It is becoming increasingly apparent that our planet is facing many environmental threats. Almost daily we see newspaper & TV reports related to the greenhouse effect, acid rain, the widening depletion of the ozone layer, the erosion of the top soil, the destruction of the forests & habitats, pollution of air, water and soil, & toxic wastes. It is significant that at the end of 1988, Time Magazine, instead of choosing its usual person of the year, selected our endangered earth as “planet of the year”.
One of the prime causes for current ecological problems, a cause that is generally overlooked, is the wastefulness of meat-based diets:
- The average person in the U.S. eats almost five times as much grain (mostly in the form of animal products) as does a person in an underdeveloped country. It takes 16 pounds of grain & soybeans to produce one pound of beef on our plates.
- Over 80% of the grain grown in the U.S. is fed to animals destined for slaughter. Half of our harvested acreage is devoted to producing feed-crops. A non-vegetarian diet requires about 3.5-acres/ people; whereas, a total vegetarian diet requires only about a fifth of an acre. Hence, a shift to vegetarian diets would free much valuable land, which could be used to grow nutritious food for people, at a time when 20 million of the world’s people die annually due to hunger & its effects.
- The standard diet of a person in the U.S. requires 4.2 gallons of water/ day (for animals’ drinking water, irrigation of crops, processing, washing, cooking, etc.). A person on a pure vegetarian diet requires as little as 300 gal./ day. The production of one pound of streak uses 2,500 gallons of water. Livestock production consumes over 80% of all the water used in the U.S., and this water is becoming increasingly scarce. Studies have indicated that if the entire U.S. population were total vegetarians, no irrigation water at all would be needed to produce our food. Newsweek recently reported, “the water that goes into a 1,000 pound steer would float a destroyer”.
- A non-vegetarian diet also wastes much energy. In the U.S., an average of 10 calories of fuel energy are required for every calorie of food energy obtained; in many other countries, they gain 20 or more calories of food energy per calorie of fuel energy. To produce one pound of steak (500 calories of food energy) requires 20,000 calories of fossils fuels, most of which is expended to produce feed-crops. It requires 78 calories of fossil fuel for each calorie of protein obtained from feedlot-produced beef. Grains and beans require two to five percent as much fossil fuel. Energy input to the U.S. food system now accounts for about 16.5% of the total energy budget.
- According to a comprehensive study sponsored by the U.S. Departments of interior and commerce, the value of raw materials consumed to produce food from livestock is greater then the value of all oil, gas, and coal produced in this country. A third of the value of all raw materials consumed in the U.S. for all purposes of consumed in livestock foods. As these facts indicate, meat-centered diets are extremely wasteful.
The modern agricultural methods related the meat productions are a prime cause of the environmental crisis facing the United States and much today.
- The tremendous quantity of grains grown to feed animals requires extensive use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides. Much air & water pollution is caused by the production & use of these products. Various constituents of fertilizer, particularly nitrozen, are washed into surface waters. High levels of nitrates in drinking water have caused illnesses for people as well as animals.
- Mountains of manure produced by cattle raised in feedlots wash into & pollute streams, rivers, & underground water sources. American livestock produce about 2 billion tons of waste annually – more than ten times that produced by humans, and equivalent to the waste of nearly half the world’s human population. Food geographer George Borgstorm has estimated that American livestock contribute five times more organic waste to water pollution than do people, and twice as much as industry.
- The production of feed-crops for animals is “mining” our soil. Each year over 5 billion tons of topsoil are eroded in the U.S., almost all due to livestock agriculture. In some places, erosion is as bad or worse than during the Dust Bowl period. Willam Brune, Iowa state conservation officer in 1976, warned that two bushels of topsoil are being lost for every bushel of corn harvested from Iowa’s sloping soils. In some areas lower yields are occurring due to erosion and the reduction in fertility that it causes.
- Large areas of land throughout the world have been destroyed by grazing animals. Overgrazing has been a prime cause of erosion in various parts of the world throughout history. Over 60% of all U.S. rangelands are overgrazed, with billions of tons of soil lost every year.
- The huge amount of grain grown to feed animals, require increasing amounts of pesticides. The concentration of pesticides in the body fat of animals due to ‘biological magnification’ contributes to human health problems & costs. Over half of the pesticides residues in the U.S. diet are contributed by meat, compared to only about 10% contributed by vegetables, fruits & grains. 99% of the U.S. non-vegetarian mother’s milk contains significant levels of DDT, compared to only 8% of U.S. vegetarian mother’s milk.
- Demand for meat in wealthy countries also leads to environmental damage in poor countries. To save 5% on a fast-food hamburger exported to the U.S., the earth’s tropical rain forests are being bulldozed at a rate of 100-acres/ min., a rate which could destroy an area the size of Pennsylvania every year. Each fast-food hamburger patty requires the destruction of 55 sq. ft. of tropical forest for grazing. Half are already gone forever, and at current rates of destruction, the rest will be gone by the middle of the next century. What makes this especially serious is that half of the world’s species of plants & animals reside in tropical rain forests, and some might hold secrets for cures of some of today’s deadly diseases. Also, reduced rain forests would alter climate & reduce rainfall with potentially devastating effects on the world’s agriculture.
- Slaughterhouses are also prime sources of pollution. One study revealed that 8 meat-packing companies in Omaha, Nebraska, discharge over 1,00,000pounds of grease, carcass dressing, carcass cleaning, intestinal waste, paunch manure, and fecal matter from viscera into the sewer system that empties into the Missouri River.
When we consider all these negative environmental factors, and then add the very harmful effects related to human health & global hunger, we can safely assert that next to the threat of nuclear war, flesh-centered diets & the live-stock agriculture needed to sustain it are the greatest threats to global survival today. Also, while hopefully nuclear war will never occur, the negative effects of meat-based agriculture occur daily. Hence, in order to reduce the many ecological threats that increasingly threaten our nation & the world, it is essential that people move toward vegetarian diets.