What is a sustainable level of meat consumption?

I already wrote about this topic more than two years ago to state my concerns over the level of meat consumption in the (Western) world. Back then I already explained why it’s detrimental to our environment so I won’t go into detail here. The Wikipedia articles on the environmental impact of meat production and environmental vegetarianism explain it nicely, so read those.

Since then I’ve lowered my consumption of meat, but it was not an issue for my family. They think they don’t eat it much, while I do. Because I wasn’t motivated to make my own vegetarian food when my mother prepared non-vegetarian food for the whole family, I used to eat along.

Recently I changed my behaviour because I thought I was lazy. Being served non-vegetarian food by others was no reason to stray from the virtuous path of sustainable living. This led to some discussion at the dinner table, giving rise to the question: at which quantity is meat consumption sustainable?

Statistics and some assumptions

The Economist has statistics on meat consumption per capita for 2007. In the complete data they also provide the world average, which is 38,7 kilo or 106 gram a day.

I make two premises. The first is that everyone should not consume (much) more than this average. If you look at the statistics you see the developed world consumes a disproportionately high amount of meat while most of the developing world consumes very little. This means the developed world puts the greatest strain on our environment. I don’t think we have more right to burden the environment than the developing world, so what we are doing now is unethical.

The second premise is that no further environmental degradation should occur. If that is what we want, we should not increase our total meat consumption above the 2007 average. However, I’d say that even in 2007 the global environmental damage caused by meat production was already too much, and it needs to be even lower. I’d say an arbitrary number such as 30 kilo a year seems acceptable.

Solutions

Ultimately, reducing meat consumption is not going to happen with a growing world population. At a certain moment meat prices will increase because of supply and demand, but when that happens the environment has probably gone to hell already. I’m sure many people are not as concerned over this issue as I am, so they’re not going to change their behaviour out of their own motivation.

This means government has to intervene. The best solutions would probably be taxing meat (just like we levy an excise tax on petrol in the Netherlands because of its environmental impact) and drastically reducing the world’s population. But if you want to change the world you should take responsibility and start with yourself.

How much do i and my family consume?

According to the statistics the average Dutch person consumed 71,3 kilo meat in 2007. I think my family is probably below this average, so in that regard they are probably right when they say they don’t consume much.But I suspect my family may consume more than the global average of 38,7 kilo.

But this is something which needs to be measured. I will do so by calculating the total weight of all meat products appearing on our supermarket receipts for one month and then extrapolate that to a year. I estimate my own consumption is probably no more than 21 kilo a year (based on 400 gram a week), but this is also something I will measure.

Update 14 February

After measuring the meat consumption of my family for 19 days and extrapolating that to a year, it turns out we consume far less than I expected. I consume 19 kilo a year, the rest of my family 22, 29, 31 and 34 kilo. All far below the average for the Netherlands and below the world average.

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