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So where is the beef? BY Julie Peller Ph.D.

Plant-based burgers are becoming more popular, as more restaurants and fast food venues are offering non-meat “burger” options on their menus.  According to Business Insider, the plant-based meat options (Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods) are expected to balloon into a 140 billion dollar industry. This food feat took scientists years to attain a recipe for a burger with the same taste sensations as beef.  There is no beef in the impossible burger, this plant-based option is healthier and it is a more environmentally sustainable food option (although not as sustainable as a veggie burger).

Raising cattle for the consumption of beef is hard on the environment in a number of ways.  According to studies by the University of California Davis researchers, the production of 1 pound of beef requires between 2000 and 8000 gallons of water. A study by atmospheric scientists in Hong Kong that utilized a few decade’s worth of data linked to the elevated consumption of beef in China to increased air pollution and premature deaths.  Since the raising of more cattle requires more land for grazing, there are greater demands on fertilizer and land cultivation.  The additional agricultural processes lead to higher amounts of particulate matter in the atmosphere, a well-known contributor to human health afflictions.

Modern-day agricultural practices emit greenhouse gases, which warm the planet, and livestock are the major emitters. Ruminant animals, such as cattle and sheep, produce methane gas as part of their digestion process. Gases produced from animal manure also contribute to climate change. In total, the US EPA estimates that agriculture makes up 9% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates that this number is 14% worldwide.  The shift in farming over the past few decades to CAFOs, confined animal feeding operations, to raise more animals in smaller, confined areas have also created greater environmental and human health stresses.  Since more animals are raised in smaller spaces, the concentrated waste is problematic, potentially leading to surface and groundwater contamination, algal blooms, reduced air quality and transmission of disease-causing bacteria and parasites.

Changes to a more plant-based diet benefit the environment and human health. More land will be available for flora, wildlife, and natural habitats when the demand for meat decreases.  All sorts of small changes by individuals can translate to meaningful benefits for Mother Earth, one another and future generations. If you are a fan of hamburgers, maybe it is time to try an impossible burger!

Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.

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