The Meat of the Issue: The ecological impacts of the industrialized meat industry
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Friday, April 12, 2013 12:04
Lately I've been more vegetarian conscious, aiming to reduce my carbon footprint, which will contribute to the ecological preservation of our planet and will benefit my heath in the long-run. All aspects and practices of the factory meat industry, from the agricultural production of livestock feed to the meat in our freezers need to be reevaluated for the sake of our planet. After all, according to the Environmental Working Group, if every person in the United States stopped eating meat and cheese products for only one day a week, it would be the environmental equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
It’s baffling really–one of the primary means of food production for the sustainability of global populations is simultaneously one of the primary ecologically destructive practices of modern society. Furthermore, the issues go beyond that to the inhumane and wasteful methods of industrialized facilities and their detrimental effects on human health.
It’s unrealistic to expect our global population to adopt a vegetarian diet. But to reduce our consumption of meat and readjust our production practices would dramatically improve the health of both the planet and ourselves.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization hypothesize that between 14 and 22 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are a result of the meat industry. This begins in the earliest stage of production–feeding and raising the livestock-–and carries into the slaughtering, packaging and distribution of meat products.
According to the EWG it takes “149 million acres of farmland, 76 million kilos of pesticides and 7.7 billion kilos of nitrogen fertilizer to grow feed.” The blatant overuse of land and toxic pollutants has obvious and devastating implications.
Animal waste, as a result of livestock diet, releases harmful pollutants like nitrogen, phosphorus, antibiotics and metals into the air. Manure is a major source of atmospheric methane and nitrous dioxide, and these toxins leak into water and groundwater systems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, confined feeding operations have polluted over 34,000 miles of rivers and 216,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs in America. Nitrates contaminate drinking water supplies and result in massive deaths of underwater life.
Besides the pollution of our water systems, the livestock industry is also responsible for veracious overuse of water resources; according to John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution. Producing one pound of beef uses 12,000 gallons of water.
Being mindful of the types and amounts of meat you consume can have a substantial effect on your well-being. There are more nutrients and fewer fats in grass-fed and organic livestock products and it prevents exposure to toxins from fertilizers and pesticides. Also, studies show that people who consume more meat have higher rates of obesity and are more susceptible to cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Clearly meat is a source of protein and nutrients we need, but reducing our consumption and going organic or grass-fed may reduce our exposure to harmful additives.
The FAO and EWG released an analysis in 2009 which shows the U.S. produced “94 kilograms of meat per [domestic] person,” which is 60 percent more than Europe and almost four times that of developing nations. We're taking in way more than we need, and its making us fat.
Ultimately, we need to start caring about cow hides so we can take care of our own.