Another great documentary to watch:
AMAZING DOCUMENTARY! MUST WATCH!
Campylobacter is an illness caused by bacteria of the same name (it’s also sometimes called campylobateriosis). The bacteria is found in most of the poultry we eat, as it exists in birds and doesn’t make them sick.
More serious illness may require the use of an antibiotic to clear up, and in some cases people develop arthritis or a very rare nerve disease called Guillain-BarrÃ© syndrome after having campylobacter. This disorder causes the body’s immune system to attack the nerves, resulting in paralysis.
Campylobacter is almost always isolated to an individual or small group that ate undercooked poultry, but more widespread outbreaks are possible, usually associated with unpasturized milk or tainted drinking water.
These bacteria live in the guts of ruminant animals, most notably cattle, but also deer, elk, goats and sheep. In the slaughtering process the intestines can be cut, allowing the bacteria onto the meat. E. coli usually doesn’t make the host animal sick, but when humans ingest it they’re often in for diarrhea, which can be bloody, stomach cramps, vomiting and sometimes a low fever.
Food science nerd Harold McGee reports that about a third of all people who develop E. coli illness need to be hospitalized, and about 5 percent of those die. It’s most dangerous in children. About 5 to 10 percent of those who get infected with E. coli will develop a more serious illness, hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can lead to kidney failure.
The most common culprit for E. coli contamination is ground beef, as grinding meat from many different cows together spreads the bacteria across a wider range of packages. It can also be found in unpasturized milk or apple cider, or cheeses made from raw milk.
If you’ve ever been pregnant you’ve probably heard about the dangers of listeriosis, or infection with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.
That’s because pregnant women are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis, and about a third of all cases of listeria infection strike pregnant women. (Newborns, the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and diseases like cancer, diabetes and kidney disease get most of the other infections.)
Listeria is found in soil and water and especially in places that have been fertilized with manure. The bacteria is carried by animals it doesn’t harm, and it can contaminate animal products including meat, milk and cheese, as well as vegetables that come into contact with the bacteria.
Infections can be caused by uncooked meats, raw-milk cheeses, vegetables and cold cuts or soft cheeses that may be contaminated at the deli counter after processing. Pasteurization and cooking kill listeria, but products can be contaminated after cooking and before packaging or through cross-contamination at the deli.
Fever, muscle aches, nausea or diarrhea are the most common symptoms, but the infection can spread to the nervous system, causing headaches, a stiff neck and convulsions. About 2,500 people become seriously ill in the United States each year from listeria and about 500 die.
“Mad cow” disease
Mad cow, properly known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a chronic, degenerative disease affecting the nervous systems of cattle. Consumption of infected cattle has been linked to a disease known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans, which is always fatal.
While it’s not completely clear how BSE in cattle is connected to vCJD in humans, it’s thought that the disease is passed by eating meat that contains brain tissue. The parts of the cow considered to be most infectious for humans are the brain, spinal cord, retina, optic nerve, and dorsal root and trigeminal ganglia. McGee reports it may also be found in muscles, which means many different cuts of meat may be potentially dangerous.
The disease was spread among cattle when they were given feed containing these parts from sick cows, a practice that has since been stopped.
The illness has killed more than 160 people in Britain and nearly 40 elsewhere in the world, but since the illness has an incubation period of a year or more, it’s likely there are more cases that have yet to surface.
The infectious agent is known as a prion, a kind of protein that carries the disease between cows or from cow to human. If meat you eat has these prions, there’s nothing you can do about it; cooking will not affect it. Symptoms of vCJD include dementia, memory loss, hallucinations and personality changes paired with physical changes such as jerky movements, slurred speech, difficulty walking or changes in posture or gait and seizures.
Death from this disease can happen in a matter of weeks or months, but some people manage to live for years with the disease.
One of the most famous and common of the foodborne illnesses, salmonella is a bacteria that lives in the intestinal tracts of animals. When feces comes in contact with food that isn’t cooked, the bacteria can be transmitted to humans.
About 40,000 cases of salmonella are reported each year, but since many people don’t seek treatment it’s thought the number of people who get it might be 30 or more times larger than the number of reported cases.
Salmonella sometimes leads to Reiter’s syndrome, a condition of painful joints, eye irritation and painful urination that can last for months or years and may in turn lead to chronic arthritis, but this is pretty rare.
The best way to prevent salmonella infection is to always cook meat and eggs to the suggested temperatures and be careful not to contaminate other foods with the juices from uncooked meat, poultry or eggs.
Staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as staph, is a common cause of food poisoning. Staph can linger in foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, meat, egg, pasta and potato salads, sandwich fillings and filled baked goods like eclairs and cream pies.
Staph can grow even in the refrigerator, and infested food won’t have an off odor to let you know you shouldn’t eat it.
