The world is eating too much meat, and that’s bad news for the earth’s forests, arable land, and scarce water. That’s the conclusion of a report released this week by the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.
Global production of meat hit a new high of 308.5 million tons last year, up 1.4 percent, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the report says. “In response to growing purchasing power, urbanization, and changing diets, meat production has expanded more than fourfold over just the last fifty years says the new report, entitled “Peak Meat Production Strains Land and Water Resources.” Read more
Just when we thought the slaughterhouses couldn’t get any worse for workers, consumers and animals alike, new rules are coming out of Washington DC that will make the whole situation worse than ever.
Under the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection” rule, a processing line could run at 170 carcasses per minute, and only one inspector- employed by the company that owns the processing plant- would be required to be on duty. The new rules do not even mandate training for these company inspectors, whereas USDA inspectors undergo extensive training to allow them to fulfill these tasks under the current inspection system.
“These rules essentially privatize poultry inspection, and pave the way for others in the meat industry to police themselves,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
With most meat inspectors replaced by untrained slaughterhouse employees, and the kill rate increased to almost 3 chickens a second, it is virtually impossible to do any reliable testing.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says that this proposed rule would provide the framework for action to provide public health-based inspection in all establishments that slaughter amenable poultry species,” according to the rule’s official summary. However, reduced inspections make contamination with disease-causing bacteria all the more likely.
With the kill rate higher, worker stress is likely to get worse. Working in a slaughterhouse is already one of the most dangerous and stressful jobs in the country, as we’ve explained in a previous posting.
Last but surely not least, a higher kill rate is very likely to make matters even worse for the chickens. Many people are surprised to learn that unlike the very minimal legal protection that cows have, chickens have no laws to prevent cruelty at all. As the saying goes, if slaughterhouses had glass walls we’d all be vegetarians!
The situation is so bad that 68 Members of Congress have signed and sent a letter sent to the USDA demanding rules that meaningfully protect all involved. The letter urges the USDA to “withdraw the proposed rule until the agency has thoroughly addressed its impact on the public, workers, and animals and adherence to good commercial practices.”
We can only hope that the USDA reconsiders the new rules. In the meantime there’s something you can do. Year after year the slaughterhouses continue to get worse and worse. The best solution to this problem is the vegetarian solution. By following a healthy diet composed of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans and other legumes and nuts, you’ll be reducing the demand for chickens until, someday, there won’t be a need for any of them to be killed.
There is a quiet environmental crisis brewing and it’s very serious. It’s so widespread that it affects the entire world. It’s so dangerous that the great humanitarian, the Dalai Lama, considers it a greater threat than nuclear weapons. It’s sneaking up on us, it could easily hurt more people and cause more disruption than global warming, and for some parts of the world it’s already too late.
The problem is soil erosion. Unfortunately, most environmental organizations aren’t paying too much attention to it and the media almost completely ignores it. After all, it’s hard to get excited about dirt!
Soil is where food begins. Therefore humanity depends upon the soil for its food, and if enough of the soil goes, humanity will go with it. Without soil, not only will the crops we plant not grow, but other vegetation will die as well. Perhaps President Franklin Roosevelt put the threat best when he said, “The history of every nation is eventually written in the way it cares for its soil. The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.” Read more
A new landmark study by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment looks into how to feed another 3 billion people, the expected increase in global population before it levels out. The food necessary for the extra 3 billion is “the diet gap” facing humanity. As their report says, “Sustainably feeding people today and in the future is one of humanity’s grand challenges. Agriculture is the main source of water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and habitat loss, yet we need to grow more food.”
Many people are surprised to learn that most of the food we grow in America, and a substantial portion grown in other parts of the world, is used to feed farm animals instead of people. There are a lot of farm animals to feed too. In fact every year we raise 60 billion animals just for food. Then consider that cows, for instance, give us only 4% of all the calories they eat in the form of beef.
But what if we took the food currently fed to farm animals, and used it to feed people instead? This report shows that not only could we feed 3 billion more, we could actually feed 4 billion more people by using food in this more efficient way. The food for the extra billion would serve as a “safety net” when weather or pests create shortages. Raising food in this way would also have the least environmental impact. The report shows that while other measures would be helpful, nothing other than the vegetarian option even comes close to freeing up the extra amount of food needed. So, as with several other global challenges, the best solution is again a vegetarian solution.
