India - 1.7 (includes meat from non-cow bovines)
Brazil - 1.6
Australia - 1.5
United States - 1.1
New Zealand - 0.5
Cattle - 2009
United States: 94,521,000
Cattle - 2013 (expected)
United States: 89,300,000
Source: USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) April 2013
If we project the growth of the Brazilian cattle herd for the next 20 years based on the 1.7 percent growth registered from 1994 to 2007, the result is 103.7 million head of cattle in the Amazon by 2030, which could lead to the deforestation of 55 percent of region.
While Brazil has vast grasslands for grazing outside of the Amazon region, pasture expansion into the Amazon is occurring at a fast rate. According to the site, Tierramerica, the writers from Belem, Brazil, the gateway to the Amazon rainforest, point out that the expansion of cattle production into the Amazon rainforest has been greater in the last 50 years that at any other time in history.
Unfortunately, the UN FAO concluded that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions along with the destruction of crucial rainforest biomes which reduces the planet's ability to absorb the emissions. With the fast growth of the cattle herds into the Amazon region, this condition is worsening, making Brazilian beef a very expensive commodity for the world to accommodate.
Beef is considered an expensive food in most of the world. But the price of a beef steak fails to incorporate the real cost of its production footprint: the production of one kilogram of beef leads to the emission of 15 kilograms of carbon dioxide and uses up 14,000 liters of water.
This means that the relatively “cheap” beef arriving on your plate from the Brazilian Amazon is actually extraordinarily costly in terms of its environmental and economic footprint.
As a result, the industry has expanded, but at a cost to the rainforest. According to this article from Reuters:
- The number of cattle in the legal Amazon area, which covers seven states in Brazil's north, grew by 77 percent from 1997 to reach 70 million in 2007. That compared with 24 percent growth in Brazil's overall herd.
- Pasture areas in the Amazon grew by 44 percent between 1985 and 2006. About 15 percent of the Amazon area is now used for farming and ranching, or about 80 percent of the deforested land.
Because of Brazil's rise to the top of the beef export market, its commodity reaches plates in homes, restaurants, schools, and government or NGO cafeterias around the world. With the shift of beef export production away from Australia and the U.S. to the grasslands and rainforests of Brazil, we sacrifice so much of our planet's valuable resources and increase the effective cost of this product to the point where it is unsustainable and detrimental for the nations, industries and consumers involved.
Our best chance to reverse the trend individually is to eat more plant-based meals, shift our protein preference and reliance away from animal products, and encourage others to do the same!