People who eat food that has staph in it usually get sick very quickly and will usually have nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramping. In more severe cases people may have headaches, muscle cramps and changes in blood pressure.
Trichinosis, also called trichinellosis, is an infection caused by eating animals infected with the larvae of a worm called trichinella. It can be contracted by eating wild carnivorous animals or domesticated pigs.
This infection is pretty gross to describe. When you eat tainted meat, the larvae or cysts of the worms are ingested, and your stomach acid dissolves the cyst, releasing the worm, which matures in a couple of days in your small intestine.
The worms mate in there and the females lay eggs, which then develop into immature worms, travel through the arteries into the muscles and there form cysts again.
You might get a stomachache, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue or fever in one or two days after eating tainted meat, and two to eight weeks later you may have further symptoms such as headaches, fever and chills, coughing, eye swelling, muscle or joint pain, itchy skin, constipation or diarrhea. Many mild cases go undiagnosed and go away on their own, but if you have a severe case it can be treated with drugs.
Just to name a few, there are many more….
The processed “junk” meat foods post lower risks in food borne illnesses but higher in other health issues.
Most people know that beef consumption plays a major role in the development of heart disease, strokes, and cancer. But the over-consumption of beef is also a major cause of human hunger and poverty, deforestation. spreading deserts, water pollution, water scarcity, global warming, species extinction, and animal suffering.
We in the United States are a big part or the problem. Americans consume almost a quarter of all the beef produced in the world. Every 24 hours 100,000 cattle are slaughtered in the United States; the average American consumes the meat of seven 1,100- pound animals in his or her lifetime.
Each year, the death toll continues to mount for consumers of beef and other red meats. According to a report by the U.S. Surgeon General, more than 70 percent of deaths in this country — more than 1.5 million annually — are related to diet, particularly the over- consumption of beef and other foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Study after study confirms that consumption of red meat is a primary factor in the development of heart disease, strokes, and colon and breast cancer. The American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend that people reduce their consumption of red meat and other animal-derived foods, and eat more grain, fresh vegetables, and fruits instead.
Recently, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that beef contains the highest concentration of herbicides of any food sold in America. The NAS also found that beef ranks second only to tomatoes as the food posing the greatest cancer risk due to pesticide contamination, and ranks third of all foods in insecticide contamination. Aside from smoking, there is probably no greater personal health risk than eating too much beef and other meat.
The beef addiction of the United States and other industrialized nations has set off a global food crisis. Today, hundreds of millions of cattle are being fed precious grain so that American and European consumers can enjoy the pleasures of “marbled” beef. Meanwhile, nearly one billion people suffer from hunger and malnutrition, and between 40 and 60 million people — mostly children — die each year from starvation and related diseases
Currently, more than 70 percent of the U.S. grain harvest — and more than one third of the grain produced in the world is fed to cattle and other livestock. We could provide proper nourishment to more than a billion people if we used the world’s agricultural lands to grow food for human consumption rather than feed for cattle and other livestock.
Forests, particularly the rain forests of Central American and the Amazon, are being burned and cleared to make way for cattle pasture. Since 1960, more than 25 percent of the Central American forests have been lost to beef production — most of it for export to the United States and Europe. It has been estimated that for every quarter-pound fast-food hamburger made from Central American beef, 55 square feet of tropical forest — including 165 pounds of unique species of plants and animals — is destroyed.
Today, the world’s 1.3 billion cattle are stripping vegetation and compacting and eroding soil, thus creating deserts out of grasslands. More than 60 percent of the world’s rangelands have been damaged by overgrazing during the past half century. In the United States, cattle have done more to alter the environment of the West than all the highways, dams, strip mines, and power plants put together.
Cattle production is a major cause of water pollution. In the United States, cattle produce nearly one billion tons of organic waste each year. It has been estimated that cattle and other livestock account for a significant percentage of pollutants in the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers. Raising cattle also requires vast amounts of water. Nearly half the water consumed in the United States is used to grow feed for cattle and other livestock — while our precious stores of fresh water dwindle at an alarming rate.
The grain-fed cattle complex is now a significant factor in the generation of three major gases — carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — that are responsible for global warming. The burning of the world’s forests for cattle pasture has released billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The world’s 1.3 billion cattle and other ruminant livestock emit 60 million tons of methane through their digestive systems directly into the atmosphere each year. Moreover, to produce feed crops for cattle requires the use of petro-chemical fertilizers which emit vast amounts of nitrous oxide. These gases are building up in the atmosphere, blocking heat from escaping the planet, and could cause a global climate change of cataclysmic proportions in the next century.
