To help save the planet, cut back to a hamburger and a half per week

Americans will need to cut their average consumption of beef by about 40% and Europeans by 22%, for the world to continue to feed the 10 billion people expec...

Posted: Jul 17, 2019 10:22 AM

Americans will need to cut their average consumption of beef by about 40% and Europeans by 22%, for the world to continue to feed the 10 billion people expected to live on this planet in 2050, according to a new report.

That means each person could have about a burger and a half each week.

This calculation comes from the World Resources Institute, a global research nonprofit that supports better use of natural resources to sustain a growing population. Its research looks at agriculture, the climate crisis, poverty and gender, among other topics.

Its final "Creating a Sustainable Food Future" report released Wednesday takes a closer look at the gaps in food production and global demand and makes several concrete recommendations on how to prevent a catastrophe.

Eating less beef is one such suggestion in the 568-page report.

Rising population, greater food demands

About 9.8 billion people will live on the planet by 2050, that's up from 7 billion people in 2010. Demand for food is projected to outpace population growth, increasing by more than 50% as people's incomes in the developing world are expected to increase, according to the report.

The demand for meat and dairy is expected to rise even faster, by nearly 70%. The global demand for ruminant meat, meaning beef, sheep and goat, is expected to be even higher, at 88%.

But to keep up with food demands overall, the report predicts farmers are going to have to produce 56% more crop calories than in 2010 -- and that means that land nearly twice the size of India will be needed.

Closing these gaps is "harder than often recognized," according to the report.

The authors suggest there are several ways to keep people from starving and to keep the climate crisis at bay, but the most impactful way to do this may be to cut the consumption of ruminant meat.

Beef, goat and sheep production use up a lot of land and resources. It requires more than 20 times more land and generates more than 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions than pulses, a plant that is in the legume family -- dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, lentils -- per gram of protein, according to the report.

Cows grow and reproduce slower than pigs and poultry and that means they need to eat a lot more and need more land and water.

Beef alone is responsible for 41% of livestock greenhouse gas emissions, and that livestock accounts for 14.5% of total global emissions, according to the United Nations. That's more than direct emissions from the transportation sector.

In the United States, beef only accounts for about 3% of the calories in the average US diet, but it uses 43% of US land used for agriculture, according to the report.

The current report suggests people who live in countries like the United States that eat a lot of beef, compared to the rest of the world, don't need to give up hamburgers, but they will need to cut back how many they eat.

In 2010, Americans ate 59.3 pounds of beef, according to the US Department of Agriculture. To get to a 40% reduction that would mean eating 23.72 pounds of beef for the year. With an average hamburger patty being about 4 ounces, you could have just about a burger and a half worth of beef a week.

The report suggests this is doable and necessary, although "the challenges are formidable." It points to eating trends in the United States as an example. In the late 1970s Americans were eating a lot more beef than they do today.

In 1976, Americans ate more than 94 pounds of beef a year. In 2018, it was 57.2 pounds.

Shifting to plant-based diets

Switching to plant-based foods would help the environment the most, but most climate and land-use benefits would still happen even if people switched from eating beef to chicken and pork, the report finds.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association takes issue with the report.

"Beef is both sustainable and nourishing. Environmentally, cattle play a unique role in our food system because they upgrade inedible plants to high-quality protein. Protein that, decades of research shows, promotes health and helps prevent human nutrient deficiencies," said Hillary Makens, the director of media relations for the association in an emailed statement.

"Most people are already eating beef within global dietary guidelines, so we assert the biggest opportunity for a healthy sustainable diet will come from reducing food waste, eating fewer empty calories and enjoying more balanced meals. History and well-established research have consistently shown that science-based advancements and practical, balanced dietary patterns promote health and sustainability, not eliminating single foods, like beef."

Other agencies have suggested changing the meat in our diets could make a real dent in the fight against the climate crisis. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published in 2018 said changing diets globally could contribute significantly to what's needed to keep global temperatures from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

This current report notes that there have been an increasing number of companies that are investing in beef alternatives, and a huge surge in demand for meat substitutes made from plant-based proteins.

Hamburger chains are piloting burgers made from fake meat or trying to reduce their beef content, adding other protein such as mushrooms. Several companies are even developing lab-grown meat.

While the marketplace might reduce the demand for beef, governments could also take steps to make other menu items more desirable, according to the report. For example, governments could phase out subsides for meat and dairy production or start taxing beef, making it more expensive.

Eating less red meat might be good for the planet, but it could also help your health. Earlier research has found that eating red meat is tied to increased risks of diabetes, heart diseases and some cancers.

West Lafayette
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 69°
Kokomo
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 69°
Rensselaer
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 70°
Fowler
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 70°
Williamsport
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 71°
Crawfordsville
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 67°
Frankfort
Scattered Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 71°
Delphi
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 69°
Monticello
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 69°
Logansport
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 70°
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 50300

Reported Deaths: 2748
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11920692
Lake5432248
Elkhart347058
Allen2902133
St. Joseph205169
Hamilton1665101
Cass16449
Hendricks1446100
Johnson1325118
Porter80238
Tippecanoe7599
Clark68144
Vanderburgh6816
Madison67264
LaPorte60527
Howard59458
Bartholomew59345
Kosciusko5704
Marshall5308
Noble50128
LaGrange4829
Jackson4783
Boone47444
Delaware46952
Hancock46036
Shelby43525
Floyd40444
Morgan33631
Monroe32928
Grant30926
Dubois2976
Henry29717
Montgomery29720
Clinton2893
White26810
Decatur25532
Dearborn25423
Lawrence25225
Vigo2478
Warrick24329
Harrison21722
Greene19332
Miami1922
Jennings17912
Putnam1728
DeKalb1674
Scott1639
Wayne1536
Daviess15017
Perry1459
Orange13723
Steuben1362
Jasper1332
Franklin1278
Ripley1277
Wabash1152
Carroll1132
Gibson1132
Fayette1057
Whitley1045
Newton10010
Starke983
Huntington932
Randolph794
Wells791
Jefferson782
Fulton731
Jay680
Washington681
Knox670
Clay665
Pulaski661
Rush613
Posey550
Owen521
Benton510
Spencer501
Adams491
Sullivan471
Brown431
Blackford402
Fountain352
Crawford330
Tipton321
Switzerland300
Martin240
Parke230
Ohio220
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union130
Pike110
Unassigned0193

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events