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Too much meat?

January 10, 2014

World meat consumption will climb dramatically by 2050, especially in Asia, resulting in "devastating" land use and health consequences, warn German environmental and animal welfare groups.

Schlachthaus Rheda-Wiedenbrück
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Too much meat?

Leading German environmental groups published their "2014 Meat Atlas" on Thursday, predicting soaring consumption worldwide to 470 million tons worldwide by mid-century with severe environmental and societal repercussions.

That would be 150 million tons more than at present.

Already, 70 percent of arable land worldwide is used to produce fodder to feed livestock such as pigs and cattle in industrialized facilities, leaving less and less land for poor, subsistent communities, said the Heinrich-Böll Foundation.

Soya bean usage

The atlas study, also published by Bund, the German branch of Friends of the Earth, and the monthly newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique, highlights soya bean-based fodder, saying demand for it will double worldwide to 515 million tons annually.

By 2022, India and China with expanding consumer-oriented middle classes would account for 80 percent of anticipated growth in meat production, the study said.

Demand would also increase in 'boom' nations such as Brazil, South Africa and Russia, outstripping Europe and the USA where meat sales have stagnated.

Residents in Germany consumed 60 kilograms of meat on average in 2012. In China, per head consumption is about 38 kilograms and in Africa 20 kilograms.

'Ruinous' economics

Foundation president Barbara Unmüssig said highly-industrialized meat production in Asian nations aspiring to Western levels could bring side-effects such as food contamination scandals and misuse of antibiotics and hormones in livestock.

Unmüssig said the decoupling of grazing animals from pasture through industrialized mass production was leading to "ruinous" economics and fatal consequences for small subsistence farming families.

One meat meal per week was sufficient, Unmüssig said. "It would be best if we returned to the Sunday roast," she added, referring to a European tradition.

'Fatal' impacts for rainforests

Bund agricultural expert Reinhild Benning said soaring demand for fodder-production areas would have further "fatal" impacts on rainforests, soils and water catchments, for example, through pesticide usage.

Prices for basis foodstuffs would climb, impacting most heavily on the poor.

The study's authors also warned against the import of hormone-treated meats, should negotiations lead to a free trade pact between the USA and the EU.

The Bundestag parliamentary group of the Greens said the pact could erode "hard-won" food safety standards in Europe.

Criticism from food industry

Responding to the study, the German food industry association accused the authors of trying to proscribe a "certain type of lifestyle" on consumers.

"The industry delivers safe and high-value food products, both for vegans and for those who like to eat a schnitzel," said the association's director Christoph Minhoff.

Annual livestock slaughter in Germany includes 58 million pigs, 630 Million chickens and 3.2 million cattle beasts, according to the study.

ipj/jm (AFP, dpa)