Cattle and beef production is contributing significantly to the dramatic loss of biodiversity, including species extinction, now occurring across the globe. In all major cattle producing countries, wildlife habitat is being destroyed to create cattle pasture, as in the rain forests of Central America, or the huge cattle population is destroying habitat and using up food and water needed by wildlife. In the United States and Australia, cattle ranching has resulted in the purposeful mass extermination of predator and “nuisance” species — a virtual war on wildlife. In Africa, millions of wild animals have died of thirst or starvation after finding their migratory paths blocked by fences built to contain cattle.
Cattle are exposed to harsh living conditions, rough handling, and often outright abuse and cruelty throughout their short lives. Cattle are routinely castrated, dehorned, and hot-iron branded without anesthestics. Cattle released on the open range must fend for themselves for several months, often succumbing to weather extremes and other dangers. Animals transported to feedlots and slaughterhouses are often shocked with electric prods, beaten, kicked, dragged and deprived of food and water for long periods. Overcrowded trucks cause broken limbs; injured and sick animals are routinely dragged out of trucks and onto the kill floor where slaughter techniques remain primitive and brutal.
The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences estimates that the sickness, injury, and premature death of cattle represents an economic loss of $4.6 billion a year in the United States.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
Q. Don’t people need to eat beef in order to stay healthy?
A. People don’t need to eat beef or any other meat in order to stay healthy. In fact, just the opposite is true. There is abundant evidence which indicates that people who eat little or no, meat have fewer ilincsses and live longer than large consumers of meat.
People who eat little or no meat should eat a variety of other foods in order to meet their nutritional needs. However, the health risks of significantly reducing or eliminating animal- derived products from the diet are miniscule compared with those associated with overconsumption of beef and other meats. Those risks include heart disease, cancer and strokes. There has been no mass exodus to hospital emergancy rooms by vegetarians. However, 4,000 Americans suffer heart attacks every day — many of them induced by the overconsumption of saturated fat and cholesterol.
In recent years, a growing number of physicians, athletes, bodybuilders, and others who are knowledgeable and concerned about health matters have reduced their consumption of meat or eliminated meat from their diets altogether.
Q. You’re asking people to replace much of the beef in their diets with grains, vegetables, and fruits — isn’t Beyond Beef just a vegetarian campaign in disguise?
A. The Beyond Beef Campaign is advocating at least a 50 percent cut in beef consumption in order to reduce human hunger and poverty, environmental destruction, animal suffering, and damage to human health. Some members of the Beyond Beef coalition are vegetarians and advocate vegetarianism. Other coalition members are meat-eaters who see nothing wrong with eating small amounts of meat which has come from animals who have been humanely and sustainably raised under strict organic standards.
The beef we eliminate from our diets should not be replaced with another kind of grain-fed meat because the intensive production and consumption of other domestic animals also has many destructive effects. Eating high on the flood chain is cosly to the earth and its inhabitants.
If people reduce their beef consumption. replace at least half of the beef they used to eat with sustainably and organically raised grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits, and refine their eating habits to select only humanely and sustainably raised beef when they do eat meat, the world and all its inhabitants will be much better off.
Q. Why does human hunger and malnutrition exist in a world of plenty?
A. There are many reasons why people are hungry; however, the misuse of agricultural land and the diversion of grain to feed livestock instead of people are primary causes of hunger in the world today.
Every nation on Earth has the resources — enough good agricultural land — to more than adequately feed its people. But much too much of that land is devoted to the grazing of cattle and other livestock, or to growing feed for livestock rather than food for people. Nearly half of the world’s land is being used as pasture for cattle and other livestock. In addition, hundreds of millions of acres of arable land are being used to grow feed for livestock.
Even Ethiopia at the height of its famine in 1984 was using some of its arricultural land to produce linseed cake, cottonseed cake, and rapeseed meal for export to feed livestock in Europe.
Currently, one third of the world’s grain is fed to livestock. In the United States, 70 percent of the grain produced is fed to livestock; and two thirds of all the grain the United States exports to other countries goes to feed livestock rather than hungry people.
This misappropiation of resources is the direct result of economic policies and programs adopted by the developing world at the urging of the industrial nations, multi-national corporations, and international aid-givers.
The United States has encouraged developing countries to climb the protein ladder in order to provide a marhet for surplus American grain. At the same time, developing countries have heen encouraged to enter the world commodities market with livestock feed to pay off their considerable debt to the first world. Today, production of livestock and livestock feed for the world market is supplanting the production of staple foods in many developing countries.
In Mexico, for example, where millions of people are chronically under-nourished, one third of the grain produced is fed to livestock. In Brazil, where 23 percent of the cultivated land is now being used to grow soybeans — half of which is destined for export for livestock feed — less land is available to grow corn and black beans, staples of the Brazilian peasant diet. The result has been less food at higher prices for an increasingly hungry and impoverished population.
Q. You claim that cattle are eating grain and other products such as soybeans that could feed hungry people. But don’t cattle just eat materials that aren’t fit for human consumption?
