UN Climate Report Says Eat Less Meat — That'd Mean Big Changes In Indiana

Aug 12, 2019

Burger King started selling Impossible Burgers — a plant-based burger substitute — this week.
Credit Sarah Stierch/Wikimedia Commons

Agriculture accounts for about 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. A recent United Nations climate report says to reduce those emissions, people need to eat less meat. 

That would mean big changes in a state like Indiana. It's one of the top states for livestock — like hogs and turkeys — and livestock feed, like corn.

The report says we need to devote less land to raising and feeding livestock and more to capturing emissions through things like cover crops, biofuels, and forests.

James Farmer is an associate professor with Indiana University’s O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He says right now our food system isn’t set up for this kind of shift.

“If 90 percent of our farmers next year decided not to plant the corn, soybeans, wheat, but they all planted lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, and brussel sprouts — well, most of it would go to waste in the field,” he says.

Farmer says it will take everyone to make a more climate-friendly food system — from policymakers to shoppers at the grocery store.

“If we all switched from eating meat to eating just plants tomorrow, we would use much, much less land area to grow food because it's so much more efficient for us to eat the plants directly,” says Jeff Dukes, director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center.

Linda Prokopy is a professor of natural resources social science at Purdue University. She says one thing farmers can do is reintegrate livestock back into the land – such as changing where they graze from year to year.

“Evidence suggests that it’s much more sustainable, it also gives farmers much more diversity in terms of their income sources,” Prokopy says.

And Prokopy says that can make farmers more resilient against things like climate change. But she says in order for farmers to thrive, there has to be a market for what they’re selling — and consumers have to be willing to pay more for their food.

We couldn’t reach anyone at the Indiana Farm Bureau in time for comment.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.