By Roger Lienhard, Founder & Executive Chairman of Blue Horizon
Meat production comes with a whole lineup of risks: first, it’s destroying the environment. Animal agriculture contributes 14.5% to all global greenhouse gas emissions. Cows release up to 120 kilograms of methane a year, a greenhouse gas that’s 23 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.
Nitrogen and phosphorus from animal manure have been blamed for the world’s biggest ocean dead zone (an area of the ocean devoid of life) as it leaches into the soil, seeps into waterways, and makes its way into the seas. These dead zones devastate marine wildlife and plants. The Amazon is being destroyed because of animal agriculture. Not only that, but animal agriculture is also an ineffective use of water; it takes 112 liters of water per gram of protein to produce beef while pulses (like lentils, chickpeas, and yellow peas) require only 19 liters.
For beef, water is needed to grow and mix the feed, keep the animals hydrated, and maintain the farms. It’s much more efficient just to water crops. As far as land goes, 26 percent of arable land is dedicated to livestock and a third of it is used to grow their feed. If those crops were grown for humans instead, we could feed 9 billion people by 2050. This isn’t even touching upon the fact that if meat were priced fairly, without subsidies, it would cost much more. Rewe, a German supermarket chain, did that by showing how much minced meat would cost if consumers paid for the “hidden” costs (greenhouse gas emissions, energy used, and other production costs): 500 grams would cost not €2.79, but €7.62.
Let’s look at sea walls as one way we might pay the price for climate change. New York’s Staten Island is planning a $615 million, five-mile-long sea wall to guard against threats like rising ocean levels and natural disasters (the island was devastated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and many homes still remain empty). Over the next 20 years, sea wall projects could cost the U.S. $416 billion, according to a report from the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.
Thinking that we can stop natural disasters simply by armoring our coastlines with walls is flawed. Nature is unpredictable; there is no guarantee that a sea wall can withstand the next superstorm. They are also expensive; what happens to coastal countries, like low-income tropical countries, that can’t afford the high cost? And when a massive wave hits one of these walls, they only redirect the wave elsewhere: it doesn’t truly solve the problem.
Then, there are the health costs. One study estimates that there will be 2.4 million deaths this year linked to eating red and processed meat and an additional $245 billion in healthcare costs. Red and processed meat have been linked to increased risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, and multiple forms of cancer. This isn’t even touching upon the health risks stemming from industrial animal agriculture’s overuse of antibiotics
It’s also a risk to worker safety; meat processing plants have the highest rate of injury out of any other line of work. Earlier in the year, multiple major meat processors were under fire for not taking the appropriate steps to protect their employees from COVID-19, resulting in hotspots centered around those plants.
With all of the health and sustainability risks, I think this demonstrates how the meat industry is far too risky for savvy investors. Consider plant-based protein, like peas, instead. Peas can be used to make plant-based meat that is strikingly similar to “the real thing” without all of the planetary destruction and health costs. Canada’s government already realizes the value in investing in pea protein; ethical consumerism is on the rise–people want to make better choices. With further investment, we can not only improve upon the choices already available but also make them more accessible and affordable.