A. In the United States, the average animal in the feedlot system is fed about 42 percent forage with the remainder — about 58 percent — being grain.
During the first part of their lives, cattle are set loose on the range to graze on grasses and other plants inedible by humans. The average cow eats 900 pounds of vegetation a month.
Cattle are then transported to feedlots where they are fattened on grain. Today, more than 70 percent of the grain produced in the United States — and one third of all the grain produced in the world is fed to cattle and other livestock. If the land used to produce feed grain were used to produce grain for human consumption, hundreds of millions of people could be fed.
Some cattle are also fed agricultural by-products. such as corn stalks, that are inedible by humans, as well as manure scrapings from hog and chicken intensive confinement “factory” farms. Some feedlots have begun experimenting feeding cattle cement dust, cardboard, paper, and industrial oils and wastes. Such “foods” do not deprive human beings of nourishment; however, it might be difficult to work up an appetite for beef raised on organic and industrial wastes.
Q. Isn’t it true that only a tiny fraction of America’s beef comes from the rain forests?
A. While less than 2 percent of all beef consumed in the United States comes from areas that were formerly Central American rain forests, this beef compromises most of Central America’s beef exports. What is insignificant to the United States is of tremendous consequence to our southern neighbors.
Historically, the United States has been the largest consumer of Central American beef, a pattern that continues today. For example, 97 percent of Guatemala’s beef exports go to the United States. Although our imports from the region as a whole have declined by more than 50 percent since 1975, the United States still imports considerable quantities of meat from Central America and southern Mexico. In 199O, those imports totaled about 50,000 tons of beef, enough to nnake more than 440 million quarter-pound hamburgers.
Although rain forest beef imports comprise only a fraction of all the beef, consumed in the United States, the environmental and human toll this “small” amount takes in Central America is enormous. Americans could easily forego the beef we import from Central America. Stopping our beef imports from this region, however, could save the remaining rain forests from further destruction and could make more land available to peasants for low-impact farming.
Q. Aren’t uou overstating your claims that cattle contribute to global warming?
A. We don’t think so. Cattle production contributes significantly to the production of three gases — carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane — whose build-up in the atmosphere blocks heat from leaving the earth and thereby causes global warming.
Large amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere whenever forests and other biomass are burned to create cattle pasture. In 1987, about 1.2 hillion tons of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere from clearing and burning the forests of the Amazon, in large part to create pasture for cattle. In that year alone, deforestation in the Amazon contributed 9 percent of the total worldwide contribution to global warming from all sources. Additional gases are released by the annual burning of grasslands and agricultural wastes created by growing livestock feed.
More CO2 is created by our highly mechanized agriculture which uses up huge amounts of fossil fuels. With 70 percent of all U.S. grain production now devoted to livestock feed, the energy burned just to produce the feed represents a significant addition to CO2. It now takes the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of grain-fed beef in the United States. To sustain the yearly beef habit of an average family of four requires the consumption of more than 260 gallons fuel. When that fuel is burned it releases 2.5 tons of additional carbon dioxide as much CO2 as the average car emits in six months.
Moreover, producing feed crops for grain-fed cattle requires the use of petrochemical fertilizers that emit nitrous oxide. In the past forty years, the use of chemical fertilizers has increased dramatically. Nitrous oxitie released from fertilizer and other sources now accounts for 6 percent of the global warming effect.
Finally, cattle emit methane, a potent global warming gas, through belching and fatulation. While methane is also emitted from peat bogs, rice paddies, and landfills, the increase in the livestock population and the burning of forests and other biomass accounts for much of the increase in methane emissions over the past several decades. Methane emissions are responsible for 18 percent of the global warming trend.
Because a methane molecule traps 25 times as much heat from the sun as a molecule of CO2 some scientists predict that methane may become the primary global warming gas in the next fifty years. Already, scientists estimate that more than 500 million tons of methane may be released into the air each year. The world’s 1.3 billion cattle and other ruminant livestock emit about 60 million tons of the total, or 12 percent of all the methane released into the atmosphere. The burning of forests, grasslands, and agricultural wastes releases an additional 50 to 100 million tons of methane.
Q. You claim that cattle frequently withstand rough treatment and even cruelty. But don’t beef producers’ have to treat their animals well since they depend upon them for their livelihood?
A. Certainly it is in the producer’s interest to bring healthy, intact animals to market; but for the most part, cattle producers’ concern for animals begins and ends with profit. The beef industry is big business, and the animals unfortunate enough to be caught up in it are often treated as commodities, not as the sensitive living creatures they are. There is often a wide gap between the minimum care that producers’ must provide to their animals in order to turn a profit and the actual needs of the animals.
