Will America’s meat eating habits lead to a burger apocalypse?

It takes 6.7 pounds of grain, 52.8 gallons of water and 74.5 square feet of land to make one hamburger. And that’s not including animal waste or methane emissions.

Animal agriculture contributes to the highest levels of water pollution, ocean dead zones and species extinction, according to the the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture constitutes more than all worldwide transportation combined, contributing 10 to 13 times more greenhouse gas emissions than carbon dioxide.

“I think it’s easy to overlook because there are always contributions to greenhouse gases naturally, but it’s hard to convince people that humans are contributing to those greenhouse gases, and increasing the rate in which they are accumulating in the atmosphere,” Professor of Biology and Co-director of  Environmental and Sustainability at Agnes Scott College, John F. Pilger said, “Out of sight, out of mind. That’s a problem.”

The production rate of beef increases to meet the demand of the growing populations. In order to maintain the production of beef, industries must grow feed, which consumes water, land and energy.

“It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of animal flesh. All that grain could be used much more efficiently if it were fed directly to the people,” Pilger said.

Methane, a much more dangerous greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, is a major byproduct of meat production.

“Eating a hamburger doesn’t look like you’re contributing to the environmental degradation or greenhouse gases, but if you look behind it and see all the things happening behind it, it’s considerable,” Pilger said.

Current environmental changes are significant because they are mostly caused by humans.

According to the Department of Ecology climate change is the patterns of temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind and seasons. It also plays a fundamental role in shaping natural ecosystems.

Climate change has impacted the environment, leading to rising sea levels,  increases in global temperatures and shrunken glaciers.

“Right now we are at a carbon dioxide level that we haven’t been at in more than 650,000 years,” Pilger said. “We are not at a level of about 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide, which means more retention of heat, melted land ice, and increased sea levels.”

The beef industry contributes to water pollution at the rate of 116,000 pounds of waste per second, unsurpassed by any other polluting industries.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency a single dairy cow produces 120 pounds of wet manure per day, equal to that of 20-40 people. If properly used, animal manure can be used as a valuable resource by fertilizing land. The highly concentrated zones of waste from the intense production of beef industries aren’t discarded properly.

“The waste can’t be decomposed in a natural way because it’s so concentrated, so it runs off into bodies of water or streams and held in lakes, and it gets into the ground water,” Pilger said. “There’s so much waste that it comes to a point of being toxic.”

Agricultural methods are intensified in order to feed today’s population.

“The intensity of meat production is becoming so intense so rapidly. I think we’re gonna hit the wall at some point,” he said. “There needs to be some kind of balance between the intense and the natural agricultural methods.”

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Reducing the consumption of meat can help alleviate that intensity.

“Eating less meat would lead to a decrease in demand for meat and therefore lessen the environmental impact,” he said.

Additionally, meat impacts personal health.

Rachel Brandeis, a registered dietitian practicing in Atlanta, believes the consumption of meat leads to heart disease.

“The issue with meat itself is that there is a correlation between heart disease and red meat intake,” she said. “Make sure not all of your protein sources are coming from red meat, because there are high amounts of carcinogen levels in red meat.”

Brandeis recommends a mediterranean diet to limit red meat consumption and improve overall health.

“A Mediterranean diet focuses on beneficial fats like olive oil, avocado and hummus. You have small amounts of meat consumption such as fish, but it’s nothing compared to red meat,” she said.

This diet emphasizes primarily plant-based foods such as fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. A mediterranean diet also emphasizes limiting red meat consumption to no more than a few times a month.

Brent Eickhoff, Decatur teacher, swore off almost all red meat after reading a New York Times article linking the consumptionof red meat to risk of cancer.

“Since I read the article, I have cut red meat out of my diet almost entirely,” he said. “It’s not good for me.”

According to the World Health Organization, people who eat meat should “moderate the consumption of processed meat” to reduce the risk of cancer.

The risk of the meat industry affects the environment and the planet’s future.

“It’s hard to convince people on the issue of global climate change,” Pilger said. “The connections are so interwoven it’s hard to see, but as a scientist I do see them.”

He believes the public needs to recognize the harmful impacts of meat consumption, and offers final advice.

“I would advocate for reducing the consumption of meat,” Pilger said. “I think when the cause and the effect are so far apart, people don’t pay attention to the connections.”

Infographics by Emilia Fuentes