It doesn’t take an environmentalist to see that the planet we live in is in trouble. Petty efforts to “save the whales,” pick up trash or spread the word are being made each day. What most people don’t know is that the meat industry and livestock business are not only rapidly wasting valuable resources such as food, land, energy, water and rainforests, but are also contaminating water, polluting the air and accelerating global warming.
Yes, I said it. Meat is causing global warming. When you order that hamburger, you are probably unaware of all the things that happened before that cow in the pasture became a patty on your plate. So, I will graciously explain.
A huge amount of energy is needed to produce that burger. A 2006 United Nations report found that meat industries produce more greenhouse gases than all the SUVs, cars, trucks, planes and ships in the world combined.
Raising animals for food is extremely inefficient. One of the reasons for this is basic biology. The livestock we eat has to be fed. More than 70 percent of the grain, cereals, corn and soy produced in in the United States is used to feed farm animals. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat, and five pounds of wild-caught fish, which are used to make fish food, to produce one pound of fish flesh. Twenty percent of the world’s population could be fed with the amount of food given to cattle. It is highly ironic that 800 million people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition while such a large portion of crop yield is fed to livestock in order to obtain meat.
America alone processes (grows and kills) almost 10 billion animals a year, according to a study in January 2008. These animals don’t just eat food that could feed humans; they also produce 13 billion tons of waste a year. That is 130 times the excrement produced by the entire U.S. population. A pig farm with 5000 animals produces as much fecal matter as that of a city with 50,000 people.
A contamination study by John Chastain, a Minnesota agricultural engineer, reports that “The data indicates that the pollution strength of raw manure is 160 times greater than raw municipal sewage.” Run-off contaminates soil and water, which kills fish and other wildlife.
The environmental impact of meat doesn’t stop there. Over 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals. On a global scale, entire ecosystems – from tropical rainforests to pine forests – are being destroyed, which has lead to the extinction of plants and animal species, soil erosion and the gradual desertification of once fertile land.
Harold A. Mooney, professor of biological sciences at Stanford, stated, “We are seeing tremendous environmental problems with these operations from land degradation and air and water pollution to loss of biodiversity.”
Furthermore, our precious water supply is being depleted to feed billions of animals, and to clean the filth from factory farms and slaughterhouses. It requires 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat, while growing one pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons. While millions of people across the globe are deprived of water, a great portion of the world’s water supply is being used for animal agriculture.
I’m not saying everyone needs to immediately become a vegetarian. But it’s not just an animal cruelty issue. It involves morals and ethics centered on the unknown truth most ignorant consumers don’t know.
Although I’ve been a vegetarian my entire life, I know that it isn’t easy for meat lovers to just stop eating meat. However, the next time you order a hamburger, chicken nuggets or bacon, think for a moment about what you are supporting: global warming, wasted resources, habitat destruction and pollution are just the beginning.
Adrian Wong is a first-year business administration major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.