University of Bonn: “Meat consumption must fall by at least 75 percent”

Spread the love

By Kalte Sonne

On 25.4.2022, the University of Bonn made demands of society:

Meat consumption must be reduced by at least 75 percent

In small quantities, on the other hand, it can be quite sustainable, shows a study by the University of Bonn

In order for the earth to continue to feed us in the future, the industrialized nations must significantly reduce the consumption of meat – ideally by at least 75 percent. This is the conclusion of a new study by the University of Bonn. The review evaluates the current state of research on various aspects of meat consumption. In addition to the effects on the environment and climate, this also includes health and economic effects. One conclusion of the researchers: Eating meat in small quantities can be quite sustainable. The results appear in the journal Annual Review of Resource Economics.

Every citizen of the EU consumes around 80 kilograms of meat per year. But every delicious steak, every crisp grilled sausage has a price that we do not pay at the counter. This is because livestock farming damages the climate and the environment. For example, ruminants produce methane, which accelerates global warming. In addition, animals only convert part of the calories fed into meat. In order to feed the same number of people, you therefore need more space for meat. This is at the expense of ecosystems, as there is less room for natural species protection. Those who eat too much meat also live dangerously – meat in excess is not healthy and can promote chronic diseases.

So there are good arguments to severely restrict the consumption of animal foods. “If all people were to consume as much meat as Europeans or North Americans, we would fall far short of the climate targets and many ecosystems would collapse,” explains study author Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim from the Center for Development Research (ZEF) at the University of Bonn. “We therefore have to significantly reduce our consumption, ideally to 20 kilograms or less per year. The war in Ukraine and the resulting shortages of grain on the world market also show very clearly that less grain should be fed to animals in order to ensure global nutrition.” Currently, around half of the world’s grain production goes into the feed trough.

Mass vegetarianism is not the best solution

Shouldn’t humanity switch completely to vegetarian or even better vegan food? According to the study, this would be the wrong consequence. On the one hand, there are many regions in which plant-based foods cannot be grown. “We can’t feed on grass, but ruminants can,” explains Qaim’s colleague and co-author Dr. Martin Parlasca. “If grassland cannot be used in any other way, it therefore makes sense to keep cattle on it.” From an environmental point of view, there is little objection to gentle grazing with not too many animals.

Especially in poorer regions, there is also a lack of plant sources of high-quality proteins and micronutrients. For example, vegetables and legumes cannot be grown everywhere and can only be harvested at certain times. “In such cases, animals are often a central element for a healthy diet,” emphasizes Parlasca. “For many people, they are also an important source of income. If the income from milk, eggs or even meat disappears, this can threaten their existence.” In any case, it is not the poorer countries that are the problem, the authors make clear. Among their inhabitants, meat is usually much less often on the menu than in the industrialized nations. Rich countries in particular must therefore reduce meat consumption.

Tax on meat products makes sense

At the moment, there is little sign of this. Although there are more vegetarians than there used to be, meat consumption is stagnating across Europe. However, it is highest in North America and Australia. Qaim thinks it’s important to also think about higher taxes on animal foods. “This is certainly unpopular, especially since a ten or twenty percent surcharge would probably not be enough if it is to have a steering effect,” he says. “However, meat causes high environmental costs that are not reflected in current prices. It would make sense and be fair for consumers to contribute more to these costs.”

The authors also call for the topic of “sustainable consumption” to be increasingly integrated into school curricula. This content should also be better taken into account in the training of future teachers. “We need to become more sensitive to the global impact of our decisions,” emphasizes Qaim, who is also a member of the PhenoRob Cluster of Excellence and (like his colleague Martin Parlasca) of the Transdisciplinary Research Area “Sustainable Futures” at the University of Bonn. “This applies not only to the food, but also to the T-shirt we buy at the discounter to wear for a single evening at a party.”

Publication (Open Access): Martin C. Parlasca & Matin Qaim: Meat consumption and sustainability; Annual Review of Resource Economics