Beef: It’s what’s for dinner, for the economy, but not for the environment

Reports suggesting diets with less meat, more paleolithic-style qualities, less dairy, and always something more ‘this or that’ flood American news sources each day. The effect that a fad diet with more or less meat consumption may or may not have an impact on the American economy. However,  an individual or population’s food choices can effect global shifts in overall diet and meat consumption. These shifts are making strides in the meat production industry as well as the environment globally.

Meat and/or Veggies

Meat consumption is on the rise in most countries, a trend consistent throughout the past few decades. Although preferences in meat products are changing, the shifts from pork to beef or beef to chicken still amount for an overall increase in the global consumption of animal products. Higher income countries have steadily seen an increase, with the United States most predictably leading the pack in consumption per capita for several consecutive years. The less predictable reports are showing meat consumption on the rise in lower-income countries as well; most notably, (predominantly sub-Saharan) Africa has shown an increase in overall meat consumption. With animal products generally providing vitamin and mineral-rich additions to diets, the import of Chinese meat coupled with an increase in home-grown meat will continue to provide the growing African population meals for years to come.

The meat-onomy

Households around the globe are eating more meat; but why does this matter on a global economic scale? In general terms, more meat-eaters suggest more meat-producers and meat-sellers. The Food and Agricultural Organization (of the UN) estimates the number of livestock globally will continue to increase from 4.1 billion to 5.8 billion in the next 30 years or so, allowing no stopping point for industries to flourish within this meat-selling market. While the economic impact on higher-income countries may not be as apparent, the effect of a booming new industry in a lower-income nation or continent, even, may provide a hopeful future. With diets and preferences shifting, the opportunity for African nations to grow their meat-production industry is available or on the rise. One example is the NMA Sanders plant in Dakar, the sole providers of the brand in Africa. The Sanders building provided opportunities for construction laborers, assembly line workers, office personnel and the international managers. Without the plant, the economic boost on the local and national scale may have taken years to achieve. Whether it is chicken processing plants or safe and streamlined animal breeding, the argument for an industry growth in meat production leading to an economical boost is easy to make, especially for poorer countries.

Climate, health, and cows

Meat production, specifically beef, has high associations with global climate change. Though differing reports float among scholarly journals and click-bait articles, I concur with the general reports stating the negative impact meat production and consumption plays on the Earth. The harmful effects on climate change stem from more methane production into the air and waterways, as well as the higher emissions from production and transport of animal products. Public health and nutrition researchers have weighed-in on meat-eating diets’ linkage to climate change. By generally reducing red meat and replacing it with beans or eggs, an individual can have “significant improvements” on one’s carbon footprint, along with their diet and health. While I personally will occasionally swap my delicious Sunday morning bacon for a lab-produced plant-based version or opt for a ‘meatless Monday,’ the effect of reducing meat consumption may not be a blanket positive for all global economies when measured by many varying factors such as industry creation, population growth, as well as climate change.

World Economic Forum 



Catherine P. Gergen