Debate: Cutting Australia’s meat consumption by half will be better for us and the planet

Cows at sunset

Image from istockphoto

These days, deciding what to eat is about more than just filling our stomachs. Increasingly we are asked to consider the effect that our food choices have on our communities and the environment, as well as ourselves. We are asked to eat foods that are produced sustainably, locally and ethically. “You are what you eat” has become “what you eat affects us all”.

Meat production is often targeted as having a large environmental impact. Different methods have been used to estimate the amount of water needed to produce a kilogram of beef varying between 500 and 50,000 litres, and methane emissions from ruminants are estimated to account for 10% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Just over half of Australia is used for grazing animals, with more used to grow feed for more intensively raised animals.

In 2009 Australians, on average, each chewed their way through nearly 108 kg of meat, just over 2 kg per week, and we are one of the top meat-consuming nations of the world with only approximately 5% vegetarians. By comparison, the British ate 84 kg per person and the Chinese about 58 kg per person. The average meat consumption in India per person for the year, the lowest in the world, was only slightly more than what we consume in a fortnight at 4.4 kg. Our meat-heavy diet has been associated with chronic health issues and there are many that question whether it is morally right to raise and kill animals for food at all.

Reducing meat consumption is often suggested as a way to reduce our impact on the environment. But if Australia as a nation decided to halve our meat consumption, what would replace it in our diets? Is Australia’s climate and geography suited to producing the large amounts of plant foods needed to feed us? Could the water we currently use to produce meat actually be diverted and used for another purpose? Would we ever be the nation that says “throw another veggie on the barbie?”

This debate, moderated by Dr Paul Willis, RiAus, will explore all these issues, as six experts in two teams argue for your vote.

When: Thursday 21 March 2013, 6.00 pm – 8.30 pm
Where: Lirra Lirra Cafe, Waite Road, Waite Campus

Finger food provided. A cash bar will be open throughout the event.

Admission is free, but prior registration is essential as seats are strictly limited.
To register to attend the event go to

To join the debate on Twitter, follow @waiteresearch and use the hashtag #agchatoz


12 thoughts on “Debate: Cutting Australia’s meat consumption by half will be better for us and the planet

  1. Fiona Lake

    1. Would be a good idea to drop the presumption that everyone knows where the Waite Research Institute is, and clearly display the exact location somewhere on this page. Most, like me, wouldn’t even know what state it is in.
    2. Two vital questions to add to your last paragraph; that perhaps speak volumes by ommission: if Australians all became vegan, would the hugely increased pressure on plant production be detrimental to our soils and native flora and fauna (and if so, how detrimental)? And what would then become of land management currently undertaken by livestock business owners, covering the majority of the Australian land mass?

    1. waiteresearchinstitute Post author

      Thanks for your comments Fiona. Our location information is on our main website, rather than our blog, but I appreciate that people are often directed directly to our posts. I will find a way to put that information into a sidebar. I also agree that you gave raised important questions and I do hope they will be addressed during the debate by our debaters. In fact, I will raise them as questions during the Q&A if they are not, and will mention you with your permission. I was aiming to be suggestive, rather than exhaustive, in the questions I posed at the end of the post. ^HB

  2. Fiona Lake

    No worries Heather. So many members of the public are now accepting without question that meat production hurts the environment and the planet would be better off if we were all vegetarian, the Number One question to ask – that is amazingly mostly ignored – is: Would Australia’s soil, native flora & fauna really be better off if we were all vegan…or not? Please include on your panel someone genuinely familiar with the majority of the landmass, which runs extensively grazed livestock amongst native plant & animal species (and where cropping cannot be undertaken).

  3. Pingback: Debate: Announcing our speakers for “Cutting Australia’s meat consumption by half will be better for us and the planet” | Waite Research Institute

  4. Cat

    I am so disappointed that I missed this. Having shared my office with a vegan for the last year, we have spent hours each week discussing this issue and the pros and cons of both sides. I think it’s one of the most fascinating local and global issues right now and I have to admit I am pleased that there is no clear ‘winner’ of the argument – as you say, it is more complex than it seems. I am on the road to reducing my meat consumption and have I guess become the new buzzword – a vegivore – someone who uses meat as a side dish in meals (or is at least trying to!). Taking a very simple view of the issue, I’d like to see all Australians apply a more balanced approach to meat consumption, for health, ethical and environmental reasons. Nothing pains me more than seeing supermarket shelves full of meat that is going unsold… why are we producing so much if clearly it’s not being sold?! Anyway – too hard to make a comment, you could argue about this forever! 🙂

  5. Pingback: Debate wrap up: Cutting Australia’s meat consumption by half would be better for us and the planet | Waite Research Institute

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