performance and reducing costs. Its objectives are the more efficient use of resources and the reduction of waste,
with the two-fold benefits of reduced environmental burdens and reduced costs for resources and waste
The main resource inputs are water, energy, chemicals and pack
aging materials. These are typical of many food
processing sectors. The main resources consumed and wastes generated at a meat plant and the approximate
quantities for a typical plant are presented in Table 1
. However, meat processing plants use very large quantities of
water and energy. This is due to the highly perishable nature of the product, the need for high levels of sanitation
and the need to keep the product cool.
The main waste streams are wastewater and some solid waste. Much of the solid waste produced is organic and is
suitable for land-based disposal. The wastewater from a slaughterhouse can contain blood, manure, hair, fat,
eathers, and bones. Quantities of solid waste disposed to landfill are relatively small
The wastewater may have a high temperature, and m
ay contain organic material and nitrogen content. The meat
industry has the potential for generating large quantities of solid waste and waste waters with a biochemical oxygen
demand (BOD
) level of 600 mg/l (this can also be as high as 8,000 mg/l) or 10 to 20 kilograms per metric ton (kg/t)
of slaughtered animal and suspended solids level of 800 mg/l and higher, as well as, in some cases, offensive
Table 1. Resource use and waste generation data for a typical meat plant
Resources use Daily quantity Per unit of production
Water 1,000 kl/day 7 kl/tHSCW
Energy Coal 8 t/day 53 kg/tHSCW
LPG 113 m
/day 0.8 m
Electricity 60,000 kWh/day 400 kWh/tHSCW
Cleaning chemicals 200 l/day 1.3 l/tHSCW
Wastewater treatment chemicals 30 kg/day 0.2 kg/tHSCW
Oils and lubricants 30 l/day 0.2 l/tHSCW
Cardboard 5 t/day 31 kg/tHSCW
Plastic 150 kg/day 1 kg/tHSCW
Strapping tape 105 kg/day 0.7 kg/tHSCW
Waste generation Daily quantity production
Wastewater Volume 850 kl/day 6 kl/tHSCW
Pollutant load
Organic matter (COD) 5,700 kg/day 38 kg/tHSCW
Suspended solids 2,055 kg/day 13.7 kg/tHSCW
Nitrogen 255 kg/day 1.7 kg/tHSCW
238 Zoran Petrovic et al. / Procedia Food Science 5 ( 2015 ) 235 – 238
Phosphorous 90 kg/day 0.6 kg/tHSCW
Solid waste
Paunch and yard manure 7 t/day 47 kg/tHSCW
Sludges and floats 6 t/day 40 kg/tHSCW
Boiler ash 0.7 t/day 5 kg/tHSCW
Cardboard 95 kg/day 0.6 kg/tHSCW
Plastic 10 kg/day 0.07 kg/tHSCW
Strapping tape 2 kg/day 0.01 kg/tHSCW
*Hot Standard Carcase Weight (HSCW) describes the weight of animal carcases after slaughter, dressing and evisceration and prior to chilling
and boning. For beef it is generally 55% of live weight. This unit is useful because it takes into account the variations in live weight between
different species and different plants.
5. Conclusion
Current production of meat has been shown to have a signi
ficant impact on the environment and also on current
GHG emissions. Meat consumption has been increasing at a significant rate and is likely to continue to do so into
the future. This paper consisely reviewed how increased demand, leading to more economically efficient meat
production systems, could potentially affect GHG production and local environment.
In regard to prevention, pollution decisions should be m
ade with regard to the proceses that generate waste.
