Rich countries need to cut down on meat consumption for the sake of the planet, says a new study from the University of Bonn in Germany.
Researchers recommended a drop of at least 75 percent. They observed that Western countries, like the US and those in Europe, are putting an unnecessary strain on the planet through a high demand for meat.
In the EU, the average citizen consumes around 80 kilograms of meat per year. (For context, that’s about the same weight as an entire mountain lion.) But Dr. Matin Qaim, the study’s lead author, says this needs to drop to 20 kilograms or less.
This is because animal agriculture puts an enormous strain on the planet.
The meat industry is a leading driver of deforestation, contributes 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and wastes significant amounts of resources. Just one steak, for example, requires more than 1,840 gallons of water, which is almost enough to fill 40 bathtubs.
The University of Bonn researchers were keen to stress that poorer countries are not the ones driving the meat industry’s environmental impact. Richer countries, though, need to take more responsibility.
“If all humans consumed as much meat as Europeans or North Americans, we would certainly miss the international climate targets and many ecosystems would collapse,” said Qaim.
Is a meat tax the answer?
Studies do show that people are starting to reduce their meat intake. For example, a survey published last year suggested that nearly half of Europeans are actively eating less meat.
But more needs to be done to encourage a bigger change in eating habits.
Over the last few years, a number of experts have raised the idea of a meat tax to drive down meat consumption. And some research does suggest that the majority of consumers would be in favor; a 2021 study reported that 70 percent of Europeans would be open to the idea.
Qaim believes a tax would be “reasonable” and “fair.”
He noted: “Meat has a high environmental cost that is not reflected in current prices,” before stressing that we all need to be “more sensitive to the global impact of our decisions.”