Today there is much debate and discussion about our planet’s dwindling resources, the increase in pollution, and what to do about it. Topics range from over-population of humans, to scarcity of fresh drinking water, to the exploitation of the earth’s natural resources. Although there are many factors that contribute to these concerns, many experts point to the demand for animal flesh, dairy and eggs, as a significant contributing factor. Over the last 80 years, factory farming of animals has become a multi-billion dollar industry and, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 10 billion chickens, cows, lambs, turkeys, pigs and fish are slaughtered every year. Over 10 billion animals, more than the total human population on our planet, require tons of resources. In addition, as with any large population concentrated in one area, they produce massive amounts of waste (nitrates) and gas (methane), and are susceptible to diseases.
The Greenhouse Gas Effect
When asked, “What is the biggest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions (gases that trap heat in the atmosphere causing a warming effect on the planet), most people think of driving their vehicles. However, according to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow-Environmental Issues and Options”, the animal agribusiness sector produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the combined transportation sector, approximately 18 percent more. Another report, produced by The World Watch Institute, “Livestock and Climate Change”, stated, “The environmental impact of the lifecycle and supply chain of animals raised for food has been vastly underestimated, and in fact accounts for at least half of all human-caused greenhouse gases (GHGs)”. Dr. Richard Oppenlander, Environmental Researcher and author of “Comfortably Unaware” said in the recent film, Conspiracy, that even if we stop using gas, oil or fuel, “we will still exceed our maximum carbon equivalent greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, simply by raising and eating livestock”. This may be because methane emissions are 21 times more toxic than carbon dioxide emissions.
The good news is that individuals and families concerned about what lies ahead for our children and future generations can make conscious decisions about what they eat today to reduce the effects of global warming by taking steps to significantly reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal flesh, dairy and eggs.
According to a USDA report, the two major agricultural crops grown in the U.S. are corn and soybeans. According to the National Corn Growers Association, approximately 80 percent of that corn is consumed by animals who are bred for food in the U.S. and also overseas. In addition, over 30 million tons of soybean meal is consumed by animals who are bred for food. It takes millions of gallons of fresh water to grow these crops and millions of gallons of fresh water to keep the animals alive. As a result of the combined resources used, approximately 1,000 gallons of water is used to produce one pound of animal protein, according to a publication from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. This translates to approximately 121 gallons of water used to produce one chicken breast and approximately 214 gallons of water used to produce one pound of ground beef. To put things into perspective, this is much more than the 40 gallons of water per day per household used for showering.
Individuals and families can make conscious decisions about what they eat today to conserve fresh water by taking steps to significantly reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal flesh, dairy and eggs.
Deforestation, Water Pollution and Public Health Concerns
The role of animal agriculture in deforestation in Latin America is of particular importance. Over the past 40 years, rain forests have been destroyed by 40 percent, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); and, with the high demand for the flesh of cows and little public awareness, there seem to be little sign of demand slowing. Here in the U.S., factory farms, also known in the animal agribusiness industry as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), house thousands of cows, chickens, turkeys and pigs that produce enormous amounts of waste in a concentrated area. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “cesspools often break, leak or overflow, sending dangerous microbes, nitrate pollution and drug-resistant bacteria into water supplies.” When we hear recalls on spinach, for example, with E. Coli and salmonella contamination, it is not because plants are the cause of these problems, but rather, plants are contaminated due to their close proximity to contaminated water runoff from factory farms or processing facilities that handle animal products. In some parts of the U.S. where factory farms operate, ground water has been reported to have high levels of nitrate and linked to birth defects.
Large concentrations of farm animals create filthy environments and increases risks for diseases and infections among the animals, who are often confined to areas too small for them the move freely. This creates an enormous health risk to the human population for food borne illnesses. In addition, 80 percent of antibiotics are added to animal feed (including fish feed), every year, after studies showed that antibiotics caused animals to grow faster, thus increasing industry profits. In addition, this high use of antibiotics on the animals contributes to an increase in resistant bacteria, which makes treatment of humans with infections difficult.
By significantly reducing or eliminating your consumption of animal flesh, dairy and eggs, you can help reduce water pollution, deforestation and contamination of our food supply.
Factory farm workers are often fronted as the evil-doers of inflicting horrible harm toward animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses, while the executives who run these companies and set up a system of exploiting the poor often get a free pass. When we keep the focus on blaming the victims, who are perpetrators themselves, we then take the focus away from the accountability of the owners of these companies, the horrendous conditions their workers have to endure, and the role of the consumer in perpetuating misery and desperation.
A Human Rights Watch report on U.S. slaughterhouses and meat processing facilities exposed the challenging working conditions in these facilities as company owners pressure workers to meet their daily assembly-line production quotas. The report covers systematic worker health, safety and other worker rights violations, lack of compensation, and retaliation and firing of workers who are injured on the job – some injuries arise from animals who resist while moving through and being hung upside down and conscious on the assembly line at the processing facility. These workers experience severed limbs, aches and pains due to repetitive motions and unhealthy and toxic environments due to the handling of blood, decaying flesh and excrement. These jobs do not require a high degree of skill and the demographic are poor people including undocumented workers. As a result, employers routinely threaten to fire employees and threaten to expose undocumented workers since they can be easily replaced.
Together we can make a difference in our lives and for future generations. We encourage you to start with small steps toward transitioning to a vegan diet and build on each one. Please check out the “Transitioning to Veganism” section for information to help you along the way.