What Would Happen If Everyone Stopped Eating Meat?

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What would happen if the whole world suddenly decided to give up meat? How much difference would it really make? And would it all be positive? (BBC)

What is a vegetarian diet? How do vegetarian and other diets impact our health, environment, and cultural identity? Use our resources to get some ideas.

Discussion Ideas

The BBC article and the AsapSCIENCE video speculate what might happen if the world went vegetarian. What is a vegetarian diet? Do a quick scan of our resource on diet for some help.Vegetarian describes a diet that does not include meat, fish, or poultry. People choose to be vegetarian for many reasons, including personal health, religion, concern for animal welfare, or concern about the environment.
 

What might be some benefits of a global vegetarian diet for human health and welfare?A plant-based diet is generally much, much healthier than one that regularly includes meat. Health care costs would shrink. “Fewer people suffering from food-related chronic illnesses would mean a reduction in medical bills, saving about 2%-3% of global gross domestic product.”


A vegetarian diet would reduce premature deaths. “We would see a global mortality reduction of 6-10%, thanks to a lessening of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers.”
 

What might be some costs of a global vegetarian diet for human health and welfare?Millions of people will be out of work. “Significant unemployment and social upheaval would be inevitable, especially in rural communities.”
Cultural identities would be dramatically changed. The BBC specifically identifies “nomadic groups such as the Mongols and Berbers who, stripped of their livestock, would have to settle permanently in cities or towns—likely losing their cultural identity in the process.”


The world’s poor would lose their most calorie-rich food.
 

What might be some benefits of a global vegetarian diet for biodiversity?

Farmland for crops generally requires far fewer acres than farmland used for ranching and livestock. Some tracts of land may revert to natural ecosystems, providing increased habitat and migration corridors for endemic and migrating species.

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“Converting former pastures to native habitats would likely also be a boon to biodiversity, including for large herbivores such as buffalo that were pushed out for cattle, as well as for predators like wolves that are often killed in retaliation for attacking livestock.”
 

What might be some costs of a global vegetarian diet for biodiversity?Converted livestock farmland may result in increased urban and suburban sprawl.
Centuries of livestock farming has so shaped the landscape that some livestock may be needed to maintain biodiversity. “I’m sitting here in Scotland where the Highlands environment is very manmade and based largely on grazing by sheep,” says one researcher. “If we took all the sheep away, the environment would look different and there would be a potential negative impact on biodiversity.”
 

Vegetarian diets would shrink greenhouse gas emissions.

What might be some environmental benefits to global vegetarian diet?Greenhouse gas emissions would drop by a third. Agriculture contributes more to climate change than industrial emissions.
Ideally, a plurality of former ranchland would be converted to grasslands and forests, “which would capture carbon and further mitigate climate change.”
Our “water footprint” would shrink. Freshwater currently used for ranching might be directed toward consumption and hygiene.
 

What might be some environmental costs to global vegetarian diet?Many agricultural regions are not natural “farmlands” and have nutrient-poor soil. When parts of the Sahel were converted from ranchland to cropland, the result was desertification.
Converting former ranchland to forest or grassland would require significant amounts of time, money, and effort.


 “It’s not this either-or, vegetarian-or-carnivore scenario,” says one expert. How can we modify our diets to best balance the costs and benefits of a vegetarian diet ?Eat less. Smaller portion sizes reduce our foodie footprint.
Eat less meat.
Make meat more expensive.
Reduce prices of fruits and vegetables.
Reduce your food waste—fewer than 50% of the calories currently produced are actually used effectively.

No matter what- the world will always eat meat and will stay healthy,