- by Kim McCoy, environmental & animal law student and Sierra Club Chairperson
* POLLUTION/GLOBAL WARMING
Animals raised for food produce 130 times more excrement than the entire human population---86,600 lbs. per second---which all too often leaches into streams and contaminates groundwater. Nearly 90% of all U.S. farms drain into a single body of water-the Mississippi River. Waste lagoons on livestock farms release a considerable amount of methane, a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming, into the atmosphere.
* LAND USE/DEFORESTATION/HABITAT DESTRUCTION
Nearly 90% of all agricultural land in the U.S is used to raise animals for food. 20 times more land is required to feed a meat-eater than to feed a pure vegetarian. For every quarter-pound burger made of rainforest beef, 55 square feet of land are consumed. Livestock grazing is the number one threat and cause of elimination to tropical rainforest species.
Nearly 50% of all water consumed in the U.S. is used for livestock. The production of one pound of California beef requires a total of 2464 gallons of water. You would save more water by not eating a pound of California beef than you would by not showering for 6 months.
Raising animals for food requires more than 30% of all raw materials and fossil fuels used in the United States. Producing a single hamburger patty uses enough fossil fuels to drive a small car 20 miles, not to mention enough water for 17 showers.
* FISH FARMS/FACTORY TRAWLERS
Fish and shrimp farms destroy habitats and contaminate water with heavy use of antibiotics, causing coastal pollution, displacement of local people from their land, and the clearing of mangrove forests. They take away land that is traditionally used for growing rice, the primary staple for most of the world's people. Just like their land-dwelling counterparts, fish and shrimp are highly inefficient converters of protein. It takes 5 lbs. of wild ocean fish to feed and produce a single pound of farmed saltwater fish or shrimp. Think you're better off eating wild-caught? Think again. Factory trawlers use long lines with thousands of hooks and huge nets, spanning up to 80 miles. These lines wreak havoc, destroying the ocean floor and drowning everything in their path, including seabirds, seals, dolphins, sea turtles, and countless other species. About 25% of all animals caught in factory nets are thrown away. Factory trawlers have driven more than 100 species of "food fish" to full or near extinction and caused irreparable harm to others.
* PERSONAL HEALTH/ANTIBIOTICS
The obesity rate among the general (meat-eating) U.S. population is nearly 20%. For vegetarians, that number drops to 6%, and for vegans (people who abstain from all animal products), it is only 2%. The increased risk of heart disease and gallstones for obese people is double to triple; the risk of colon cancer is triple to quadruple; and the risk of diabetes is 40 times greater than for people at a healthy weight. Vegetarians and vegans enjoy a reduced risk for obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, and some types of cancer. This translates to a much lower drain on U.S. tax dollars spent on health care and preventable medical procedures. In addition, the EPA estimates that 60-80% of all livestock receive antibiotics as a routine food additive, leading to an increase in antibiotic resistance in humans by causing selective pressure for the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Roughly 24 million pounds of antibiotics (about 70% of the nation's total antibiotic use) are added to animal feed every year to speed livestock growth.
* PUBLIC HEALTH
Open waste lagoons on factory farms store urine and liquefied manure, home to more than 150 pathogens (disease causing organisms) such as Salmonella, E. coli, Cryptosporidium, and fecal coliform. These pathogens are 10-100 times more concentrated than in human waste and pose a serious threat to human health. Animal waste is also contaminated with endocrine disrupters from pesticides (consumed via feed crops) and hormones (fed to cattle to speed up growth), which can alter sexual development in humans, undermine intelligence, and render us less resistant to disease. Animal waste lagoons emit toxic fumes (such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, and methane) which can cause diarrhea, nausea, headaches, eye irritation, sore throat, shortness of breath, wheezing, excessive coughing, seizures, coma, and even death. Nitrate-contaminated drinking water can increase the risk of methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome), and high levels of nitrate contamination have been linked to spontaneous abortions.
* WORKER SAFETY
On average, 25% of factory farm workers suffer job-related injuries and/or illnesses each year-the highest rate of any job in the country. At high concentrations, methane and/or carbon dioxide can displace enough oxygen to suffocate a worker; hydrogen sulfide can result in unconsciousness, respiratory failure, and death within minutes; and ammonia causes severe irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs and can also be fatal.
* SUSTAINABILITY / WORLD HUNGER
Livestock are simply not efficient converters of protein-it takes 17 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef. As the meat industry devotes more and more grain to feeding livestock, valuable food resources are diverted from the hungry, contributing to food scarcity for the world's poor, particularly in developing countries. An astounding 70% of U.S. grain and soybeans are fed to livestock. If Americans were to reduce their beef consumption by only 5%, it would free up the 12 million tons of grain needed to adequately feed every single person on the planet who dies from hunger or hunger-related diseases annually.
The Food Revelation, by John Robbins
Diet For A New America, by John Robbins
Hope's Edge, by Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe
Earthsave - www.earthsave.org
Natural Resources Defense Council: www.nrdc.org