How Does the Meat Industry Impact You and the Future? [videos/images]

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THE CIRCUMSTANCE (PRECURSOR):

This article takes a holistic view of our challenge starting with population and the behaviors driven by our economic system.

How often do you think about the kind of world you want to leave behind for future generations? We all tend to get wrapped up in our own bubble and forget to take a step back to look at the big picture. Have you ever heard of the Overview Effect? It’s worth checking out the article/video we shared on that topic but in short it is the perspective given to an astronaut when seeing Earth from space the first time. In the video you will hear astronauts state that in those powerful moments they came to realize earth as a whole is a living organism in which we are all intrinsically part of. Now that’s “big picture”. The concept that we are part of a whole means that what we do matters. Today, Earth has many wounds but has shown great resilience.

One of the most dramatic changes in more recent years is the booming growth of the human population. According to real time world statistics website, WorldoMeter, “A tremendous change occurred with the industrial revolution: whereas it had taken all of human history until around 1800 for world population to reach one billion, the second billion was achieved in only 130 years (1930), the third billion in less than 30 years (1959), the fourth billion in 15 years (1974), and the fifth billion in only 13 years (1987).” It surpassed 7 billion by 2011 and today we add about 227,000 more people to the planet everyday. Think of it as adding a New York City every 37 days.

The current economic system we choose to live by encourages increased production and consumption of resources year over year. Success is measured by calculating the sum total of market value of final goods and services produced in a country in a year. This is known as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The second part of this is our commodity based money system, the monetary system. This encourages people to maximize profits at any cost and “sell more stuff” as frequently as possible, otherwise they are out of business. Items may be made with the “cheapest materials”, or designed to breakdown so consumers are pressured to purchase again, also known as planned obsolescence. Materials are not designed to go back into nature. In this model, the environment and global social consideration tends to be secondary if considered at all.

For example, the link between livestock expansion and deforestation is not because the land that underlies tropical forests makes better pastures or produces higher crop yields. In fact, case studies show just the opposite is true. The soils of newly cleared tropical forest land are generally of poor quality, leading to low crop yields and sustaining few animals per hectare. However, rainforest lands are inexpensive or even free for the taking, usually increasing considerably in value once they are cleared.

We live on a small island in the cosmos and resources are finite, not infinite. Coupled with our overwhelming rate of growth we seem to have an illogical and unsustainable formula. Our growing population comes with greater demands for clean water, land, fuel, food, trees and other resources. The Green Revolution is a human response to the adverse affects we are seeing today but are we shoveling sand against the tide until the model adapts to our present day circumstance?

Watch this short film called – The Story of Stuff

A MAJOR CHALLENGE:

One of the biggest drivers of environmental degradation is our booming population’s meat consumption, the world’s oldest and strongest addiction. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the production, processing and distribution of meat requires huge outlays of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel, feed and water while releasing greenhouse gases, manure and a range of toxic chemicals into our air and water. With that being said, the Center for Biological Diversity states; “Production of beef, poultry, pork and other meats tripled between 1980 and 2010 and will likely double again by 2020.”

Meat consumption

Meat consumption

Livestock generates more greenhouse gases than all transportation or industry combined and receives half the world’s antibiotics. More than 10 billion land animals are slaughtered each year as well as over 18 billion marine animals for food consumption. “For agriculture to be able to meet the estimated increased demand of food from the predicted population growth in the future the increasing rate of agricultural production is expected to have to reach 3 percent per year. This rate exceeds the growth rate of the green revolution. This situation has induced that agricultural regions will suffer great environmental problems which are directly linked to water flows,” according to a study on Consumptive Water Use in Livestock Production.

Meat is something that is part of our upbringing, our culture. We were all told meat and dairy are required for a healthy body which really isn’t true according to nutritional research studies. In the conclusion of chapter 3 – Meat and Health – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that “meat is not an essential part of the diet” as long as you have some nutritional education. False marketing campaigns inflate unnatural consumption of meat to increase profits. What was once a treat is now the primary focus of most meals. Actually, the EWG states, “U.S. meat consumption by U.S. adults exceeds the government’s Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein. According to one study, American men consume almost twice the recommended amount of protein. Scientific evidence (See Meat and your Health) is increasingly clear that eating large quantities of beef and processed meats increases our exposure to toxins and is linked to serious health problems such as heart disease, cancer and obesity.”

It is estimated today by EWG that growing livestock feed in the U.S. alone requires 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer each year across about 149 million acres of cropland. It is important to remember that animals eat far more grain and drink far more water than people. Those resources are being used for the “luxury” of meat consumption and could be used to provide for those who do not have food and water.

Let’s look at the United States as an example – “If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million,” reports ecologist David Pimentel of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He adds that the seven billion livestock in the U.S. consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire U.S. population. Agriculture is one of today’s leading causes of deforestation. You can read more about that here.

The increasing meat consumption in today’s world has a tremendous impact on our habitat, wildlife, water resources, air quality, climate, health and overall well-being of Earth as an organism.

Tacosa Feedyard's waste lagoon, Texas

Tacosa Feedyard’s waste lagoon, Texas

Review more shocking images of feedlots captured by satellite here

Some additional quick facts about meat consumption:

  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hog, chicken and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states (This stat is from 1998, imagine now!).
  • The USDA reports that animals in the US meat industry produce 61 million tons of waste each year, which is 130 times the volume of human waste – or five tons for every US citizen.
  • Meat production has grown worldwide from 44 million tons in 1950 to 211 million tons in 1997.
  • Overuse of antibiotics in animals is causing more strains of drug-resistant bacteria, which is affecting the treatment of various life-threatening diseases in humans. The Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences has estimated the annual cost of treating antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. at $30 billion.

You can find more important facts about the holistic impact of mass meat consumption here. They discuss credible data on waste pollution and the environment, animal welfare, economics, antibiotics and public health.

A DIFFICULT YET SIMPLE SOLUTION:

Our meat consumption habits and their global impact are a reality we must address. As creatures of habit the solution is tough yet very simple at the same time. Even if it’s just weekends, eating less meat would have a substantial impact on the improvement of our world’s overall well-being.

Looking at the big picture, it seems fair to say that we must acquire new habits and adapt to the changing global situation. Any large scale revolutionary change starts with the individual as a personal choice.

Below, you will find several video resources that offer great information well worth your time.

RESOURCES:

Ted Talk with Graham Hill: Why I’m a weekday vegetarian

Vimeo staff pick! This video will certainly strike a chord as it shows the reality of mass consumption

Very powerful talk about our food by Gary Yourofsky at Georgia Tech. A must watch, it will captivate you.

Mark Bittman TED Talk: What’s wrong with what we eat and how it impacts our habitat

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