Much of the suffering endured by cattle is inflicted simply to make life easier for ranchers. For example, castration, dehorning, and hot-iron branding — all performed without anesthetics do not benefit the animals; they make the animals easier to control and identify. Cattle and other livestock also often withstand brutal handling; they are frequently shocked with electric prods, kicked, beaten, poked, and dragged.
Transportation of cattle and other farm animals is a major animal welfare problem. Overcrowded trucks, failure to properly water and reed the animals during long trips, exposure to temperature extremes en route, and rough handling result in millions of dollars of losses for the meat industry each year.
The industry does try to recoup as much of the loss as possible, however. “Downers,” animals who are so badly injured during transportation they cannot walk off the trucks, are often chained by the neck or a leg and dragged to the slaughterhouse floor where they may wait hours in great pain to be butchered.
Animals who arrive at stockyards too sick to be slaughtered are often thrown onto what is called the “dead pile” and left to die of thirst, starvation, or freezing temperatures. All these abuses have been documented on videotape and on film by animal protection organizations.
Financial losses represented by thousands of sick and injured animals are merely written off by the industry as a cost of doing business. To humanely euthanize such animals would further cut into industry profits.
Q. If cattle and beef producers’ treated their animals badly, wouldn’t they be charged with cruelty under the anti-cruelty laws?
A. There is no federal law to ensure that famrm animals have proper care, suitable living conditions, or protection from abuse and cruelty.
0n the federal level, there are only two laws that pertain to farm animals: the Humane Slaughter Act and the Twenty-eight Hour Law. The first requires animals to be stunned before slaughter — except for kosher and other religious slaughter. The second, which pertains only to the approximately 5 percent of animals who are transported by rail and over water, requires that animals be given rest food, and water if they are in transit more than twenty-eight hours.
The federal Animal Welfare Act specifically exempts from its protections animals used for food and fiber — except when such animals are used in biomedical and other laboratory experiments.
Animals used for food and fiber are also speci fically exempted from many state anti-cruelty laws. In other states, beef industry husbandry and handling pactices that are considered routine — such as castration without anesthesia, and even dragging downers to the slaughterhouse floor — are either implicitly not covered by anti-cruelty laws or not enforced. Few prosecutors in cattle-producing states would consider bringing cruelty charges against powerful cattlemen.
In many states, if a cattle rancher were to treat his dog as he routinely treats his cattle, he would likely be arrested, tried, fined and/or imprisoned, and his dog would be confiscated. The uneven application of anti-cruelty laws reflects the blind eye that society casts toward animals used for food.
Q. How will the Beyond Beef campaign affect the family farm?
A. The family farm has been among the chief victims of the powerful beef industry lobby; every small farmer in America knows this. For years, the beef lobby has been able to secure cheap subsidized feed at the expense of American farmers whose costs of production often exceed the price of feed set by the government. Small scale ranchers are also exploited by the beef industry giants who are now able to control and manipulate the price of beef through various market arrangements.
While Beyond Beef is asking people to cut their beef consumption in half, the campaign is also encouraging consumers to demand humanely and sustainably raised beef when they do eat meat. The Beyond Beef campaign will help preserve the family farm by providing a new market niche for beef that has come from cattle who are humanely raised under sustainable, organic standards. It is impossible to raise cattle under such standards in giant corporate feedlots: only the family farm is capable of filling this new market. Small farmers are encouraged to make a transition to humane, sustainable husbantlry practices to fill this new and important need.
The Beyond Beef campaign is also advocating a bold new farm policy in the United States — one that encourages a transition from feed to food production by rewarding the nation’s small farmers with higher prices for growing food for human consumption. We believe that it is past time for the government to move its priorities away from policies and programs that subsidize feed for livestock and toward programs that subsidize food production for needy human beings, The Government should greatly expand its aid programs to distribute grain surpluses to needy people at home and abroad.
Q. What about beef industry workers?
Beef industry workers are among the most exploited inhumanely treated workers in the United States. Meat-packers, for example, suffer from one of the highest rates of injury of all occupations. Working conditions are often dehumanizing and primitive. Employee turnover is as high as 4.7 percent a month at some plants — a situation that is often deliberately encouraged in order to discourage union activity. According to Eleanor Kennelly of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, “A meat- packing plant is like nothing you’ve ever seen or could imagine. it’s like a vision of hell.”
The Beyond Beef coalition believes that, given a choice of jobs, most workers would not choose to do the grisly, miserable, dangerous work of slaughtering and butchering animals. Beyond Beef supports extended employment compensation and free education and retraining, for all beef industry workers who lose their jobs as a result of a reduction in beef consumption. Beyond Reef supports union efforts to help their members and advocates the setting up of a “superfund” for all workers who are displaced as a result of enlightened social change and the enactment of environmental protection and other laws.
