February 20, 2014

Navigate the Global Meat System with New Meat Atlas

Raychel Santo

Raychel Santo

Sr. Research Program Coordinator

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

meatatlas2014_web-1A new report released last month by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Friends of the Earth Europe fell under the radar for many of us here in the U.S. However, that shouldn’t keep you from checking out this comprehensive guide to the global meat system and its effects.

Besides covering many of the issues we focus on here at the CLF – antibiotic resistance, negative impacts of industrial meat and dairy production, greenhouse gas contributions from our diets, and growing trends towards “flexitarianism” and ethical dietary choices – the report also presents many lesser-known issues to consider as part of the global animal production and consumption system. These include gender equality in livestock production, impacts of new trade agreement proposals, prospects for insect protein alternatives, urban livestock production, diminishing biodiversity of animal breeds, and more.

Although the inclusion of in-text references to its many statistics and discussions would have been preferable, the Atlas makes it easy for readers at all levels to access its succinct overviews. The guide’s strongest asset, however, may be its 75+ colorful infographics that translate its messages into powerful visuals.  If anything, we suggest glancing over the report to see if any of the infographics can be helpful for any future presentations or discussions.

Here are a few interesting facts from the report:

  • Facilities owned by the Brazilian company JBS, whose annual food revenues are higher than more well-known food corporations including Cargill, Tyson, Unilever, and Danone, slaughter 85,000 cattle, 70,000 pigs, and 12 million birds every day.
  • According to the 2011 European Nitrogen Assessment, environmental damages caused by intensive livestock production in Europe amounted to between 70 and 320 billion dollars, which could exceed the total profits of the continent’s entire agricultural sector.
  • 70% of all agricultural land globally is used for livestock production (either directly or as cropland to grow animal feed), according to a significant UN study on agricultural development.
  • The growing Latin American soybean industry (63% of which is used to produce animal feed) is fueling some major social and ecological changes. Particularly concerning is the eleven-fold increase in the use of glyphosate (a Monsanto-manufactured herbicide sprayed on GM-resistant soybeans, also known as Roundup), and the associated higher rates of cancer (three times greater in one Argentinean soy-growing district) and birth defects (twice as high among women living within 1 km of soy fields in Paraguay).
  • Poultry consumption is expected to rise nearly ten-fold in India by 2050.
  • People in developed countries obtain 56% of their protein needs from animal sources, whereas people in developing countries obtain 18% from animal sources.
  • Crickets emit 80% less methane than cattle and contain twice as much protein as chicken and steak by weight. One company, Exo, has designed a protein bar with cricket flour.

The report concludes with some recommendations for how both individuals and governments can work towards achieving a more equitable, sustainable, healthy, and safe global food system. Individuals, particularly those in developed countries with the ability to choose what they eat, are encouraged to consume less but better meat. The guide includes a list of various small-scale farmer, animal welfare, environmental, and social justice organizations that individuals can also join to push for the broader, policy-level changes that will also be needed to improve the status quo on livestock production.

What would such changes include? The Atlas suggests (in the context of the UK government, though they are applicable to other countries as well in today’s global food system) supporting small- and medium-scale pasture-raised enterprises over large industrial “fattening houses,” requiring farmers to produce at least half their animal feed on their own farm, prohibiting the prophylactic use of antibiotics in feed and watering systems, and expanding animal welfare rules to include livestock.

While these may seem like far-fetched goals, especially in light of the recent farm bill escapades that yielded much less progressive advances for sustainable agriculture, they do give us something tangible to bite into in the push for a better future.


  1. I became an ethical vegan in 2001, after reading, “They Die Piece by Piece,” a Washington Post article that appeared April 10, 2001, and reported on the slaughter industry that treats animals like machines, as well as the humans who do this work. Further research on my part, as a suburbanite who never lived the farm life, but who loved animals as a child, as all children do, changed my entire view of the “civilized” world.
    I started learning about what really happens to “farmed” animals behind the ever protected walls of the ugliest places on earth, slaughterhouses. I learned about debeaking of baby chicks with hot blades, in the battery cage system, which slices the ends of their beaks off, causing excruciating pain, nerve damage, impairing their ability to eat and drink. I learned about castrations of infant piglets with no anesthesia and how workers smash the heads of underweight piglets on concrete floors to kill them. I learned about the veal industry, the live export trade and how when cows get to Egypt from Australia, their eyes are stabbed and tendons slashed to make them manageable. I learned that pigs and chickens are scaled while conscious over, and over, and over and I learned that make chicks born into the egg industry are ground alive for other product uses. All these and many other horrific ways in which we treat living, breathing, sentient creatures who feel pain just as we do, launched me into a very different paradigm than the system the world revolves around today, the view of animals and nature as a resource, here primarily for human utility, entertainment, food, whatever our species wills. I see that this view not only harms animals and the environment in dire stress and almost incapable of rejuvenation, but it also requires a false view of animals and negates their inherent right to live free from harm, bodily injury, in their own habitats, family structures, which harms us all. Farmed animals are NOT even natural creatures but taken long ago from their wild homes and “domesticated” for human exploitation, which set the stage for our attitudes that we are entitled to own the earth and do with her what we decide….Very dangerous and the attitude that paved the way for what we’ve done to our environment because of unbridled, irreverent capitalism.
    The issue is not going back in time to bucolic family farms where the illusion of “happy meat” justifies the same view of sentient beings as products. Our humanity, humaneness, reduction in violence, bullying, cruelty, depends on a transformation of how we view our place in nature as protectors and stewards, rather than owners and dominators. PLEASE see the movie, “Speciesism” and “Earthlings.” I don’t know how we can ever ask forgiveness for the pain, trauma and suffering humans have imposed on trillions of animals over generations. I just know that if we do not leave them alone and stop harming them,, we create our own demise and continue our own cycles of violence against one another. Vegan super athletes like Frank Medrano, Ray Cheek, Patrik Boboumian, Tim VanOrnden, Rich Roll, Carl Lewis, Matt Gonzolez, John Salley, and many others, prove there is NO need for animal products in a healthy human diet.

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