Meat Production And Deforestation: A Review
As animal advocates, we know that the rising demand for meat on a global level is one of the most pressing environmental issues of our day. And awareness in increasing. From the numerous alarming reports starting with “Livestock’s Long Shadow” from the United Nations (UN) to various “sustainable” food trends, a growing portion of the general public is aware that animal agriculture and environmentalism are not a good mix. One enduring point of tension between animal agriculture and the environment is the deforestation of areas to make way for grazing land for cows. The issue first came to light in the mid-to-late 1990s with concerns over the rapid deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and it has remained an issue of concern ever since. In many ways the problem is an obvious one when you consider the numbers: In 2007, “the total area harvested for animal products reached 440 million hectares,” while the average per capita land requirement for making animal products was 610 square meters.
This particular survey of the impacts of meat production and cattle grazing on deforestation looks particularly at the Madre de Dios region of Peru. While Peru has not seen the same kind of devastation as Brazil, there is some speculation that this may because the risk is “hidden by more prominent and damaging phenomena, like gold mining.” In Brazil, the damage has not been so hidden. Deforestation in Brazil “continues intensely” and researchers note that between 2004 and 2011, the Terra-i monitoring system “detected a cumulative habitat loss of 14,159,913 hectares across the nine countries,” with 88% of that change occurring “in moist forest.” In Peru, studies have shown that in 2010 “almost 5% of forest cover has been removed, and according to the model, an equivalent amount of deforestation will occur in just 20 years, and by 2030 the Peruvian Amazon would lose 10% of its forests.”
To conduct their analysis, researchers combined an assessment of meat trends carried out using data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), as well as an assessment of land-use change and deforestation, brought together from a range of different sources. In Peru, they found that chicken production is “five times greater than that of pig and bovine meat, with the latter two increasing slightly during the last 15 years of the period analyzed.” Overall, the production of chickens “has expanded greatly in the last two decades, reaching about 1,171,470 metric tons in 2012.” The image is less grim when it comes to deforestation. While “South America is characterized by the highest percentage difference between 1990 and 2012 (-9.4%),” the analysis reveals that “Peru and the whole World both have a lower percentage rate (-3.5%)” than the South American continent overall.
The numbers lead the researchers to conclude that “global meat consumption trends, especially the one of bovine meat (whose production is based on intensive and extensive land-consuming agricultural activities), can become a key driver of forest loss phenomenon in Peru and especially in Madre de Dios region.” They point out that the production of meat in Peru is generally increasing and that in this context Peru is not considered an “exporter.” Rather, much of the meat produced in Peru is consumed there and the “ongoing growth is mainly due to both the continuous population growth and to changes in diet.” This might give animal advocates some hope: if deforestation in the region is due to shifting meat production based on local demand, then maybe conditions could also shift away from animal products due to changing local demand.