Q. How can reducing the amount of beef I eat contribute to solving the world’s problems?
A. Cutting down on the number of hamburgers you eat won’t solve all the world’s problems — but it would be a great start. One of the most eflective thing each of us can do to improve life on the planet is to reduce our consumption of meat — especially beef.
Imagine what would happen if every American decided today to cut his or her beef consumption in half.
First, millions of animal lives would be spared. The average American currently consumes the meat of seven cows during his or her lifetime. By cutting our beef consumption in half, each of us would save at least three animals from being born into a life of suffering and violent death.
Next, our personal health would improve. By reducing beef consumption and replacing at least half the beef we eat with grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits, we would reduce our intaks of saturated fat and cholesterol and thereby reduce the likelihood of developing, and dying from, heart disease, cancer, and other ailments. We would feel better, live longer, and the nation’s health costs would plummet.
The global environment would also benefit. The beef-production assault would slow, and the world’s forests, soil, water, air, and species would have a reprieve — a chance to regenerate themselves.
A 50 percent reduction in beef consumption would also free more agricultural land that could be used to grow food for hungry people. And cutting U.S. beef imports in half would help free some lands around the world for use by indigenous populations to grow their own food.
Many Americans have been looking for a way to make a personal contribution to the wellbeing of the planet. Reducing our consumption of beef is an empowering and powerful act. By changing our diets, we can change the world
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A few years ago, I was talking with Al Gore (yes, I’m name dropping). I asked him a very simple and pointed question: “Animal agriculture contributes about 18 percent of the gases that cause climate change. Why didn’t you mention this in your book or movie?”
His answer was disconcertingly honest. I’m paraphrasing, but he said: “For most people, the role of animal agriculture in climate change is too inconvenient of a truth.”
We like our animal products.
Well, you like your animal products. I’ve been a vegan for 28 years, so to be honest I don’t even remember what they taste like.
But collectively, as a species, we seem to like animal products. A lot.
To wit: Each year, the U.S. grows and kills about 10 billion livestock animals. Globally, we’re raising and slaughtering about 56 billion animals animal agriculture each year. If you do the math, that means we’re killing 1,776 animals for food every second of every day. That doesn’t even include fish and other seafood.
But even though I’m a vegan for ethical reasons, I don’t want to write about the animal ethics of animal agriculture. I want to write about the ways in which animal agriculture is killing us and ruining our planet.
I know, that sounds like left wing hyperbole. “It’s killing our planet!” But sometimes hyperbole isn’t hyperbole. Sometimes hyperbole is just the clear-eyed truth. I’ll start with climate change.
The U.N. released a conservative report wherein they stated that animal agriculture causes about 18 percent of current greenhouse gas emissions.
To put it in perspective: animal agriculture is responsible for producing more climate change gases than every car, boat, bus, truck, motorcycle and airplane on the planet. Combined.
But we like our animals — or at least growing and eating them. So we make the trade-off: animal products for climate change.
Climate is complicated. And climate change is complicated. But the role of animal agriculture in climate change is simple.
And how about famine? There are over 7,000,000,000 people on the planet, and many of them are very, very hungry. Article after article and book after book ask the question: “How will we feed a planet of 7 or 8 or 9 or 10 billion people?” The discussions turn to fertilizer and GMOs and arable land.
But here’s a painfully simple idea: stop feeding human food to livestock.
It takes around 15 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef – which can feed a couple people for a few hours. In comparison, 13 pounds of grain fed to humans directly can feed 13 people for most of the day.
“We’re killing 1,776 animals for food every second of every day.”
Globally, we don’t have a famine problem; we have a livestock problem. Feeding food to animals and then eating the animals is kind of like heating your house during the winter by burning wood outside.
Speaking of winters: a few years ago, tired of cold winters in New York, I moved to California. Last year in L.A., we had around 362 beautiful days of sunshine. It was 80 degrees on Christmas, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Which is great, apart from the fact that California and most of the West are now experiencing the worst drought in recorded history.
As Californians, we’ve been asked to take shorter showers and use less water on our lawns. Both are good ideas. But let’s put it in perspective: a long shower uses around 40 gallons of water. Whereas it takes 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to create a 1/3 lb hamburger.
But other agriculture is egregiously water intensive – including rice and cotton, but especially animal agriculture. Each pound of chicken requires about 500 gallons of water, and pork requires about 576 gallons of water.
“Personally, I’d like to make a deal with California. I’ll take much shorter showers if you stop subsidizing water use for livestock.”
Personally, I’d like to make a deal with California. I’ll take much shorter showers if you stop subsidizing water use for livestock. If I just jumped in the shower and bathed quickly, I could even get it down to five gallons of water per shower. And after 132 showers, I would’ve used as much water as is needed to create one pound of beef.
