The Meat and Dairy Industries' Harmful Effect on the Environment


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Tuesday December 04th 2007, 3:14 pm
Filed under: Presentation,Sarah research

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Many people believe that increased production, factory farming, and cheaper grains are the solution to the food shortages in our modern world. As I learned in Frances Moore Lappe’s book, Diet for a Small Planet, the complete reverse is true. The third world dependence on (mostly US) grain imports is never going to be alleviated until the profiteering governments and rich of those countries stop feeding the grains to livestock. Not only is the dearly needed grain taken from the very poor in these countries, but land that could be used to grow basic food is used to graze livestock, often for export. Two thirds of the agriculturally productive land in Central America is devoted to livestock production, yet the poor majority can’t afford to consume the meat, which is mainly exported. According to David Pimentel, a professor of ecology at Cornell University, 800 million people could be fed by the amount of grain currently consumed to livestock in the US.

Some argue that meat is an established and necessary part of the American diet. However, Americans already consume much more than the Government’s Recommended Daily Allowance of protein. Seven million tons of animal protein is produced annually in the US. That’s enough for every American to have 79 grams daily and with the addition of 34 grams of available plant protein, equals 109 grams; the RDA for protein equals 56 grams. This excessive amount of meat production requires a great amount of fossil fuel resources: more than eight times as much fossil-fuel energy than plant production while it provides only 1.4 times as much nutrition.

 

Water Waste

·         Global Avg of water consumption for 1 pound of meat: 1,860 gallons

    US: 1,584 gallons-From a 2004 report by A.K. Chapagain and A.Y. Hoekstra which Singer believes to be the most accurate ratio.

·         Irrigation to grow food for livestock, including grain and pasture, uses 50 out of every 100 gallons of water ‘consumed’ in US. Consumed as in the water doesn’t return to rivers and streams.

·         If the cost of water needed to produce a pound of meat were not subsidized, the cheapest hamburger meat would cost more than $35 a pound.-acc. to Can You Have Your Meat and Eat It Too?  By Peter Singer.

Rising world temperatures, falling water tables, and increasing water salinity are all compounding to lower the world’s available fresh water supply. The water table is sinking because of excessive irrigation. The most striking example of this in the US, is the Ogallala Aquifer which stretches across eight states in the High Plains region and 174,000 sq. miles. This aquifer is the most important source of fresh water for that region-irrigation accounts for 94% of its use with 13.6 million acres being irrigated. Groundwater contamination in the Ogallala became an issue in the 1990s. Surveys of groundwater samples detected traces of pesticides and nitrates. The origins of these pollutants were traced to irrigated agriculture and confined livestock feeding operations. The problem is still a major concern and some states are beginning to take initiative to protect their valuable water reserves: Colorado passed Amendment 14 in 1998 which limits the number of large-scale hog operations in Colorado.

About 20% of the world’s arable land is used for the production of livestock feed. 40% of the worlds food supply is grown under irrigation and an estimated 60% of irrigated water is lost through evaporation and seepage. Industrial animal processing plants require a great amount of water to maintain a hygienic unit. This water is often discharged into the surrounding area’s groundwater, polluting it with nitrogen and phosphates and harmful hormones and antibiotics, further depleting available, safe fresh water resources. Ground-water pumping can cause the natural underground barrier between salt and fresh water to become unstable resulting in the migration of salt water and contamination of our fresh water supply. We are sacrificing tomorrow’s plate for today’s appetite.

Rainforest Depletion

            Even if we can placate ourselves with only buying meat from companies that claim to not purchase cattle raised on rainforest-cleared land, we are still not completely without blame. Thanks to free trade, the world is now a single market. The global increase in meat consumption causes an increase in grain demand, which many countries with rainforests are eager to meet. Thus, our meat consumption contributes indirectly to deforestation and loss of biodiversity. Most of the soybeans grown in Brazil are exported for use in animal feed.

            Elimination of Biodiversity

            An alarming amount of public lands in the US are leased by the government for grazing-300 million acres. When cattle are set loose in fragile, semi-arid environments, such as most of these public lands, they can quickly reduce it to a devastated landscape with no vegetation and unprotected topsoil waiting to be washed away with the first heavy rain. As we saw in class, the US government allowed ranchers to virtually exterminate prairie dogs. The ranchers believed that the prairie dogs competed with their cattle for grass; so the government sponsored, and paid for, vast prairie dog poisoning programs. The current population is now only about 2% of what it once was and (according to Peter Singer, author of The Way We Eat) poisoning still continues today. The US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Division poisoned 2,767,152 wild animals in 2004, including badgers, beavers, bears, blackbirds, coyotes, doves, finches, foxes, geese, marmots, opossums, prairie dogs, raccoons, ravens, skunks, squirrels, starlings, and wolves. The US is not alone in allowing the cattle industry to destroy biodiversity, the Australian government issues permits for the killing of 4 or 5 million kangaroos each year.

            Over the course of my research, it struck me that cows seem to just be waste disposals for corn and all the unwanted material from various agricultural industries such as the chicken industry. As evidenced by Peter Singer’s book, The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, “About a million tons of chicken litter are disposed of by being fed to cattle each year. That means that, on average, each of the 36 million cattle produced in the US has eaten 66 lbs of it.” Besides the moral obligation we have to our planet to defend it from an out-of-control meat industry, do we really want to be ingesting meat that is fed with chickens and other animal parts and injected with disturbing hormones into our bodies?  

 

 

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