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The Real Cost of Meat

Updated on July 11, 2017



Agricultural Production: The Real Cost of Meat

In his article, "The real cost of meat" R. Hooper (2015) gives focus to the two major impacts of meat production; environmental impacts and health impacts. While meat was rare a few decades ago, various technologies and agricultural practices have resulted in low prices of meat, which has been good news for consumers. Globally, the production of meat has surged from just 78 million tonnes annually in 1963 to well over 308 million tonnes in 2014. This represents significant increase of meat production within a period of about four decades. While this appears to be good news for a majority of consumers, it is not the case for the environment, which now has to endure increased pollution. Moreover, high consumption of meat has been associated with a surge of heart diseases and cases of cancer globally. Apart from the vast amounts of land used to grow crops for the animals, runoff from both factory farms and livestock grazing has been shown to continually pollute rivers and lakes, and ultimately aquatic life. Environmental and health issues associated with meat production therefore make this an issue worth looking in to. According to Allan Schnaiberg,

" ..The dominant narrative always seemed to start with changes in economic production as the major determinant of the trajectory of ecosystem impacts"

From a logical point of view, changes in production were found to result in environmental disruption. The treadmill of production theory has also been able to associate economic growth with environmental issues, showing that the environmental exploitation has been to the benefit of some. As demand grows, there has been a need to produce more to meet these needs and make a heavy profit. On the other hand, as nations strive to continue developing and growing, it appears that they have allowed the environment to continue being exploited for raw material for production processes. The article, the real cost of meat (Hooper, 2015) is a good example of how environmental issues related to meet production have been overlooked for many year now. Today more than ever, the success of every business is dependent on meeting the needs of the market. This has seen man industries overexploit the environment to get raw materials they need for production. This is the same case with meat production. As companies seek to meet the demands of the market and lower prices, there have been land expansions, use of advanced technologies and use of various chemicals and fertilizers to grow crops for the animals. This has resulted in significant environmental damage, and particularly as a result of runoff from both factory farms and livestock grazing, which ends up in water sources killing aquatic life to be found there. While 26 percent of the plant's ice- free landmass is currently dedicated to pasture used for grazing livestock, it is possible that more land will be cleared in future as population continues to grow. This may result in increased deforestation, which would only aggravate climate change since forest covers are an integral component of rain cycles.



According to the social constructionism approach, all beliefs are socially constructed, but not all are necessarily equally valid (Samantha Jones (2002). This perspective offers us a more realistic foundation through which we can assess environmental degradation given that it enables rational grounds for a belief. One of the reasons we can safely argue that meat production has negatively affected the environment is because of the fact that the evidence is clear. Farmers are now required to grow more crops for animal feeds. However, because of the prevalence of pests and other diseases that affect these crops, more and more chemicals are being used in addition to various types of fertilizers. Like is the case with biofuels, these chemicals and fertilizer components leach, and find their way to fresh water bodies, killing aquatic life. On the other hand, there has been a need to cultivate more land, which has in turn resulted in deforestation. All this has been to the detriment of the environment and its inhabitants including man. Given that he evidence here is clear, there is a great need to re- evaluate this process of production. This would not only be to the benefit of the environment, which human beings themselves depend on, but also to the benefit of human beings themselves, who are increasing being affected by the heavy consumption of meat.

According to John Urry (2010) sociological analysis is one of the best approaches for examining high carbon societies and climate change. Here, I would argue that it also allows us to develop a better understanding of environmental degradation. In "Sociology and Climate Change" Urry notes that;

"..within capitalism...shifts involve moving from societies of discipline to societies of control, and more recently, from specialized and differentiated zones of consumption to mobile, de- differentiated consumptions of excess" (1).

Here, Urry (2010)shows the relationship between capitalism and climate change, or in this case, environmental degradation. While the demand for meat production is growing, and the means to methods of productions are there, it becomes evident that it is only the environment that suffers in the process. Great demand here translates in to consumption of excess, which demands more from the environment. From recent trends of resistant pests and diseases affecting crops, it is evident that the use of even stringer chemicals will be applied in agriculture. While this will help increase yields, land and other water sources will continue to feel the pressure unless appropriate measure are taken to deal with this issue.

According to Barbara Gemmill and Abimbola Bamidele-Izu (2002) NGOs and Civil societies have a significant role to play in all this if they remain objective and do not compromise. Through careful analysis of the evidence available, they will be able to effectively advocate for environmental justice. However, to do this more effectively, it is necessary that their participation be strengthened by more formalized structures for engagement, which will allow them to effect changes through appropriate institutions.


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