Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Something You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

Even for those who don't care about the suffering of other species, there's still an overwhelming case to be made against funding the meat industry.

1. Ariable land - the Food and Agriculture Organisation finds that around 90% of deforestation owes to intensive farming and related practices. Livestock production accounts for about 30% of the world's land surface area. Peter Singer (1975) calculates that, if every human ate as much meat as the average American, we'd need 5/3 as much land as the planet can offer. [1] [2] [3]

Free range industries consume more land than intensive industries, acclerating the rate of species extinction. [4]

2. Waste - all animals burn off thermal energy, and so inevitably produce less energy than they consume. For every 8 pounds of protein a pig consumes, it produces 1 pound of protein; for every 21 pounds of protein a calf consumes, it produces 1 pound of protein. [5] [6]

Lester Brown (1974) of the Overseas Development Council estimated that if Americans reduced their meat consumption by 10% it would free up a staggering 12 million tons of edible grain per year - enough to feed 60 million people. Don Paarlberg, a former US secretary of agriculture, claimed that halving the US livestock industry would save enough edible nutrition to feed the nonsocialist developing countries four times over. [7]


Each pound of steak costs the equivalent of 2,500 gallons of freshwater, 5 pounds of grain and a gallon of gasoline. John Robbins (2001) estimated as many as 12,000 gallons of water. More than half of the US water supply is used for livestock. John Farndon (2009) set the figure at 20,000 litres, and estimated that a fifth of the world's freshwater would be needed for a fifth of the human race to eat a quarter-pounder weekly. Meat, more generally, requires about fifty times as much freshwater as the equivalent amount of wheat. [8] [9] [10] [11]

3. Environmental damage - the United Nations (2009) estimated that the livestock industries are responsible for 51% of world greenhouse gas emissions.

An article by the United Nations (2006) asserted: "The livestock sector is...the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, 'dead' zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others."

The local livestock industry accounts for around half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. [12]

4. Economic impact - the meat industry is ridiculously subsidised*. Economist Nick Louth (2008) estimated that by 2030 everybody in the UK would need to be vegan to prevent a recurrence of economic recession as oil stores are further depleted. [13]


5. Effects on the consumer - vegetarians tend to live longer than meat-eaters**. [14] [15]

Nutritionists are with increasing frequency beginning to recommend vegetarianism: Dr. T. Colin Campbell, nutritional researcher at Cornell University and director of the largest epidemiological study to date, states “The vast majority of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented simply by adopting a plant-based diet.”

Many of those who give up meat also report an increase in energy and libido. Vegetarians are less likely to become impotent; Studies have found that meat-eaters rank 13% lower in testosterone than vegans do. [16]

6. Effects on the labourer - the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, annually, nearly one in three slaughterhouse workers suffers from illness or injury, compared to one in 10 workers in other manufacturing jobs. The rate of repetitive stress injury for slaughterhouse employees is 35 times higher than it is for those in other manufacturing jobs.

Multinational Monitor called Tyson Foods one of the world's "Ten Worst Corporations" because it hires people in the U.S. who are too young to work legally; the same year, Decoster Egg Farms appeared on the list. Secretary of Labour (at the time) Robert Reich said "The conditions at this migrant farm site are as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatship we have seen"***. [17]

In conclusion, it is not necessary to debate whether animals "matter" in this nuance of moral discourse; the case can be made purely on philanthropic grounds.


* This argument doesn't stand in the case of large meat exporters, such as the USA and Australia. The American Meat Institute claims that it generates 6% of the country's gross domestic product. However, for each pound of meat exported from one country there is a pound imported to another; and when fuel reserves are so diminished as to hinder world trade, the importers will have to find a way to make do without the meat, and the exporters will have to suffer the drop in revenue. This is already a problem in several countries; intensive-rearing corporations move in, sell their cheaply produced meat at a lower tariff and kill off the local agricultural industry. When the parent countries suffer economic troughs, as in recent years, the client countries are left starving and dependent. [18] [19]

** Of the five studies, only the one by Gary E. Fraser overtly demonstrates a causal link between vegetarianism and lifespan. Similarly, there are a plethora of studies showing correlations between vegetarianism and high intelligence quotients, and between meat consumption and violence toward other humans, but the causal links have not been conclusively established.

*** Another entry on the same list was Smithfield Foods, a hog slaughtering plants, having received the largest Clean Water Act fine to date. Rarely a year goes by without a meat-producing corporation appearing on one of these lists for some atrocity or another. [17]


[1] World Rainforest Movement (1998) - "What are the underlying causes of deforestation?"
[2] Alternet (2009) - "13 breathtaking effects of cutting back on meat"
[3] Peter Singer (1975) - Animal Liberation
[4] Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United States - "Cattle ranching is encroaching on forests in Latin America"
[5] Folke Dovring, Scientific American (Feb 1974).
[6] Frances Moore Lappé (1971), pp.4-11
[7] Boyce Rensberger, New York Times (October 25, 1974)
[8] As calculated by Alan Durning of the Worldwatch Institute.
[9] Science News (March 5, 1988), p153
[10] John Farndon (2009) Do You Think You're Clever? p136
[11] G. Borgstrom (1973) pp.64-65
[12] Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, New Zealand - "Voluntary green house gas reporting feasability study"
[13] Andrew Sullivan (2010) - "Daily Dish"
[14] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition - "Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies"
[15] Gary E. Fraser (2001) - "New Adventist Health Study research noted in Archives of Internal Medicine"
[16] Allen NE (July 2000) - "Hormones and diet"
[17] Multinational Monitor (1997) - "Multinational Monitor's 10 Worst Corporations of the Year"
[18] American Meat Institute - "The United States Meat Industry at a Glance"
[19] Multinational Monitor (2008) - "The System Implodes: The 10 Worst Corporations of 2008"

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