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The Economic, Environmental, and Social Impacts of Reducing Meat Consumption in South Korea

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Global warming is a foremost issue in today’s society and with South Korea’s CO2 emissions sitting at roughly 11.6 metric tons per capita, emissions are a major social and economic challenge for the South Korean economy. The animal agriculture industry contributes greatly to the South Korean National Economy, however, does so in the expense of the environment through the excessive use of land and water and the significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing meat consumption within South Korea will result in a variety of both benefits and disadvantages. In this report, the environmental, economic, and social advantages and disadvantages of reducing meat consumption will be discussed. Economic factors: Food consumption has increased rapidly in South Korea within recent decades. The industry creates income and employment within the economy and would result in various harmful consequences if it were to have a downfall. With agriculture making 2.2% of total GDP composition and making up 4.8% of the labor force, the meat industry has a clear impact on the South Korean economy. Further highlighting this impact is the household consumption rate of 48.1%, and the continuous meat consumption growth of 3.9% per annum since 1960. Through the persistent growth in household consumption, and in turn, meat consumption, both the agriculture industry and the general economy are benefited through instigating higher rates of capital flowing through the economy. If meat consumption rates were to drop, roughly 5% of the South Korean workforce would be at risk of going out of business, therefore losing their livelihood, in turn accumulating higher rates of unemployment in South Korea. Unemployment currently sits at 3.7%, and an increase would prove detrimental to the economy as there would be less disposable income and thus, less inflow of capital into the economy. Through the price mechanism, the decrease of meat consumption would also lower the supply of meat due to farmer’s loss of income from lower demand. This would also result in a decrease in meat import, where the major countries of meat exports, the United States (US) and Australia would experience a significant decrease in demand. In 2016 alone, 57% of imports from the US were short ribs. Decreases in imports would prove to be more detrimental than beneficial, as although it would result in a decrease in spending to foreign economies instead keeping money in the economy, it could result in an increase in tariffs and decreases in exports as a retaliation from other economies. It is for these reasons that the reduction of meat consumption would cause immense consequences for the South Korean National Economy and any decisions involving the agriculture industry would have to be done with care.

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However, cutting down meat consumption has a direct correlation with savings within the economy. Studies predicted that if the public continued to consume meat at the current rate it would cost economy millions due to health-care and production costs, by 2050 costing the global economy up to $1.6 trillion. As seen in Appendix A, it was estimated that if countries ate less meat, per-capita health-care costs would go down potentially saving the country millions, in turn saving the global economy billions. It can be seen that by reducing the consumption of meat the economy would benefit from the cutback of health care costs, however, it would also cost the country through loss of capital from the agriculture sector, increases in unemployment, and potential consequences affecting the country’s ability to trade at the lowest costs. If South Korea were to reduce meat consumption it would have to been done over a period of time to minimize consequences. Environmental factors: In the case of the animal agriculture industry, each utility derived comes with a cost to the environment. The industry uses mass amounts of land and water all whilst creating excessive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. The livestock sector accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 80% of total agricultural land use. Deforestation and mass uses of water and land in production are some of the other harmful repercussions of the industry. Agriculture expends approximately 70% of freshwater worldwide; for example, it takes roughly 43,000 liters to produce only 1kg of beef.

Another major contributing factor to greenhouse gas emissions is animal agriculture and its current consumption rates. Researchers concluded that if meat consumption continues at current rates greenhouse gas emissions linked to animal agriculture will reach 51% higher than current levels by 2050. The factors of these results include the increase in wealth and overall population growth, all of which increase the demand for meat. However, in comparison, it was also calculated that if consumers ate less meat and more fruits and vegetables, emissions would only increase by 7% by 2050. Researchers additionally calculated that if everyone was to follow a vegan diet, agriculture-related carbon emissions would decrease by 17%, methane by 24%, and nitrous oxide by 21%, and that universal vegetarianism would produce similar results. Hence, the animal agriculture industry combined with South Korea’s growing demand for meat is incredibly destructive for the environment.

Social factors: Reducing meat consumption in South Korea would great a significant social impact as consumptions rates are continuously increasing. A journalist living in Korea stated that although vegetarianism is on the rise, the lifestyle would still be a challenge due to the high meat consumption rates. Social benefits include increased health, where scientific research has proved that a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. However, stakeholders in the industry, such as farmers, would be negatively affected by the reduction of meat consumption and would be less likely to vote for the political party in favor. Thus, the reduction of meat consumption has both negative and positive social effects.

CONCLUSION

Although the animal agriculture creates substantial contribution to the South Korean economy, it also contributes greatly to environmental damage. The industry contributes greatly to greenhouse gas emissions and uses excessive amounts of land and water. By reducing meat consumption, there will be beneficial environmental, economic, and social benefits and well as some unbeneficial consequences.

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