"As societies become more prosperous and more urban, they tend to consume more meat. This dietary transformation has been explored in detail by Vaclav Smil*, among others. The basic issue is that meat is a roundabout and energy-inefficient way to get nutrients to the human population. To fatten a cow by one kilogram, around eight kilograms of feed grains must be fed to the cow, but if we take into account the fact that much of the cow is bone and fat, each kilo of edible meat product has used around thirteen kilograms of feed grains. The huge burden of meat consumption on land use should be apparent. To raise that many kilos of feed, we require massive pasturelands if the animals graze or vast croplands if the feed grain is obtained by the production of cereals, soybeans, and other farm products.
Currently, meat consumers do not face pricing that reflects the environmental consequences of their actions, in terms of the loss of biodiversity implicit in land use, in the costs of providing the freshwater, and in the environmental losses associated with the industrial production of feed grains and livestock (for example, the eutrophication of the waterways, with the consequent destruction of marine life). Meat is dramatically underpriced relative to plant products if we take into account the environmental costs of producting it. With more accurate environmentally based pricing (for example, charging appropriate prices for water use and grazing on pasturelands) and more accurate consumer information, it is likely that today's meat consumption would decline markedly, and would not rise as rapidly as it is in China, India, and other fast-growing markets. Given the adverse health consequences of a diet rich in red meats, the public health would also benefit markedly from such a policy."
* Vaclav Smil, Feeding the World: A Challenge for the Twenty-First Century (Boston, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000).
Jeffrey Sachs, Common Wealth, Economics for a crowded planet, chapter "A home for all species".
This is an example where I fail to live up to my set of values ! I like meat too much and cannot restrict my consumption volontarily, even if I know that if everybody on Earth ate as much meat as myself, there would not be enough pasturelands to raise the cattle. And even if I was determined enough to restrict my meat consumption, I am sure the majority of people like me would not follow me, so the problem would persist. The solution is therefore to put an economic incentive, like Jeffrey Sachs advocates, i.e. to reflect the true environmental costs in the price of meat. I am always amazed that a hamburger costs less than a salad in a fastfood ! Such abberation should change...