Process integration and installation of new equipment provide a framework for cost-effective pollution prevention
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Western diets are characterised by a high intake of meat, dairy products and eggs, causing an intake of saturated fat and red meat in quantities that exceed dietary recommendations. The associated livestock production requires large areas of land and lead to high nitrogen and greenhouse gas emission levels. Although several studies have examined the potential impact of dietary changes on greenhouse gas emissions and land use, those on health, the agricultural system and other environmental aspects (such as nitrogen emissions) have only been studied to a limited extent. By using biophysical models and methods, we examined the large-scale consequences in the European Union of replacing 25–50% of animal-derived foods with plant-based foods on a dietary energy basis, assuming corresponding changes in production. We tested the effects of these alternative diets and found that halving the consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs in the European Union would achieve a 40% reduction in nitrogen emissions, 25–40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and 23% per capita less use of cropland for food production. In addition, the dietary changes would also lower health risks. The European Union would become a net exporter of cereals, while the use of soymeal would be reduced by 75%. The nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) of the food system would increase from the current 18% to between 41% and 47%, depending on choices made regarding land use. As agriculture is the major source of nitrogen pollution, this is expected to result in a significant improvement in both air and water quality in the EU. The resulting 40% reduction in the intake of saturated fat would lead to a reduction in cardiovascular mortality. These diet-led changes in food production patterns would have a large economic impact on livestock farmers and associated supply-chain actors, such as the feed industry and meat-processing sector.
The sustainability challenges that the food system is facing are ever increasing. The traditional approach to monitoring these changes considers economic, societal and environmental sustainability. A strong case has been made, however, that a fourth dimension, ethical, should also be considered. Conventionally, two main strategies have been used to assess the improvements in sustainability: efficiency and sufficiency. Efficiency is usually linked with technological improvements, and sufficiency is connected with a reduction in production or consumption. We introduce a third strategy to the analysis; namely consistency that is related mainly to the ethical dimension of sustainability. Trends of the indicators related to the three strategies are calculated on both a global and regional scale from 1962 to 2009. Efficiency (measured as land requirement for animal products) has increased by about 13 percent globally, sufficiency (measured as the a mount of meat consumed) has declined by 91 percent and consistency (measured as the number of animals slaughtered) has declined by 264 percent. In addition, convergence analysis emphasizes that industrialized and developing countries are moving towards similar patterns of animal products consumption. Such results suggest that measures should be taken to develop a food system that is not only efficient, but also ethically just.
This paper uses quality theory to identify opportunities for the meat sector that are consistent with trends in meat consumption. Meat consumption has increased and is likely to continue into the future. Growth is largely driven by white meats, with poultry in particular of increasing importance globally. The influence of factors such as income and price is likely decline over time so that other factors, such as quality, will become more important. Quality is complex and consumers' quality expectations may not align with experienced quality due to misconception of certain intrinsic cues. Establishing relevant and effective cues, based on extrinsic and credence attributes, could offer advantage on the marketplace. The use of extrinsic cues can help convey quality characteristics for eating quality, but also for more abstract attributes that reflect individual consumer concerns e.g. health/nutrition, and collective concerns, e.g. sustainability. However, attributes are not of equal value to all consumers. Thus consumer segmentation and production differentiation is needed.
The authors engage prior research and theoretical orientations to assess some of the known causes of anthropogenic methane emissions in comparative international contexts. Like carbon dioxide emissions, methane emissions are a known contributor to climate change. Results of cross-national fixed effects panel regression analyses indicate that population size, economic development, the production of cereals, cattle, natural gas and oil, and a reliance on food exports all contribute to methane emissions from 1990 to 2005. Most notably, additional findings suggest that the magnitude of the effects of multiple predictors modestly decreased during the period of investigation, while the impact of other predictors remained very stable in magnitude. The authors conclude by considering the substantive implications of the results, the limitations of the study, and outline the next steps in this research agenda.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas whose atmospheric abundance has grown 2.5-fold over three centuries, due in large part to agricultural expansion. The farming of ruminant livestock, which generate and emit methane during digestion (‘enteric fermentation’), is a leading contributor to this growth. This paper overviews the measurement or estimation of enteric methane emissions at a range of spatial scales. Measurement of individual animal emissions focuses particularly on grazing livestock for which the SF6 tracer technique is uniquely appropriate. Gaining insight into factors that influence methane production requires that feed intake and feed properties be determined, enabling the methane emitted to be expressed per unit of intake. The latter expression is commonly encapsulated in the ‘methane conversion factor’, Ym, an entity that enables small-scale methane emission estimates to be extrapolated to national and global enteric methane inventories. The principles of this extrapolation and sources of uncertainty are discussed, along with the significance of this global source within the global methane cycle. Micrometeorological and similar measurement techniques over intermediate spatial scales are also surveyed.
