Solutions for Deforestation-Free Meat (2012)

June 2012
Our meat choices have direct implications for the world's forests and climate.

Producing meat, especially beef, requires large amounts of land. Global meat consumption has increased in recent years—and much of the new land for meat production has come from clearing tropical forests. This trend is a leading driver of deforestation and a significant contributor to global warming emissions.

Beef in particular requires vastly more land than meats like chicken and pork, which use much less land to produce the same amount of protein. Thus a simple diet shift from beef toward chicken would greatly reduce the pressure on land and the resulting pressure for deforestation. Even without a dietary shift, a variety of other practical solutions can help significantly reduce the impacts of meat production.

Grade A Choice? Solutions for Deforestation-Free Meat looks at how smart choices by consumers, businesses, and policy makers can help reduce the impacts of meat production on deforestation and reviews the global history, economics, and environmental impacts of the meat industry.

Beef production uses more agricultural land than all other food sources combined

  • Nearly 60 percent of the world's agricultural land is used for beef production, yet beef accounts for less than two percent of the world's calories.
  • Beef makes up about 24 percent of the world's meat consumption, yet requires 30 million square kilometers of land to produce. Poultry (34 percent of global meat consumption) and pork (40 percent) each use less than two million square kilometers of land.
  • Beef production is an inefficient use of food resources. Chickens need to consume two kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of meat. Pigs need four kilograms. For beef cattle the ratio is 10 to 1.

Livestock production has global impacts

  • Tropical deforestation is responsible for about 10 percent of the world's global warming emissions and adversely affects the planet's biodiversity.
  • The expansion of meat production, epecially beef, has been a major driver of deforestation over the last 20 years, responsible for about 45 percent of the heat-trapping gases produced by deforestation.
  • Cows produce extensive amounts of methane during the digestive process, a potent heat-trapping gas that exits the cow from both ends and causes about 23 times as much global warming per molecule as carbon dioxide. Large amounts of manure are also a leading cause of water pollution.

Report outlines deforestation-free solutions for consumers, policy makers, and meat producers

  • Consumers can make smart food choices that lessen the adverse impacts of meat production, including simply choosing pork or chicken instead of beef. Consumers can use their collective power in the marketplace to urge grocery stores and companies to purchase only deforestation-free meats.
  • Meat producers can increase the productivity of land already in use through methods such as improving pasture, using rotational grazing, and developing silvopastoral systems that combine meat production with tree restoration. The use of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is not an acceptable solution to deforestation due to its accompanying pollution, animal welfare problems, and other issues.
  • Policy makers, especially in the tropics, should eliminate subsidies that support the expansion of beef production onto new lands and develop and enforce strong agricultural zoning laws that shift agricultural development away from forests and other natural areas.