In the first two weeks in the course we’ve been learning about the oceans environmental status. We’ve also been discussing and reading about what the main negative causes or impacts to the global and local seas and their illness are. In this first blog post I will summarize and discuss an article I’ve come across about the relationships of meat consumption and eutrophication. The article is written by Jens Littorin for DN.se (a daily newspaper in Sweden) the 19th of October 2015. I found the article interesting because I eat quite a lot of meat and eutrophication is a big concern where I live, in the Stockholm archipelago region. I’ve also heard on the news that meat consumption is steadily increasing in Sweden, these statistics is also presented in the article. This story matters since we try to be environmental friendly but may not consider the negative effects it has on our seas when choosing to eat meat.
Eutrophication is most commonly defined as a leakage of nutrients with a fertilizing character into the nature. Common nutrients are nitrogen and phosphorus. Soils and waters then become unbalanced with results like algae blooms and low oxygen levels in the sea floor.
Littorin argues that the consumers have to take more responsibility for their meat consumption due to the effects on eutrophication. Until now, the impact of food consumption and nature of the diet have been an overlooked subject while food production e.g. farming/agriculture and the industry have taken the blame.
Scientist have found 17 factors that contribute to eutrophication where four of these are particularly important, one which is the consumption of meat. Beside the fact that the meat industry is responsible for a large part of agriculture eutrophication, the urine and faeces from humans that have eaten high protein food contain more of the fertilizing nutrients than other foods. The municipal sewage water facilities can separate 95% of the phosphorus but only 60% of the nitrogen.
In the last 50 years, Swedish consumption of meat has increased a lot, from 50,9 kg/person/year in 1950 to 88,2 kg/pers/year in 2013. Scientists suggest an introduction of a meat tax to highlight the connection between eating meat and the effects on the environment. Jan Forsell, head of “Sveriges nötköttsproducenter” (translated into something like Sweden meat/beef producers) think this is a bad idea because:
-the water cleaning facilities have to get better
-the increased meat consumption is due to imported cheap meat that cause higher emissions
-people eat meat because it’s good and nutritious
-there are worse threats to the environment than eating meat.
I am a carnivore myself, however trying to do much for the environment in other aspects, but my experience is that the eutrophication issue is something that isn’t mentioned as often as it probably should in media. Meat taxes can be a solution to decrease Swedish meat consumption but I believe we should start off by implementing this on imported meat first. Then we at least do not promote quick transport across the world and we also have the opportunity to regulate the agriculture in a more detailed way. If the prices on imported meat go up, the Swedish producers have the possibility to increase their price and by doing so ensure better retention and improvements in the whole food chain for meat production, including eutrophication.
Earlier this week I heard that cleaning facilities improve their techniques of separating the sewage water from medicines. I’m confident that further things can be done to decrease the nitrogen and phosphorus in the sewage water in the future. This combined with less meat eating will hopefully contribute to less eutrophication.
Also, I’m a bit disappointed that this article lacks in information about dairy production which also is a large part of our foods and include retention and high proteins.
Littorin, Jens. 2015. ”Hög konsumtion av kött ger övergödning i havet”. DN.