Production and consumption of meat and fish have serious consequences for global food security and the environment. An understanding of the factors that influence meat and fish consumption is important for developing a sustainable food production and distribution system. For a sample of 132 nations, we use ordinary-least-squares (OLS) regression to assess the effects of modernization and ecological context on per capita meat and fish consumption. We find that ecological conditions in a nation, such as resource availability and climate, influence meat and fish consumption. Additionally, indicators of modernization, particularly economic development, influence the consumption of both meat and fish. However, the effect of economic development on consumption patterns is distinctly different among geographic regions. We conclude that in order to understand national dietary patterns, researchers need to take into account not only ecological context and economic development, but also regional/cultural factors.
Vast amounts of land are required for the production of food, but the area suitable for growing crops is limited. In this paper, attention is paid to the relationship between food consumption patterns and agricultural land requirements. Land requirements per food item that were determined in a previous study are combined with data on the per capita food consumption of various food packages, varying from subsistence to affluent, leading to information on land requirements for food. Large differences could be shown in per capita food consumption and related land requirements, while food consumption, expenditure, and the physical consumption of specific foods change rapidly over time. A difference of a factor of two was found between the requirements for existing European food patterns, while the land requirement for a hypothetical diet based on wheat was six times less than that for an existing affluent diet with meat. It is argued that in the near future changes in consumption patterns rather than population growth will form the most important variable for total land requirements for food. Trends towards the consumption of foods associated with affluent lifestyles will bring with them a need for more land. Lifestyle changes, changes in consumer behavior on a household level, can be considered as powerful options to reduce the use of natural resources such as agricultural land.
There is no agreement that diet matters for environmental sustainability in the agriculture sector. Much current agriculture is unsustainable and worsening; the environmental impact of agriculture degrades natural capital (e.g. loss of topsoil, waste and pollution of water, nutrient loss, extinction of species). Cattle raising is one of the most damaging components of agriculture. Livestock now eat about half of global grain production. There is limited scope for improving food supply and what scope there is will further damage the environment. All means to improve nutrition, especially for the poor, will be needed as population increases. One such means is to improve diets of the rich by eating lower down the food chain. While most people in the world thrive on mainly grain-based diets, carnivory is high in OECD and is increasing in LDCs. In order to reduce food wastage and to improve health and food availability, a food conversion efficiency tax is proposed. The least efficient converters (pork, beef) would be highly taxed; more efficient converters (poultry, eggs, dairy) would be moderately taxed. Most efficient converters (ocean fish) would be taxed lowest. Grain for human food would not be taxed, while coarse grains might be modestly subsidized. Non-food agriculture also would be taxed: highest on tobacco and on starches destined for alcoholic beverages produced from land suitable for food production.
For the past several years, cleaner production, or what is now commonly referred to as eco-efficiency by the business sector, has been promoted widely, but in a relatively ad-hoc manner. As a consequence, the advantages to industry and society stemming from the uptake of eco-efficiency have been difficult to quantify and assess. This paper details how the Queensland Food Processing Eco-Efficiency Project has attempted to overcome some of these barriers by implementing a two year project focused on: involving and gaining the support of as much of the industry sector as possible; using external expertise, providing the support and technical advice essential to the successful uptake of eco-efficiency by businesses; establishing the key environmental concerns for the industry; identifying realistic eco-efficiency opportunities through site assessments and visits; developing case studies based on quantifiable outcomes; developing tools and resources to enable businesses to successfully implement their own eco-efficiency initiatives; the wide and free distribution of these resources and tools to the entire Queensland industry; follow up workshops and awareness briefings together with the eventual development of a forum to allow effective industry networking to continue.