The Meat and Dairy Industries' Harmful Effect on the Environment

Alex’s Presentation
Tuesday December 04th 2007, 3:28 pm
Filed under: Presentation

1. United States and the rest of the world

  • As is the case in more and more issues, the United States is not a leader for positive change, but often an example of what not to do, which is an overlying theme in the issues surrounding the meat and dairy industries’ negative effects on the environment
  • A study conducted on European Union meat and dairy industries found that while the competitiveness is not affected by environmental practices of companies, “a firm’s environmental performance will become a key determinant of its economic performance.” Furthermore, above average company performances can be achieved with average environmental compliance.
  • This study indicates the fact that countries with the most sound environmental practices are simply following the national and international laws and agreements. It is a matter of realizing the environmental damage caused by national industries and legislature taking initiative to regulate business practices.
  • New Zealand and Australia have meat and dairy industries that are united and proactive in improving their methods.

“The dairy industry has made a commitment with the Dairy Industry Strategy for Sustainable Environmental Management to reduce our impact on the environment. We are meeting our targets. The dairy industry has been working with fertiliser companies and their representatives to ensure that all dairy farmers who have done fertiliser soil tests have also done nutrient budgets. This has, in many cases, meant a reduction in fertiliser applied, as more detailed information has allowed a better, more targeted approach to fertiliser use.

Most dairy farmers have now fenced off waterways and are much more conscious of the need to manage farm effluent correctly. Regional councils have taken some time to come to grips with their role in monitoring and achieving good compliance with regard to effluent management.” (Brenmuhl)

  • New Zealand dairy farmers are now being held responsible for the massive amount of public water used to sustain farms. The lowered amount and quality of freshwater is a price currently being paid by the public, which will no longer allow the industry to profit unabashedly while they suffer.
  • The Netherlands has set up a Mineral Accounting System and Manure Transfer Agreement System to comply with European Union Nitrate Directive. Though only the prior has proved to be largely successful, they have seen large-scale reduction in loss of nutrients of the soil.
  • The United States is not the only country with major shameful business practices:  “Sorghum, used for animal feed, is now Mexico’s second-largest crop by area. At the same time, the area of land producing the staples – corn, rice, wheat and beans – for poor folk there has fallen relentlessly. Mexico is now a net corn importer, from rich countries such as Canada and the United States, wiping out millions of subsistence farmers, who have to migrate to the cities or to El Norte. Mexico feeds 30 percent of its grain to livestock – pork and chicken for urban eaters – while 22 percent of the population suffers from malnutrition. . . Multiply this baneful pattern across the world. Meanwhile, the classic pastoralists, who have historically provided most of the meat in Africa with grazing systems closely adapted to varying environments, are being marginalized.” (Cockburn)

  • Answering the alternative fuel need with biofuels further complicates the situation as more grains are being grown not the fill stomachs, but gas tanks.

2. Mad Cow disease

  • Livestock are fed “protein supplements” to make them more profitable
  • Mad cow disease is BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy. According the U.S. government, BSE originated in the U.K. and has not spread here. However, protective measure set up by the FDA and USDA have failed to eliminate the practice of feeding cattle and other farm animals ground-up dead animals.
  • After widely-publicized outbreaks in Europe, the practice of feeding animals other animals was eliminated.
  • Research shows BSE may have actually originated in the United States
  • Cattle with BSE are often misdiagnosed as downer cows. Numbers of downed cows in the U.S. per year are several hundred thousand.
  • People with the human form of BSE, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and its variants are misdiagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders. Many of these deaths are attributed to unknown causes when they are likely caused by the consumption of diseased cows whose deaths fail to be attributed to BSE and so are ground up and fed to livestock.
  • The United States is using a worse test and testing less than the rest of the world

“Over the last ten years 12,000 cattle have been tested for the disease in the United States, but that’s out of the 350 million slaughtered over that time. The U.S. is presently testing only 1 out of every 18,000 cows slaughtered, whereas countries like Switzerland test 1 out of every 60 cows. Countries like Ireland test more than twice as many cows in one night as the U.S. tests in an entire year. France has one fifth of the number of cows but they’re inspecting 36,000 cows a week.” (Greger)

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


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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Vegan for a Week…NOT! Vegetarian for a week.
Monday December 03rd 2007, 9:53 pm
Filed under: Michelle research,Presentation

So my group decided that Alex and I should be vegans for a week, just so we could see what it was like…however, I dropped being vegan after less than 24 hours (23 hours to be exact), and I became a vegetarian for a week. This is my journal about the experience.

