Rainforests: the impact of livestock

Rainforest deforestationThe rainforests are dying and raising livestock is killing them. The problem is only getting worse. For instance, according to recent reports, deforestation in Brazil has already increased by 30 percent in just the last 12 months. 1,600 trees are chopped down every minute just to make room for cattle to graze and to grow livestock feed. If these rates of deforestation continue, it’s likely that there won’t be any rainforest left in 100 years. It is this all-time record destruction that has set off a loud alarm bell ringing among scientists, environmentalists and many others.

According to the latest report by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the Brazilian agency that monitors deforestation, between July 2015 and August 2016 roughly 3,100 square miles of rainforest went up in smoke, mostly to give way to farmland and to further cement the country’s position as the world’s top exporter of meat products.

Over the past two decades, there has been a catastrophic clearing of the Amazonian and Central American rainforests, mostly to create grazing land so that cattle can be raised for export. According to the Center for International Forestry Research, beef exports have accel­erated the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. The total area destroyed increased from 102.5 million acres in 1990 to 145 million acres in 2000. In only 10 years, an area twice the size of Portugal was destroyed, almost all of it to clear pasture for cattle. David Kaimowitz, Director of the Center for International Forestry Research, says, “Cattle ranchers are making mincemeat out of Brazil’s rainforests.” To make matters worse, half of the rainforest in Central America has also been destroyed to raise meat.

Recently, the Amazon region has also seen a rise in soy production, with farm animals raised in Europe as its largest customer. It’s important note that, according to the Nature Conservancy, 80% of the world’s soy production is used for farm animal feed, so even the soy production is primarily meat driven.

Rainforest parakeetWith attention focused so much on global warming these days, it’s easy to forget other ecological crises that are related to rainforest destruction. The rainforest region is not only the so-called “lung of the planet” but also home to about 2.5 million species of insects, tens of thousands of plants and about 2,000 birds and mammals, including many rare and endangered species, whose habitat is being destroyed.

According to National Geographic, scientists fear that an additional 20 percent of the trees in the Amazon will be lost over the next two decades. If that happens, the forest’s ecology will begin to unravel. Intact, the Amazon region produces half its own rainfall through the moisture it releases into the atmosphere. Eliminate enough of that rain through clearing, and the remaining trees will dry out and die.

Not to be forgotten is that tropical rainforest land cleared for pasture is very susceptible to soil erosion, given the special nature of rainforest soil and the special climate in tropical regions. So the land which is made available for cattle ranching or raising soy beans through clearing the rainforest rapidly becomes unusable when the soil is trampled or washed away.

All over the world, the effects of raising meat are devastating our environment, through water pollution and soil erosion, as well global warming and ecological destruction. As world meat consumption continues to rise, and the damage to the environment rises with it, the value of a vegetarian diet in sustaining the planet becomes ever more clear.