So we’ve established that having an estimated 56,000,000,000 livestock animals on the planet uses a lot of water and grain and creates a lot of methane and carbon dioxide.
But these billions of animals also make waste. The really disgusting waste, not just invisible climate warming gases.
Let’s put this in perspective: the good people of Philadelphia create roughly1,000,000 tons of urine and feces per year. And one, only one, large pig farm will produce roughly 1,600,000 tons of urine and feces per year.
“One large pig farm annually creates 600,000 tons more urine and feces than the city of Philadelphia.”
Our lakes and rivers are being fouled with algae blooms. Our groundwater is being polluted. And the main culprit is livestock.The 56 billion livestock animals on the planet are making tons and tons of feces and urine every year — three times as much as humans.
And, in addition to fouling our water supplies, it’s also fouling our homes. A University of Arizona study found more residual feces and waste in the average omnivores kitchen than in their toilet bowl. Largely due to meat into the home.
The animals spend their lives in their own feces and urine, and when they’re killed and packaged, they bring their feces and urine with them. Into your home. They also bring pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, cholesterol and saturated fat.
To that end: if we collectively stopped eating animals and animal products tomorrow, studies suggest we’d see a drop in obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
“We don’t have a global health epidemic; we have a global livestock epidemic. “
We don’t have a global health epidemic; we have a global livestock epidemic. Toomuch of the western world health care budgets go to curing people of diseases caused by the consumption of animal products.
And I’m not going to toot the vegan horn too much, but vegans have significantly lower rates of obesity, diabetes and some cancers.
When I talk to people about animal agriculture and meat eating, people often say, “But meat is inexpensive.” And it is. But only because it’s so heavily subsidized by our tax dollars. In the United States, we spend billions of dollars every year in direct and indirect subsidies to the meat and dairy industries. Billions of dollars in our tax dollars, subsidizing a product that ruins our environment and decimates our health.
We subsidize the grain that’s fed to livestock. We subsidize the water that’s used in livestock production. We, the taxpayers, subsidize animal agriculture.
And what do we get? We get climate change gases. And we get trillions of pounds of animal waste that fouls our lakes and rivers and reservoirs. We get an end product that causes cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
And, saving the best for last, we also get zoonotic diseases.
“Zoonotic” is a fun and fancy sounding word. It sort of sounds like a very erudite part of a zoo, where the animals read books and live on boats. But zoonotic diseases are not fun or fancy. Some zoonotic diseases you might be familiar with: E.coli, Salmonella, SARS, Bird Flu, Ebola and even some old standards like smallpox and the common cold.
Luckily, thus far, we’ve been able to treat most zoonotic diseases with antibiotics. But here’s the rub: animals on factory farms are so sick, and in such bad shape, that antibiotics are all that’s keeping them from dying before they’re slaughtered. The animals are fed obscene amounts of antibiotics while they’re alive, and these antibiotics are then found in their milk and their eggs and their meat.
When you’re eating an animal, you’re eating the fat and the muscle but you’re also eating all of the antibiotics the animal has been fed during its life.
The double whammy of zoonotic diseases coming from animal agriculture: animals are the source of the zoonotic diseases but they’re also the source of antibiotic resistance. So the zoonotic diseases can kill us, especially as animal agriculture has created superbugs who don’t respond to conventional antibiotics.
That’s the fun world of animal agriculture.
A simple re-cap:
Uses tons of grain that could be fed directly to people
Uses tons of fresh water that could be used to grow healthy food
Creates tons of urine and feces that ruin our lakes, rivers and drinking water
Creates about 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions
Contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer
Causes epidemic zoonotic diseases
Contributes to the creation of antibiotic resistant “super bugs”
And is heavily subsidized by our tax dollars.
As a species, we are faced with complicated and seemingly intractable problems. And then we’re faced with animal agriculture.
So rather than focus on the hard, intractable problems (like curing baldness) let’s simply focus on something easy with phenomenal benefit: ending animal agriculture.
All we have to do is stop subsidizing it and stop buying animal products. Simple. And climate change gases are reduced by about 18 percent.
Famine could end. Fresh water could become clean and more abundant. Deaths from cancer and heart disease and diabetes and obesity could be reduced. And zoonotic diseases could be largely reduced.
It really is that simple.
We’ve done hard things in the past. We’ve ended slavery. We’ve given everyone the right to vote. We’ve passed legislation prohibiting children from working in factories. We’re even moving towards a time when cigarette smoking will be seen as a foul, distant memory.
We can do this. We have to. Our reliance on animal agriculture is literally killing us and ruining our climate and our planet.
I’ll end by quoting Albert Einstein:
“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” -Albert Einstein
A vegan diet offers an incredibly effective way to protect animals, the environment, and your health.
