In the past few decades, the increased use of land for agricultural purposes has been the main cause of natural habitat loss. However, new farm land does not appear to provide food for direct human consumption but to supply for expanding animal production. Animal agriculture causes a major loss of biodiversity, because it has been turning many unique ecosystems to pastures for livestock to graze or to grow a variety of high nutrition feed crops.
Such changes lead to the destruction of native plant species and direct or indirect stifling of wildlife. Human-wildlife conflicts occur frequently in the areas newly acquired by the livestock industry, posing extra stress on native species, forcing them to relocate and disrupting the natural balance of food chains.
The main problem of animal agriculture is that in order to produce the same amount of protein compared to plant-based protein, a larger area is needed. Livestock production is the greatest contributor to land cover changes done by humans, which come at a large cost for the environment. Approximately 26% of the ice-free surface of the planet accounts for pastures and 33% of arable land is used to grow crops for feed . Cattle farming is one of the leading causes of the Amazon rainforest destruction by expanding over 70% of the cleared forest land .
The increasing demand for animal protein worldwide is also a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, currently accounting for 18% of total anthropogenic emissions. Livestock production represents the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions within the agricultural sector, making it an important contributor to climate change .
These negative impacts can be lowered simply by decreasing the demand for animal-based products and replacing them with plant-based food in our diet. With improving living standards in many developing countries, dietary habits have changed, increasing the amount of meat consumed per person, which creates even more concern about sustainable future. However, that does not mean that meat consumption has to continue to rise. With better awareness of the public about health benefits of a diet based on plant protein sources, many consumers might be willing to decrease the amount of animal products in their daily meal plan.
The good news is that we do not have to go to extremes, when changing the composition of our diet. According to this new study, we could do a great service to the planet’s ecosystems if we reduced our meat consumption to not exceed 10% of the total calories consumed each day. In other words, by eating around 90 grams of meat per day we can help conserve many plant and animal species on the planet and reverse the massive loss of global biodiversity.
And not only that! By limiting our meat intake and caring about the origin of the meat we buy, we are helping promote smaller and more sustainable farms. In fact, livestock farming can generate benefits for the environment and rural communities when it is done in a way that respects local conditions. In some areas, sustainable livestock grazing supports survival of many sensitive native species that would otherwise die because of suppression by invasive species. Furthermore, manure is a good source of nutrients to boost soil fertility and increase the levels of organic matter .
This proves that it is possible to cherish life on Earth in all its forms, if we are willing to change our approach from consumptive to sustainable. It’s a personal choice to take responsibility for our actions on this planet and turn them into individual contributions to build a bright future together.