Global impacts of the meat trade on in-stream organic river pollution: The importance of spatially distributed hydrological conditions

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Abstract

In many regions of the world, intensive livestock farming has become a significant source of organic river pollution. As the international meat trade is growing rapidly, the environmental impacts of meat production within one country can occur either domestically or internationally. The goal of this paper is to quantify the impacts of the international meat trade on global organic river pollution at multiple scales (national, regional and gridded). Using the biological oxygen demand (BOD) as an overall indicator of organic river pollution, we compute the spatially distributed organic pollution in global river networks with and without a meat trade, where the without-trade scenario assumes that meat imports are replaced by local production. Our analysis reveals a reduction in the livestock population and production of organic pollutants at the global scale as a result of the international meat trade. However, the actual environmental impact of trade, as quantified by in-stream BOD concentrations, is negative; i.e. we find a slight increase in polluted river segments. More importantly, our results show large spatial variability in local (grid-scale) impacts that do not correlate with local changes in BOD loading, which illustrates: (1) the significance of accounting for the spatial heterogeneity of hydrological processes along river networks, and (2) the limited value of looking at country-level or global averages when estimating the actual impacts of trade on the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number014013
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

Keywords

  • hydrological conditions
  • international meat trade
  • organic river pollution
  • spatial distribution
  • water management

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