Monday, June 21, 2010

Meaty Mondays Series: Meat & the Environment

This post will be the first of my Monday series on all things meat.

In April, San Francisco was the first US city to embrace and fully adopt the Meatless Monday concept.  Mondays became a pseudo-holiday where residences became vegetarian.  The city encouraged shops and restaurants to support the weekly event with menu choices and specials featuring meat-free items.  This adoption is part of a larger international campaign to reduce meat consumption.  I'm not telling you to stop eating meat but below are some issues you may not have previously aware of when taking a bite of your burger or cutting into your chicken breast.  Today, I will cover the environmental impact of eating meat. 

Our planet needs to grow food to feed more and more people every year.  Natural resources are in decline.  The livestock industry uses a disproportionate amount of resources for their yield, especially in comparison to the agricultural farming industry.   Here are some major environmental considerations when choosing to eat meat - Planeteer-style
Goooo Captain!

Earth (Land): We use a ton of land just to grow meat.  Not only do we use the land to physically raise animals, but we also use land to grow their feed.  About 70% of the grains harvested in the US are grown with the sole purpose of feeding farm animals.  Every pound of meat takes about 16 pounds of grains! Imagine if we reallocated those grains to feed people! What a difference that would make in the world hunger issue and food costs.

Fire (Temperature): Global warming is a hot topic (literally).  Whether you believe that temperature fluctuations are a natural planetary cycle or directly attributed to human behavior, the fact is the earth's weather is going off pattern.  Warmer temperatures as well as more catastrophic natural disasters or untimely occurrences have been linked to global warming.  Major culprits include auto and plane emissions, deforestation, and lastly, raising livestock.  "In a 2006 report, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded that worldwide livestock farming generates 18% of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions — by comparison, all the world's cars, trains, planes and boats account for a combined 13% of greenhouse gas emissions.(source)"

Wind (Air): In addition to the hot air that raising livestock produces, factory farms are the source of massive amounts of pollution.  The ill-living conditions introduce dust and dried feces and other not so healthy particles into the air.  "A study in Texas found that animal feedlots in the state produce more than 14 million pounds of particulate dust every year and that the dust 'contains biologically active organisms such as bacteria, mold, and fungi from the feces and the feed.' The massive amounts of excrement produced by these farms emit toxic gases such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia into the air. The EPA reports that roughly 80 percent of ammonia emissions in the United States come from animal waste...When the cesspools holding tons of urine and feces get full, factory farms will frequently get around water pollution limits by spraying liquid manure into the air, creating mists that are carried away by the wind." Gag! (source)

The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our WorldWater: It takes 5,214 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef! (Source: Food Revolution)  Our usable water supply is already dwindling.  Shifting from one pound of beef a year would save more water than using a water efficient showerhead or washing your car or not turning on your lawn sprinkler.
In addition to the extravagant use of water to raise animals, there is also the water pollution that results from factory farming.  Animal waste is improperly discarded and oftentimes runoff into sources of water like lakes and streams.  These waste contain an extreme amount of bacteria, hormones, and antibiotics that are not meant to be in our water supply.  Summary-we are drinking that stuff.

And finally,
Heart (ethics): Now this isn't an environmental impact but ties nicely with the Planeteers theme.  Ethics in raising, killing and eating animals have been hot topics for centuries.  Historically, groups like the Native Americans and Indians have revered animals for their spirit and their physical contribution to our being.  Animals were raised, killed, and eaten with respect.  This is a far cry from what we do today.
The method of  farming implemented for most animals in the US is called "factory farming."  It is a bit ironic to couple "farming" with such an industrial word like "factory."  However, these words are indicative of how the meat industry views the cows, chickens, and pigs it raises.  These animals are treated as "inventory."  The system tries to get the most yield from these animals at the least cost which includes  money and time.  There is no consideration for the well-being of the animal itself.  They are subjected to extremely harsh living conditions where they do not get sunlight, fresh air, or even grass to walk on.  These wild animals do not have any room to move and exercise their muscles.  Their pens are muddy, grass-free and they are literally stepping in their own feces or worse, their dead counterparts. 

I encourage everyone to make wiser food choices around meat, starting on Mondays, for a happier and healthier planet.  Look for my post next week on the impact of eating meat and how we can make choices for a happier and healthier body.
 For more info: (this site is a great site for all things "green")

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