Many people are interested in adopting a plant based diet in order to alleviate global hunger. To learn more about the connection between raising animals and global hunger, please see our Global Hunger posting.
“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry” – English Proverb
Severe droughts have recently made water scarce in several regions of the country. Parts of California, the Southwest, and the Great Plains have suffered from three consecutive years of drought, according to Brad Rippey, meteorologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). More than two-thirds of California is currently covered by extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Of course, drought directly impacts crops. Agriculture uses about 80% of California’s water and because of shortages, a lot of fields may have to lay fallow this year. It’s not just California that’s experiencing a drought. Kansas, the biggest U.S. wheat producer, and elsewhere in the Great Plains are also experiencing a severe drought.
What can we do about it? After all we can’t change the weather. True, but we can change what we eat and it turns out that may be more effective than anything else. Eating vegetarian foods saves a huge amount of water because producing meat is so water-intensive compared to plant foods. Read more
How did you first get interested in the plight of animals and of farm animals in particular?
I have gravitated towards helping animals for as long as I can remember, especially feeling a drive to rescue and save injured, abandoned and neglected animals. Undercover footage of factory farms opened my eyes to the cruelty farmed animals endure and I immediately stopped consuming animal flesh. As I learned more about the condition of animals used for dairy and eggs, I eliminated those items from my diet as well. The same for eschewing leather, fur, wool and honey, my behavior changed as I learned more. My journey to be vegan has been a path of progression. The urge to protect animals is the driving force behind every choice I make.
What moved you to work with The Humane League?
The Humane League’s vision of seeing a world where animals are treated with respect and compassion really appealed to me. I have worked with companion animals in shelters and through internships with HSUS, I was able to work on projects about marine animals, equines, animals in research and blood “sports.” Even so, the magnitude of suffering on factory farms far outweighs all other animal suffering, over 9 billion land animals are killed for food in the US each year! This was an area where I felt I could make a difference for a lot of animals. I was impressed to learn The Humane League is certified “Best” by Independent Charities of America, and rated as one of the two most cost-effective animal protection charities in the world by Animal Charity Evaluators.
Tell us something about what The Humane League does?
The Humane League advocates for farmed animals, promotes a vegetarian diet and works to end the suffering of as many animals as possible. The methods of advocacy we employ are researched and tested for efficacy through our research division, Humane League Labs. The three pillars of our work are outreach, education, and campaigns. Our humane education program offers free presentations about factory farming and the impacts on animals, health and the environment. I provide these presentations to high schools and colleges in the greater Seattle area. Outreach efforts include distributing free vegetarian starter guides in news racks around the city, handing out booklets on factory farming and veg eating at universities, concerts and events, and tabling with vegetarian information at festivals. While we work on a variety of campaigns, my current focus is bringing Meatless Mondays to Seattle Public Schools – this program would spare 25,000 animals a year. I’d also love to see the City of Seattle adopt a Meatless Monday resolution, which aligns with the city’s climate action plan where reducing meat consumption is already encouraged. Numerous other cities have already adopted similar resolutions, to include South Miami County, FL; Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Boone, NC; Oakland, CA; and Philadelphia, PA!
What are some of the things you wished people knew more about or understood better about farm animals?
I wish people knew that these incredible sentient beings are unique, with distinct personalities who have the ability to experience pain and pleasure, and they have a desire to live – like we do. Pigs have dreams, chickens can count to ten, and fish rub against each other to relieve stress. Like dogs and cats, farmed animals are intelligent and emotional creatures that deserve our moral consideration and protection. I encourage people to spend time at farm sanctuaries and develop our innate bond with animals.
Do you see progress, are you optimistic about the future?
Yes! I am optimistic about the future and I’m seeing progress. Sometimes the progress seems too slow or too small given the enormous challenges ahead, but I appreciate it is still movement in the right direction. I’m inspired by the next generation of animal advocates who are seeking professional training to become more effective for animals and the number of students pursuing humane education and careers that will benefit animals. I’m watching this movement become an unstoppable force!
Those concerned with animal welfare often ask the following question: isn’t it kind of arbitrary the way we care for, love, and protect some animals, such as cats and dogs, while allow others such as cows, pigs and chickens to be raised under harsh conditions, only to be slaughtered under even worse circumstances?
