Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Meat We Eat

I bookmarked this article a couple of days ago in the New York Times. Our meat consumption takes a huge toll on the environment, not to mention the animals who are being grown for our tables:

Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Grain, meat and even energy are roped together in a way that could have dire results. More meat means a corresponding increase in demand for feed, especially corn and soy, which some experts say will contribute to higher prices.

This will be inconvenient for citizens of wealthier nations, but it could have tragic consequences for those of poorer ones, especially if higher prices for feed divert production away from food crops. The demand for ethanol is already pushing up prices, and explains, in part, the 40 percent rise last year in the food price index calculated by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.

Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.

The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States — much of which now serves the demand for meat — contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Because the stomachs of cattle are meant to digest grass, not grain, cattle raised industrially thrive only in the sense that they gain weight quickly. This diet made it possible to remove cattle from their natural environment and encourage the efficiency of mass confinement and slaughter. But it causes enough health problems that administration of antibiotics is routine, so much so that it can result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten the usefulness of medicines that treat people...


Anonymous said...

[snip]Because the stomachs of cattle are meant to digest grass, not grain, cattle raised industrially thrive only in the sense that they gain weight quickly.[snip]

The writer obviously is a dingleberry (or worse, willfully trying to play on the ignorance of non-farm people) if he doesn't realize that grain, of whatever kind used in feed production, such as wheat, maize/corn, rice, barley, sorghum, oats, rye, and millet, is simply a kind of grass. When those things are eaten, you are eating grass seed. Livestock stomachs are made for eating grass (which includes grass seed), ergo, they are good at processing the seed as well. In case you didn't know, most growing operations use grass (hay or haylage, or silage) in addition to the grain itself.

Most soybeans in the USA are oil beans, grown for vegetable oil. The remnant of this process is then used for feed.

If he can't get that right, then what is the credibility of the rest of the article? Then again, Bittman is eager to see our world go back to some kind of caveman existence.

That people are hungry is more a function of national
governmental incompetence, high taxes, or malevolence than of misallocation of resources. Example: The starvation of Zimbabweans, because of the socialist policies of R. Mugabe and his gangster cronies.

liberal pastor said...

Does Bittman have an agenda? Probably. Most of us do. Is he wrong on his facts about the effects of feeding corn to cattle? No he isn't. I'll post separately on it.