Day 1:

I was enthusiastic about becoming a vegan for a week. I thought it wouldn’t be so bad…but then I went to dinner. At Seacobecck, I grabbed a salad, an apple, and pita bread with hummus (which I’ve never had before). I also grabbed a piece of white bread: but I realized it was made with eggs. So that was rather dissapointing, and I threw it out. Sarah and Melissa suggested that I try the hummus. Well, I found it absolutely disgusting. I can’t eat any more of that stuff!

So less than a half hour after eating dinner, I was hungry. I thought about cheating, but I didn’t. Hopefully tomorrow I will get vegan stuff at the grocery store. I e-mailed my mom and told her what I was going to do…she’ll probably not believe me.

Day 2:

Breakfast was okay. I had applesauce, pineapples, and a banana with two glasses of water. I was hungry in an hour.

Lunch: I had a salad with vegtable oil, pita bread, and three bananas. My stomach felt really upset.

4:00: I gave up and ate a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Nugget. Make that 8 milk chocolate nuggets. I was hungry, and that was what was in my room! However, I can still be a vegetarian fo a week! I think I can do that…

Dinner: So I decided to start eating more things again. So, I had the white bread with butter, a salad, a banana, potatos, and pasta with tomato sauce. I did not feel hungry after that for 2 hours, so it was much better for me.

Day 3:

My mom e-mailed me and told me not to try the vegan diet…so I responded that I had already given up, and I will try vegetarian.

Breakfast: I had no breakfast because I had an 8:00 weight training class. 

Lunch: 2 slices of White cheese pizza, french fries, water, and a banana. The white pizza was actually kind of disgusting today, because they had some sort of alfredo sauce that tasted kind of sour.

Dinner: I had some salad, Captain Crunch cereal, a banana, water and diet pepsi (since I needed some caffine to study).

Day 4:

Breakfast: I had blueberry crumb cake, breakfast potatoes, a banana, and water. It was delicious.

Lunch: French Fries, a banana, 2 grilled cheese sandwiches, cheesy pasta, water, and some kool-aid.

Dinner: There wasn’t much selection at Seacobeck on Friday night, but I had some sort of strange pasta, Captain Crunch with no milk (since they ran out), roasted potatoes, steamed carrots, and water. It was okay.

Day 5:

Brunch: I woke up at 11:00, so I got brunch. I had yummy french toast sticks with syrup, scrambled eggs, crumb cake of some sort, and breakfast potatoes. I found out the breakfast potatoes actually taste good with the syrup.

Dinner: I went to the Eagles Nest for dinner, so I grabbed french fries, a banana, and a cookie. Ha ha, quite healthy, eh? I also got a diet pepsi.

Day 5:

Brunch: Yet again, I woke up at 11:00. So, I had yummy Sunday brunch. So I got pancakes with syrup, breakfast potatoes (in the syrup), a blueberry scone, and some sort of chocolate cake from the ‘special’ dessert table.

Dinner: Eagles Nest again! But only because Seacobeck had amazingly long lines for a Sunday night, and from previous experience, they usually run out of good stuff. So, I got another banana, some sort of vanilla custard, and some fritos. Oh, and another Diet Pepsi. I actually HATE Diet Pepsi…I prefer coke products, or Diet Mountain Dew, but since we have pepsi, I got Diet Pepsi.

Day 6:

Breakfast: I got blueberry crumb cake, a banana, and french toast with syrup. Oh, and water.

Lunch: A banana, potatoes, a ton of noodles with tomato sauce, and spice cake. The spice cake is delicious, and I love the cream-cheese icing! Yum!

Dinner: Ha, ha…another banana, swirly ice cream, water, grape kool-aid, carrots, and some form of birthday cake.

