A World Without Meat: More Complicated Than We Might Think

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This week, the USDA Economic Research Service published a pretty incredible report projecting China’s virtually exponential growth in meat consumption over the next 10 years (and therefore imports of corn). To read more about China’s trends in consumption, and the trade dynamics between US and Chinese agriculture, check out Tom Philpott’s fabulous article “6 Charts That Show How We Became China's Grocery Store and Wine Cellar” in Mother Jones this week.

In the meantime, consider a world where the meat-eating trend heads in the opposite direction. What if the world completely stopped eating meat? Working with a 2009 study from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA), Slate writer L.V. Anderson considered that very question over this past week, and lays out, in a very thorough and well-researched manner, the complicated intersections of environment, economics, human welfare and animal welfare. According to Anderson, it’s a mixed bag: good things would happen, such as major greenhouse gas reductions, and decreased risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria; but bad things would also result, such as economic collapse, unemployment, and unknowns like cheaper land values. Anderson explains just how complex our food system is when it comes to meat. To sum it up, she writes:

But if the result of a worldwide shift to a plant-based diet sounds like a right-winger’s worst nightmare, it’s worth pointing out that continuing to eat as much meat as we currently do promises to result in a left-winger’s worst nightmare: In a world of untrammeled global warming, where disastrous weather events are routine, global conflicts will increase, only the wealthy will thrive, and the poor will suffer.”

Learn more about the NEAA study and the tangled socio-economic-environmental web that is meat consumption.

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Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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