NPR Breaks Down What Meat Consumption Costs the Economy

03:03 am

by Eliza Barclay

June 27, 2012

As Allison Aubrey and Dan Charles reported today on Morning Edition, meat has more of an impact on the environment than any other food we eat. That’s because livestock require so much more food, water, land, and energy than plants to raise and transport. (Listen to the audio above for their conversation with Morning Edition’s Linda Wertheimer.)

Take a look here at what goes into just one quarter-pound of hamburger meat. (Mobile users: To see the images, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on “View Non-Mobile Version Of This Story.”)

What It Takes To Make A Quarter-Pound Hamburger

Burger resources

Source: J.L. Capper, Journal of Animal Science, July, 2011.

Credit: Producers: Eliza Barclay, Jessica Stoller-Conrad; Designer: Kevin Uhrmacher/NPR

 And that’s not even including the animal’s waste or the methane emissions from its digestion.

But there are fewer cows around than there were in the 1970s.

Cattle inventory, in millions

Cattle inventory

Source: Earth Policy Institute

Credit: Angela Wong / NPR

In the meantime, though, farmers and scientists have found ways to get more meat out of every cow. So even though cattle inventory has dropped, the U.S. is still producing more beef now than in the 1970s.

Average dressed weight of cattle (what’s used for meat), in pounds

Average dressed weight

Source: USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service

Credit: Kevin Uhrmacher / NPR

And if you look at the last century, meat consumption overall in the U.S. has risen dramatically. It’s only in the last few years that it has begun to drop a bit.

U.S. total meat consumption, in billion pounds

U.S. total meat consumption, in billion pounds

Source: Earth Policy Institute

Credit: Angela Wong / NPR

Though meat consumption in the U.S. has dropped off slightly in recent years, at 270.7 pounds per person a year, we still eat more meat per person here than in almost any other country on the planet. Only the Luxumbourgers eat more meat than we do.

Meat Consumption, 2007

 

Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 2010, Livestock and Fish Primary Equivalent, 02 June 2010, FAOSTAT on-line statistical service, FAO, Rome

As U.S. beef consumption began to decline in the 1970s, poultry began to rise quickly. A couple of years ago, chicken surpassed beef as our no. 1 meat of choice. Our consumption of pork has also risen slightly over the years.

U.S. meat consumption per person, in pounds

U.S. meat consumption per person, in pounds

Source: Earth Policy Institute

Credit: Angela Wong / NPR

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