Written 3:44 AM May 16, 1997 by firstname.lastname@example.org in igc:pna.news
Food Versus Feed
A PNA dispatch
archives: October 1996
Food Versus Feed
How livestock threaten the planet and what you can do to stop it
Just about every day, another McDonald's or Burger King joint opens up
somewhere on the planet. And an increasing number of kids have either eaten
a Big Mac or are dreaming they can one day afford it. But few people
realize that this new, worldwide craze for red meat in the shape of burgers
or steak is directly related to many of the world's environmental problems.
During this century a fundamental shift in the way we farm has taken place
- a change from cultivating food grain to feed grain. This shift is caused
by the change in Western eating habits to ever-increasing animal product
consumption - a shift enabled by the industrialization and mechanization of
farming practices. This shift is now gradually turning the rest of the planet's
population from being primarily vegetarians to becoming carnivores.
For example, about one-third of the world's total grain harvest is fed to
livestock while 1.3 billion people suffer from chronic hunger and
malnutrition and 40-60 million people die each year from hunger and related
diseases. In the U.S, where people eat more meat than in any other country
in the world, cattle and other livestock consume over 70 percent of all
grain produced. And what about U.S. grain exports? Sixty-six percent of all
grain exports goes to feed livestock rather than hungry people.
Jeremy Rifkin, author of Beyond Beef says that, "It seems disingenuous for
the intellectual elite of the first world to dwell on the subject of too
many babies being born in the second and third-world nations while
virtually ignoring the overpopulation of cattle and the realities of a food
chain that robs the poor of sustenance to feed the rich a steady diet of
grain-fed meat." Rifkin refers to the millions of acres of land in poor,
non-industrialized countries that are being used solely for grain
production for European or American livestock consumption. In 1984, for
example, when thousands of Ethiopians were dying daily from famine, the
country continued growing and shipping millions of dollars' worth of
livestock feed to the UK and other European nations.
Topsoil depletion has been the cause for the demise of many great
civilizations. It is believed, for example, that the Sumerian civilization
was partly destroyed because of desertification due to topsoil depletion.
Today in the U.S., 85 percent of the topsoil lost from cropland, pasture,
rangeland and forest land is directly associated with raising livestock.
According to Alan Durning of the WorldWatch Institute, it costs about 35
pounds of eroded topsoil to produce one pound of feedlot steak. To
replenish the lost soil, however, is not easy. Scientists believe it takes
between 200 and 1,000 years to create one inch of topsoil under natural
conditions. It is estimated that the direct and indirect costs of soil
erosion in the U.S. alone exceed $44 billion a year.
The United Nations Environmental Program defines desertification as
"impoverishment of arid, semi-arid, and sub-arid ecosystems by the impact
of man's activities." This process leads to reduced productivity of
desirable plants, alterations in the biomass and in the diversity of life
forms, accelerated soil degradation, and increased hazards for human
According to the New Scientist, cattle production is the primary factor in
all five causes of desertification: overgrazing of livestock,
overcultivation of the land, improper irrigation, deforestation, and
prevention of reforestation.
Reduced Fresh Water Supply
Few people in the Western United States, where water rationing is quite
common, realize the direct connection between dwindling water supplies and
the ever-growing consumption of fast-food meat. However, the link is clear:
70 percent of all water consumed in the U.S. is used to grow feed and
provide drinking water for cattle and other livestock such as sheep, goats,
Reports by the General Accounting Office, the Rand Corporation, and the
Water Resources Council have concluded that current water use practises
threaten to undermine the economies of 17 western states.
The link between pollution and industry is common knowledge, but is there
one between pollution and farming as well? Yes, unfortunately there is. It
is estimated that cattle and other livestock account for twice the amount
of pollutants as from all U.S. industrial sources.
The nitrogen from cattle wastes is converted into ammonia and nitrates and
leaches into ground- and surface water, where it pollutes wells, rivers,
and streams, contaminating drinking water and killing aquatic life. Manure
nitrogen also escapes into the air as gaseous ammonia, a pollutant that
causes acid rain and other forms of acid deposition. The organic waste
generated by a typical 10,000-head feedlot is equivalent to the human waste
generated in a city of 110,000 people.
Oil is used in the livestock industries for fuel for transport and
tractors, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides; so much, in fact, that
animal products could be considered petroleum by-products.
To produce one calorie of protein from beef takes 78 calories of fossil
fuel. To produce one calorie of protein from soybeans take two calories of
It is estimated that 61 percent of all herbicides used in the United States
are sprayed on corn and soybeans, which are used primarily as feed for
cattle and other livestock.
Meat is the major source of pesticide residues in the Western diet. Of the
10 foods most likely to cause cancer from pesticide residues, beef is
Since 1960, more than 25 percent of Central American rainforests have been
cleared to create pastureland for the beef industry. By the late 1970s,
two-thirds of all agricultural land in Central America was utilized for
livestock, which was destined for consumption in American fast-food
restaurants and at dinner tables.
While considering all the above facts, the popular 60s and 70s slogan -
"The personal is political!" - takes on a whole new meaning. Just think
about it - One of the most politically radical acts to do today is to
become a vegetarian!
Rifkin, Jeremy, Beyond Beef, Dutton, 1992
Durning, Alan and Holly Brough, WorldWatch paper #103, 1991
Robbins, John, Diet for a New America, Stillpoint, 1987
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