Day 7: Is today, so I can tell you about it in class today. 🙂 After this class, I can finally have meat again! Ironically, I don’t really crave meat, except pepperoni pizzas. I have lost my taste for the Seaco-cheeseburgers. I will probably start eating them again, just because they’re a source of protein.

What have I learned? Well, for one thing, I realized that I love bananas way too MUCH! I have bananas at every meal. I wonder why I like them so much…oh well. I also realized that I can live without protein for a week…I can’t remember having any protein this week, considring I hate beans…unless there’s some protein in some cheese. This is probably not good for my health. Ha ha. I also realized that I eat much unhealthier than normal when I don’t eat meat…I guess it is because I crave so much horrible food.

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Michelle’s Oral Presentation
Saturday December 01st 2007, 2:24 pm
Filed under: Michelle research,Presentation

For my part of the project, I mainly used the internet for research. However, some of the information I used in this project was from my AP Environmental Science class I took last year.

For the most part, the internet research led me to mainly newspaper or magazine articles. I found out that the beef and dairy industry negatively affects many aspects of the environment.           

 First of all, it can affect global climate change. The livestock sector is responsible for between 9-20% of carbon dioxide gas emissions. Agriculture adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere though burning biomass by deforestation; cutting down forests to make room for grazing pastures and crop growing. The fossil fuel usage to produce fertilizer to grow feed to produce meat and to transport the meat adds to the carbon dioxide emissions. Livestock are also producing up to one-third of the methane gas emissions, which can warm the world twenty times faster than carbon dioxide. Scientist also found that livestock are responsible for 64% of ammonia emissions, which can also lead to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems.           

This leads to the problem of water pollution, acidification, and eutrophication. To expand on the ammonia’s effect on water, basically after it turns into acid rain, it rains into ponds, lakes, streams, etc. This large amount of ammonia can lower the pH level of the water to make it more acidic, which can cause deformities in, or kills off fish, amphibians, and other wildlife in the water. [Bring up frog article and pictures on blog] One article in particular I found interesting was about how frog deformities are lined to farm pollution. This is caused from a mixture of the pH lowering and from eutrophication. Eutrophication is when water is enriched with nutrients such as phosphates and nitrates, which can boost plant growth in the later. It mainly contributes to the growth of algae and sea grasses. The problem with this is that the plants take up more of the water’s dissolved oxygen percentage, leaving less for the fish and amphibians, which can make them outrageously deformed, or by suffocating them from lack of oxygen. And what contributes the extra nitrates and phosphates into the water system? The fertilizer and manure runoff from livestock farms. Pesticides that are used on the plants to make the cattle feed are also filled with the nutrients than can runoff the land and cause eutrophication. Eutrophication is also the cause of the “dead” zones in coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico. The major sources of water pollution are from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones used on the livestock, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides for feed crops, and sediments from eroded pastures.

            There are many interconnected environmental degradation cycles that occur from livestock production. [Bring up the diagrams and my little article about this on the blog]. It is easiest showing this in a flow chart, however it will not show up on the blog, so I will probably just show it in class.

            The livestock industry is also causing increasing water shortages around the country and the world. In America, it takes approximately 990 liters of water to produce one liter of milk. This is completely outrageous! It takes millions of gallons of water to quench cows’ thirst, to water the crops for the cows, and for the production of milk and other animal products. So in many rural areas, there is not enough water for the townspeople to use, because they are using so much for their livestock. They have to use water only at certain times of the day, and reduce personal water usage.           

Another major environmental and health concern is the amount of diseases livestock can spread to other animals, either waterborne, foodborne, or bacterial. There are at least 40 different types of diseases that can be transferred to humans through animal manure. Various livestock have been known to cause E. coli, Salmonella, C. jejuni (a.k.a. Campylobacter), Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia duodenalis (a.k.a. Giardiasis), and pfiesteria piscidia. Many of these diseases and bacteria can sicken and kill other creatures, including fish, amphibians, and small mammals.             

That was the extent of my research: climate change, water pollution and shortages, diseases, eutrophication, salinization, and erosion.

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