Let’s all eat less meat. Read this article: ‘Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler’
February 2, 2008
In a deep and compelling New York Times piece, Rethinking the Meat Guzzler, columnist Mark Bittman compares the production and consumption of meat to that of oil. It’s not a pretty picture.
The world’s meat supply has quadrupled since 1961 to 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled in that time and is expected to double again by 2050. Americans consume an average of nearly 200 pounds of meat (including poultry and fish) per year, which is roughly twice the global average. While some 800,000,000 people suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of the world’s corn and soy are used as feed for cattle, chickens and pigs.
Bittman (who the Times notes is not a vegetarian) points out that two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through meat as would be obtained if people instead directly consumed the grain. Up to ten times more grain is required in the case of U.S. “grain-fed” beef, something cows don’t even naturally want or are equipped to eat.
Bittman writes that pigs and chickens constitute 70% of total meat production, with industrial systems used for half of all pig meat and three-fourths of all chicken meat. According to the United Nations, industrial production is growing more than twice as fast as “land-based methods,” with 30% of the Earth’s ice-free land directly or indirectly used for farmed animal production. Nearly 20% of the world’s greenhouse gases are attributed to this production, which is more than even cars and other transportation produces.
Geophysicist professor Gidon Eshel, who pegs meat production as a primary cause of nearly all U.S. environmental problems, is quoted: “…factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free. If dumping [waste] becomes costly….the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.”
Bittman states: “Animal welfare may not yet be a major concern, but as the horrors of raising meat in confinement become known, more animal lovers may start to react.” He continues: “If price spikes don’t change eating habits, perhaps the combination of deforestation, pollution, climate change, starvation, heart disease and animal cruelty will gradually encourage the simple daily act of eating more plants and fewer animals.”