The upcoming climate catastrophe
Of the many existential hazards that threaten our existence, climate change is arguably the most consequential. The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement set an international goal of limiting global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, yet we're unlikely to meet this target according to a recent report by the United Nations. Their Global Emissions Gap Report reported that instead of cutting emissions, 2019 set a carbon-emitting record for our species.
The meat industry bears a lot of the brunt of this blame. According to a recent report by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, around 14.5% of global emissions are caused by agriculture related to meat and dairy.
The increased consumption of plant-based meat replacements are unlikely to mitigate the damage being done, at least in the short-to-medium term. A recent report by Markets and Markets has projected that the plant-based meat industry is expected to double in size from 4.3 billion in value in 2021 to 8.3 billion by 2025 globally.
To put this in perspective, in 2019 the cattle industry was worth $66.2 billion in the United States alone, around 8 times larger than the plant-based projected size. The solution to the climate catastrophe will lie not in replacing meat, but making sourcing & consumption less environmentally intensive.
Beef: Delicious, Nutritious—but Environmentally Contentious
American's love their beef. They're the largest consumers and producers of beef in the entire world:
These figures are projected to grow. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, beef consumption rose 21% year-over-year. This situation isn't unique to the United States—globally, we're on track to set new records for the amount of meat consumed3. Beef and beef-derived products are a cost-effective, satiating and nutrient dense option for consumers. Yet, the greenhouse tradeoff that we pay for these benefits is enormous.
The water, feed, & gasoline required to raise and transport cattle create a bulk of the industry's emissions. There are invisible sources of emissions too, such as the methane emitted from cow's digestion. But luckily for us, most of these externalities have green solutions that will make their way into industry soon. Methane can be reduced by feeding cows sea weed. Renewable energy will reduce the transportation tax that significantly contributes to emissions. Other solutions are on the way.
The Real Greenhouse Culprit—Slaughterhouse Waste
For all of the concern about livestock's effect on the climate, we scarcely discuss its inverse: deadstock. The biggest greenhouse gas problem that we don't have a plan for is how to discard the waste that the cattle industry produces. Every year, the deadstock industry in the United States generates 1.4 billion tons of waste. Unfortunately, accounting for and discarding deadstock waste is not getting greener like the other externalities previously mentioned.
This waste includes the items that have no consumer market value and therefore have to be discarded. This includes skin, hooves, organs, bones, tendons, blood, etc. A recent report published in NCBI finds that most of the waste created by the beef industry occurs during slaughter. In terms of raw weight, slaughtering a cow produces more waste than actual yieldable product. About 60% of the cow becomes slaughterhouse waste, whilst the rest ends up in your grocery store as ground beef, steak, and other beef products.
Despite our best efforts to better understand our increasingly complex food system, deadstock reminds us that the highest costs of food production are frequently concealed in areas we seldom visit as we follow our food from farm to fork.
Unfortunately, the problems we're facing now with slaughterhouse waste necessitate immediate action. With rendering plants on the decline and existing alternatives beset by issues, we have every excuse to start talking about deadstock with the same zeal as we talk about livestock. In the United States, slaughterhouses will destroy more than 10 billion animals next year. What will become of that waste?
The Solution: Let's Make Waste into Food!
The great news is that your choices today can eliminate this problem. In the previous section we discussed how waste is a greenhouse problem that we don't have a solution for. But in fact, this isn't the case! Waste consists of items that don't currently have market value. Like we mentioned, these are items like the organs, the skin, the hooves, etc.
In 2019, a study in Germany found that consuming more meat by-products, such as liver, sweetbreads, and tripe, once or twice a week could help reduce livestock emissions by as much as 14%.
In actuality, these by-products are tremendously valuable items; and in several countries around the globe, they're actually more valuable than the steaks and ground beef itself:
- Organ Meat:
- Beef tongue is popular in Latin America
- Beef liver and onions is a staple in Germany and the UK
- Kidneys, stomach, and intestines, are often used in Asian cuisine
- Blood sausage ("blodkorv") and blood pudding ("blodpudding") are delicacies in Sweden. As is the case with Finland's "mustamakkara", they are served with a sweet accompaniment such as beets or lingonberry jam.
- Jamaican & West African cuisine is known for the use of cow skin in soups and stews
- Beef rinds ("krupuk kulit") are a popular snack in Indonesia
Speaking of skin, a large fraction of deadstock waste is comprised of cattle skin. Due to the recent rise in beef production and the abandonment of leather, cowhides have virtually lost their market value. So much so that in 2019 5.5 million cattle hides found their way to landfills— accounting for nearly 16% of all US cattle hides produced. This translates to roughly 550 million pounds of waste— causing an increase in over 120,000 tons of carbon emissions. Learn more about the cause of the drop in cowhide value here.
Following the path of Indonesia, turning cow skin into beef rinds sounds like an ideal solution to reduce cowhide waste in the United States. This is how we're dealing with the surplus of cattle skin at Holy Cow. But we don't stop there; we also utilize the leftover fat from the skin and turn it into tallow. We also compost the hair and use it as mulch in local community gardens. To try this tasty, environmentally friendly snack sign up for our next batch drop at Holy Cow's Homepage. We’re on track to set a new record for global meat consumption