Carnivore’s Dilemma

By David Schmidt

Reprinted from: Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate

National Geographic magazine cover

My thoughts today are triggered by a series called “Future of Food” in the National Geographic Magazine.

This series explores the critical topic of feeding 2 billion more people in the next 35 years (2050).

The November issue arrived yesterday and the feature FOOD story was titled “Carnivore’s Dilemma” with tagline “Unhealthy. Nutritious. Cruel. Delicious. Unsustainable. All-American. In the beef debate there are so many sides”. (Other stories in the series include topics like the history of human diets, food waste, food miles, the next green revolution, and world hunger.)

Yes, the title “Carnivores Dilemma” caught my attention and I held my breath as I envisioned all the spin that might come with an article about meat eating – specifically beef.

As related to meat and climate impacts – the author cited the most recent FAO data that estimates beef production accounts for about 6% of global GHG emissions but that if the world completely abstained from beef, the reductions would only be around 2% because humans still need to eat and our beef consumption would be replaced by other food that also has climate impacts.

The article discusses antibiotic use, animal welfare, grass fed vs grain fed GHG emissions, economics, emissions per pound of meat, and a host of other challenging topics.

After doing his due diligence for his story by touring feedlots and packing plants and talking to ranch hands, feedlot owners, scientists, and others, author and Senior Environmental Editor, Robert Kunzig, closed by stating he will not be saying “No” to eating meet but rather saying “No” to antibeef zealotry. He was in general frustrated with the tendency ” . . . we Americans have for reducing complex social problems – diet, public health, climate change, food security – to morality tales populated by heroes and villains.”

My own take home message from this article and the entire “Future of Food” series was that our project on Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate must be seen as one of many critical elements in the much larger discussion of how we sustainably feed the world over the next 25, 50 and 100 years.


David Schmidt is an Agricultural Engineer and regional project coordinator for the project Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate, a national project of the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center and funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


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