11 July 2012

The truth about meat and the environment

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances of survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." - Albert Einstein

Let us count the innumerable negative risks you face when you choose to consume meat. Illness, animal oppression and needless suffering, antibiotic resistance, E.Coli, Salmonella, Mad Cow disease, carcinogens; I could go on and on. It may never occur to most that in addition to the harmful physical effects, there are many negative consequences meat production and consumption has on the planet! I have outlined just five environmental costs of eating meat. By eliminating the consumption of meat, you can single handedly help earth becomes more sustainable!

1. Global Warming: A shocking 51 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases come solely from livestock. This makes factory farming the leading source of global warming. To put it into perspective, it takes 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie of animal protein as it does to make one calorie of plant protein. Furthermore, switching to a vegan diet will have more of an impact on the earth than switching to a hybrid car.

2. Starvation: Eating a plant based, vegan diet will ultimately aid in helping eliminate starvation crises worldwide. Raising livestock for food is absolutely wasteful in every which way, as 70 percent of freshwater consumption and 38 percent of land use is used solely for livestock production. "If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million." The majority of crops grown in the world are used to feed livestock, when they could be feeding those who are starving.

3. Water supply: It may be shocking to hear, that once again, livestock production is at the top of a different list; this time for consuming the most water. Growing a pound of corn can takes between 100 and 250 gallons of water, but growing the grain to produce a single pound of beef can require between 2000 and 8500 gallons. If you think you waste water by taking a longer shower—just think how much water was wasted while producing a single hamburger! In addition to the wastefulness of livestock production, we cannot overlook how many antibiotics and growth hormones these animals are being fed and injected with in addition to pesticides, fertilizers, manure and nitrates that penetrate the groundwater. These toxic chemicals, along with sewer sludge and remnants of slaughter run off into not only our water supply, but oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams as well. Did you know there are even parts of the ocean called dead zones, where plant or fish life cannot exist due to the highly toxic environment?

4. Air Pollution: A study found that air pollution from contributing livestock has been correlated with deaths and illnesses in infants. Gases from factory farms such as ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, and waste matter flow freely through the air, contaminating not only the farm, but communities near as well. As 73 percent of ammonia is released into the atmosphere on farms in the United States, the chemical reaction between ammonia and certain other gases react, causing respiratory complications and are linked to the development of smog and acid rain.

5. Deforestation: It is mentioned in a report on livestock and climate change, that clearing rainforest for cattle pasture or growing feed for livestock is one of the ways that the meat industry contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. “As there is now a global shortage of grassland, practically the only way more livestock and feed can be produced is by destroying natural forest.” The total loss of land: 5 million acres of Amazon per year. More than 90 percent of deforestation in the Amazon has been contributed to raising animals for food.

If the demand for conventional meat doesn’t diminish soon, we will literally be in a world of trouble. Our precious natural resources are finite, and although they do not carry an expiration date, we should still not use them like there is no tomorrow. If production continues on this path, the aforementioned metaphor may unfortunately ring true. Remember, small steps add up to big things.

Ashley Shamus | Email
Northeast Pennsylvania Ashley has a psychology degree, and is soaking up tons of knowledge while furthering her education. She has a passion for holistic nutrition, animal rights, and green vegetables. In her free time, she loves to cook, juice, and bask in the sun. She whole heartedly applauds and appreciates all of the wonderful people who strive to make a positive difference in animals’ lives!

Photo credit:cc:Wikimedia Commons -- NASA Goddard Space Flight Center