If you don’t want your food dollar to support animal slaughter, a vegan diet is really the only way to go. That’s because there are no retirement homes for dairy cows and egg-laying hens. They all go to slaughter, typically before they’ve reached even half their natural life expectancy.
Apart from animal slaughter, there are intractable ethical problems associated with dairy products and eggs. One of the key objections to the dairy industry is that, in order to maximize milk yields, dairy cows are typically kept pregnant nine months out of every year. And as a result, the dairy industry is awash with unwanted calves. And since male dairy calves are obviously unable to produce milk, and aren’t the correct breed to be raised as beef, they are generally raised for veal or slaughtered at birth. The male counterparts of egg-laying hens don’t fare any better; most of these animals are eithersmothered or ground up alive immediately after hatching. In the United States alone, about 200 million male chicks are discarded in this manner each year.
Leaving aside the fact that nearly all dairy cows and layer hens go to slaughter, these animals are often subjected to even greater cruelties than those who are bred for meat. You can become acquainted with the ethical problems of the dairy and egg industries by watching the short video Farm to Fridge or by reading books like Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals or Mark Hawthorne’s Bleating Hearts.
From an environmental point of view, a vegan diet likewise makes enormous sense. There’s no doubt that raising crops directly for food requires fewer resources, and generates less waste, than feeding crops to animals. What’s more, scientists are unanimous that the methane production associated with livestock is one of the key factors in global warming—quite possibly exceeding the impact of all greenhouse gases generated by cars, airplanes, trains, and ships.
The health advantages of a vegan diet aren’t as pronounced as many animal advocates contend, and it’s certainly possible to eat an extremely healthful diet that contains some animal products. That said, a vegan diet will automatically eliminate many of the the most unhealthful foods that people regularly eat: hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, fried chicken, ice cream, and so forth. When you replace these foods with more healthful vegan choices, it’s likely that you’ll feel better while simultaneously reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.
What Mylan Engel remembers most about his grandfather’s hog farm is when he was about 8 years old and he first saw piglets being castrated.
“It was horrifying,” Engel said. “My cousins were castrating those pigs like they were peeling carrots.”
Engel, a philosophy professor at Northern Illinois University, presented his reasons for following a vegan diet based on ethical principles and health reasons Thursday in the Doudna Fine Arts Center Lecture Hall.
Engel explained his advocacy for veganism by outlining HASK practices, or practices that knowingly harm, inflict suffering on or kill conscious sentient animals “for no good reason.”
He said in situations where no other resources are available, killing animals for food is acceptable, but in most situations, plant-based diets are viable options.
However, Engel did not always follow these guidelines; he himself was a hunter until the age of 20.
While in graduate school in 1984, Engel participated in competitive long distance running with a friend who was vegetarian.
He said he became convinced he could meet all his nutritional needs with a vegetarian diet when he realized his friend was the fittest person he had ever met.
“This guy could run circles around me, so I switched to a vegetarian diet,” Engel said.
Engel did not become vegan until 1996 when he attended the World Congress for Animals in Washington, D.C. and met animal rights leaders.
“Listening to them talk and seeing how healthy and vibrant all these vegans were around me, I realized that the only way I could be consistent with my own values was to give it all up,” Engel said.
Engel defended his premises by citing data that suggested humans’ nutritional needs could be met with a plant-based diet.
According to his presentation, the American Dietetic Association and the Dieticians of Canada share the position that vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and can prevent and treat certain diseases, and well-planned vegan and vegetarian diets are appropriate for all ages.
One audience member asked about individual sustainable farming, citing that there were simple, efficient ways to kill animals that are quick and relatively painless.
Engel responded that killing animals when other options are available is still wrong because it is depriving the animal of half or more of its life.
“If in the middle of the night tonight when you’re sound asleep, I slit your throat and kill you painlessly, would I have harmed you?” Engel asked.
Engel also pointed out that vegan diets offer plenty of variety, contrary to what some might think.
“But this privilege of having a wide variety of choices, it’s ethically constrained,” Engel said. “The privilege stops once there’s a victim.”
Another audience member asked why eating eggs or milk was ethically wrong if those products were not sentient beings.
Engel said 900 million male chicks are grinded alive each year because they are considered byproducts of egg production, and similarly, bull calves are sold for veal and calves in general are taken from their mothers, causing them to grieve.
“We’re led to believe by the dairy council that milk, it’s a natural, it does a body good,” Engel said. “But human beings are the only mammalian species that drinks milk past the age of weaning.”
Another point of his lecture was that eating fish is unethical as well because studies indicate their intelligence and ability to feel pain, whether they are crushed by the weight of other fish in giant nets, suffocated on the surface, destroyed by the rapid changes in pressure, or kept in bad conditions on fish farms.
“Fish typically experience extremely painful deaths at our hands,” he said. “Treating fish in these ways harms them, causes them to suffer and kills them.”