What Would Actually Happen If Everyone Stopped Eating Meat
As we see in National Vegetarian Week, it's clear that a considerable number of humans on earth are presently seeking alternatives to meat-based diets. Vegan and vegetarian clubs now boast around 20% of British 16 to 24-year-olds and approximately 12% of UK adults now follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Whether the lifestyle change from meat-chomper to vegetarian, and the transition from veggie to vegan, is prompted by the myriad of disturbing Netflix documentaries on factory farming and the dairy industry or anxiety about the wellbeing of the environment, it is indisputable that we are more aware of the range of effects of consuming animal products than ever.
If everyone in the world stopped eating meat, the fortunes of the future of earth would change forever. But what are those expected changes?
The hungry would not be hungry
Smashing perceptions that the globe's vegans and vegetarians are draining the world's herbivorous resources, is the fact that the majority of the world's grains and soya bean crops – and a large proportion of the world's water – goes to livestock such as cows.
If we all adopted a plant-based diet, and ceased to farm animals, the 97% of the world's soya crop, which is currently being fed to animals in the meat market, could go to hungry humans.
It is estimated that we could eliminate world hunger with about 40 million tonnes of food. Meanwhile, nearly 20 times that amount of grain, 760 million tonnes, is fed to animals on factory farms every single year. The logic is simple: the products currently being fed to animals for human consumption could go straight to people in poverty.
We would still have enough protein
Soybeans, historically known as "meat of the field" or "meat without bones", contain approximately 35% protein, resulting in the food receiving a protein quality rating that is equal to the ratings for egg or cow's milk.
While soybeans wouldn't be the only source of protein in the world if we stopped eating meat altogether – peas, quinoa, nuts, beans, chickpeas, seitan, greens and buckwheat are all vegan and rich in protein – they have the potential to keep people healthy but meat-free.
According to World's Healthiest Foods, there would be a slight decrease in protein levels if we all adopted a plant-based diet. However, given that many in the US and the UK already intake more protein than is recommended, this wouldn't necessarily be a bad trade-off.
There would be more land for the growing population
Dutch scientists predict that the 2.7 billion hectares of land currently used for cattle grazing would be freed up by global vegetarianism, along with 100 million hectares of land currently used to grow crops for livestock.
Not all of this land would be suitable for human habitation, but we could invent revolutionary new ways of using this land to our advantage in a meat-free world.
Animals wouldn't spend their lives suffering at the hands of humans
Every year, over 56 billion farmed animals are killed by humans. That's not even including fish and other creatures we eat. If humans stopped breeding animals for the sole purpose of feeding the population, we would avoid systemic suffering, exploitation and speciesism.
You wouldn't have to watch any more harrowing clips of animals being tortured
Whether you've seen investigative documentaries like Cowspiracy and Earthlings or VR slaughterhouse film iAnimal, there's no doubt that at some point in your life you've witnessed a harrowing clip of animals being killed.
But, if we discontinued the eating and production of meat, videos like these would serve no purpose, and we wouldn't have to endure them.
The environment would have a deeper future
As well as to terminate cruelty to other living creatures, to better take care of the environment is a common reason for going vegan or vegetarian.
The meat industry and livestock production is tipped to be one of the top contributors to climate change, having a bigger impact on the planet than anything else; meat production directly and indirectly produces about 14.5% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity.
Drinking water for livestock is the biggest form of water usage in England's agriculture and animals kept as livestock are the single largest users of land globally, with between 20- and 30% of the word’s total ice-free surface used to support chickens, pigs and cattle for us to eventually eat.
And yet, beef is the primary culprit of environmental damage when it comes to meat, using 28 times more land and 11 times more water than for pork or chicken.
Research revealed that the beef market is so destructive to the environment that it has provoked five times more climate-warming emissions than other meats. An expert who conducted this research even said that eating less red meat would be a better way for people to reduce their carbon footprint than giving up their cars.
If we stopped eating meat, we would be headed for a far more sustainable future, one where humans as well as animals have more hope.
The economy could collapse
There are pros and cons with everything. While many positives can come from a collective effort to go vegan or vegetarian, it is likely that the economy would temporarily tank.
According to the UN's Livestock’s Long Shadow, a 2006 report about meat’s environmental effects, livestock production accounts for 1.4% of the world’s total GDP.
If the meat market was to cease, 1.3 billion people’s jobs would be in jeopardy – 987 million of those are living in poverty. However, many of those working on farms could swap out the demand for meat for the demand for crops, making their livelihoods that way.
By Lydia Morrish, published on 15/05/2017