Strange weather we’ve been having lately! First we had one of the worst droughts ever in the Midwest over the summer, and then a record-breaking “superstorm” in the fall on the East Coast. Many scientists suspect that global warming, and the extremes in weather it causes, is behind them both, or at least is a major contributing factor. Indeed, the past 12 months in America have been the hottest on record, and the water in the Atlantic Ocean fueling hurricane Sandy was way warmer than normal, in some places as much as 5 degrees above average.
What’s meat got do with it? Plenty. Raising livestock for meat and other animal products is now recognized to be largest cause of global warming. The ground-parching droughts and the house-flooding storms might just both be driven by our meat centered diets.
Global Warming is a really important issue, but recently it seems that people haven’t been talking about it so much, and it has been slipping off people’s radar screens. So this month, we would like to bring your attention back to global warming, and in particular to how meat consumption is having an effect.
You might think that the lack of discussion means that global warming isn’t very important, but in fact, the opposite is the case. Let’s start at the beginning. Scientists tell us that there has been an increase in the level of certain gasses in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide and methane. These gasses prevent heat from escaping from the earth. This is called the greenhouse effect. If this continues unchecked, it will result in a gradual warming of the climate, and that will result in tremendous hardship for people all over the world.
There is evidence that this is already beginning to happen. For instance, one can see photos of the spectacular recession of the glaciers in places like Switzerland and the Andes Mountains. There have been record-breaking high global temperatures in recent years as well.
Many scientists warn that the future holds much more severe consequences, if the process of releasing large amounts of greenhouse gasses into the environment isn’t reversed. A small number of scientists note that the earth is still gradually emerging from the last ice age which could account for the recent warming. Even so, they point out that it would be prudent to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses, which only make a natural problem even worse. Either way, reducing the production of these gasses seems to definitely be in the interests of humanity.
Now, there has been a fair amount of study recently about the amounts of greenhouse gasses that livestock agriculture throws into the environment. One study conducted by the UN showed that raising meat causes more global warming than all the cars, trucks, busses, ships, boats, trains and airplanes in the world all put together. That’s right, the food you eat is more important than the car you buy, whether or not you fly to your next vacation or stay home, whether you carpool to work or drive your own car, and whether you buy local products or out of region.
Another study, conducted by two senior members of the World Bank on behalf the World Watch Institute, showed that raising meat actually causes more global warming than all other factors combined. It turns out that the food you buy is more important than whether or not you buy compact light bulbs, or even whether the power company uses coal-fired plants or solar energy. As matter of fact, so dominant is the effect of meat production on global warming that the CEO of one solar energy company said that even just a measly 1% reduction in meat consumption would be the equivalent of 3 trillion-dollar investment in solar energy. This bears repeating: even just a 1% reduction in meat consumption is the equivalent of a 3 trillion-dollar investment in solar energy. Now just imagine how much a 10% reduction would be worth.
It would be surprising if meat production didn’t have a major environmental impact, because raising livestock is so wasteful and inefficient and because the scale of animal agriculture is so vast. Take a deep breath for this one…every year we raise 56 billion animals for food. That’s nine times the human population. The livestock industry now occupies, directly or indirectly, one-third of the earth’s non frozen land mass. Add it up: 56 Billion animals plus about a third of the habitable land mass of the earth. Of course, there are going to be consequences, and big ones at that.
The best solution to global warming is the simple yet powerful vegetarian diet. And this solution has many advantages. It costs no extra money, it requires no new technology, it requires no international conferences, it requires no treaties and it’s something we can all get started with right away.
Switching to a vegetarian diet reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 3,267 pounds per person per year. But if you’re not quite ready to become a vegetarian yet, consider this. Even small changes in your meat consumption make a big difference when it comes to global warming. According University of Chicago geo-physicists Eshel and Martin, even just cutting back your consumption of meat by only 20% is equivalent to switching from a standard car to a hybrid. Small changes do make a big difference.
So if you’re just starting to change your diet, remember that we’re here to help. Our four books and free classes provide you with all the information you need to get started. In time you’ll discover that countering the effects of global warming with vegetarian food is easy and delicious. In fact, preserving the environment never tasted so good.
With Earth Day just around the corner, we can’t help but lament the depth of denial most of the environmental community is in when it comes to the issue of animal agriculture and meat. There are some notable exceptions, such as the World Watch Institute who says, “The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future — deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” But, on the whole the environmental community has chosen to remain comfortably unaware of the facts connecting our food choices with environmental sustainability, and several attempts by us to get the environmental movement engaged have resulted in a lackluster response. Read more