Guest Columnist #58 - Beyond The Animals

By Mark Osmond

    Okay, we have all been exposed to the animal rights activists' speeches and/or writings that try to persuade us to go vegetarian and vegan. Most of us have heard how many animals die a second (I believe it's 220) due to human consumption. You're probably bored to death of all that stuff, pretend to be into it, don't give a shit about it, or are really into it. Well, in this little piece of writing I'm going to bring up some less talked about issues that the consumption of animal products (especially beef) are responsible for. The topics I'm going to expose are more important, in my opinion. Reading this you will find how animal consumption affects your health, world hunger, and the environment.

    Let's first discuss your health. To start things off I'm going to get a myth out of your head that your teacher or mom might have implanted into your brain as a youngster. If you decided to go vegan your first worry might be "how can I get enough protein?" Don't worry about that. You only need about 20 to 40 grams of protein a day. You could easily get enough protein by eating nothing but the common potato, "Getting enough protein" is just something the dairy and meat industries drilled into our heads through health charts, while in elementary school. In fact, the average American consumes way too much protein (90 to 120 grams a day). Too much protein results in Osteoporosis (a bone loss disease that elderly people get). Even though you may have been taught getting a lot of calcium can prevent it, it doesn't if your protein intake is too high. Regardless of how much calcium we take in, the more protein in the diet, the more calcium we lose. By going vegan you cut the percentage of bone loss roughly in half. For men it goes from a 7% (average meat eater) bone loss to a 3% (average vegan) bone loss. For women it goes from 35% (average meat eater) bone loss to 18% (average vegan) bone loss.
    The more animal protein specific populations consume, the higher their rates are of getting various diseases. Heart Disease is accountable for nearly half the deaths in the US. Meat caters have seventeen times the death rate from heart disease than vegans do. The high heart disease rate in meat caters is due to saturated fat (solid fat; for instance the white streak found in ham). For example, about a quarter of the calories in a hamburger are from saturated fat. That is very high. Saturated fats turn into cholesterol, which can clog your arteries and make it difficult for blood to flow through the body. Saturated fat is rarely in plant fats. This explains the low Heart Disease rate in vegans.
    Cancer is a dreaded disease that can invade almost any organ in our bodies. Usually exposure to radiation or exposure to carcinogen (a hazardous chemical or another factor that causes cancer) start the disease. However, a high-fat diet is a cancer promoter, stimulating more cancers to develop and to develop sooner. This means the more fat you consume the greater your risk is of getting cancer, the sooner you'll probably get it, and the worse it will be. In summary, the vegan diet helps prevent getting cancer in two ways (1) you eat less of what encourages cancer: dietary fat and (2) you get more of what reduces cancer risks: vitamins, minerals, fibers, and compounds such as carotene (which is found in carrots, tomatoes, and cantaloupe).
    An obvious advantage of going vegan is you can keep a thin body easily. Plant foods are high in fiber, which fills you up faster when eating. On a vegan diet you arc therefore less tempted to eat more than you need. Plant foods are also low in fat, In a low fat diet it is difficult for the body to produce fat, so therefore you do not get over weight easily. Plant foods are also low in calories (units of food energy). If your caloric intake is low enough (which it probably will be if you are a vegan), you will bum off your excess calories easily throughout the day.
    What you choose to eat affects your overall life span greatly. A diet loaded with fat-saturated and unsaturated-leads to serious health problems, which obviously affects your life span. In fact, the average vegan lives six years longer than the average meat eater. This means for every minute you eat meat you take 12 minutes off your life.

     All of us have driven by a farm at one point in our lives (I would think). Most of us have probably never questioned where all the food goes and to whom it is fed. We probably just assumed it was fed to everyday American people. Well, most of it isn't. More than half of the US's agriculture acreage is used to grow food for livestock. Similar patterns can be seen throughout the world. So now you might be thinking, "Oh, so the crops get fed to livestock and then we eat the livestock, so it's just like we're eating the crops." Wouldn't it be nice if it was that simple? Well, it's not. It takes sixteen pounds of grain to produce one pound of eatable beef and it only takes one pound of grain to bake one pound of bread. This means we only get 6% of the grain we put into the cow out of it. Look at all this food being wasted to fatten livestock and the livestock industries pocket.

    Let's take a look at how the consumption of meat contributes to world hunger. The US exports tons of grain each year to third world countries. We're pretty generous aren't we? Well, maybe to the livestock. Two thirds of the grain we export goes to feed livestock, not humans. The poor people in countries such as Guatemala and Costa Rica cannot afford to buy meat so they go hungry. Malnutrition is so widespread in some of these countries that babies have a 50:50 chance of living to be four years old.  All of this starvation and malnutrition continues even though the livestock population of the US today alone consumes enough grain and soybeans to feed more than five times the entire world population.  The beef raised in these countries (Latin America) is shipped back to the US because we can afford it and they can't. For example instance, every year Guatemala exports forty million pounds of meat to the US.
    We could fairly easily end world hunger. If Americans reduced their meat consumption by only ten percent, enough grain could be saved to feed sixty million people. That number is very close to the number of people who die of world hunger every year, Let's say the American masses became aware of this information, grew a conscious, and decided to cut back on the amount of meat they consume world hunger obviously just wouldn't end. We would still have to face some economic, social, and political realities, but we would be a step closer to it ending.

    Fresh water, which was once a seemingly abundant resource, is now running short in many regions throughout the globe. It is a big problem in East Africa where six out of seven countries in the region are expected to encounter severe water shortages by the end of the current decade. All five North African countries are also in trouble. They are predicted to experience water droughts before the end of the century. Water tables in Mexico and in southern India are also falling steadily.
    Seventy percent of all water consumed is used to feed agriculture (to grow food and for them to drink). Currently 15% of the world's cropland (670 million acres) is under irritation, requiring almost 4 trillion cubic yards of water per year. Now remember, cattle consume most of the crops grown. To produce only a pound of grain-fed steak requires 100 gallons of water to irrigate the crops consumed by the steer. Food economist Frances Moore Lappe notes that "the water used to produce just 10 pounds of steak equals the household consumption of [her] family for an entire year." According to David Pimentel, it requires up to fifteen times as much water to produce a pound of beef protein than it does a pound of vegetable protein.
    Ranchers are tapping water from non-renewable underground water reserves, like the Ogallala aquifer. The Ogallala is three times the size of New York state, but since nearly half of the grain-fed cattle in the US (which are chiefly located in the western or mid-western states) rely on this single aquifer it is half way depleted in some states. In the last forty years a total of 120 cubic miles of water have been tapped from the Ogallala. In California, where 42% of the irrigation water goes to produce food or drinking water for cattle and other livestock, water tables have fallen so low that the earth is actually sinking in. Some 5,000 square miles of the San Joaquin Valley have sunk due to water being pumped out at a tremendous rate.
     Farmers are being encouraged by the federal government to pump all the water they want. In the past ninety years, the government has sponsored "thirty-two irrigation projects in seventeen states where 20% of the acreage is now irrigated with the help of the government subsidies." The government is so generous that even the cost of purchasing drilling equipment and sinking wells is tax-deductible. Isn't that sweet? There was one incident in Colorado where the government financed a $500 million irrigation plan to help farmers grow crops for livestock feed. The government even lowers the cost of delivering water for the farmers, By giving them a 87.5% discount.

    Land is being wasted and trees are being cut down to hold livestock in captivity just so rich humans can cat meat. To feed one vegan for a year requires only one half acre of land, To feed one meat eater for a year requires three and three quarter acres of land! That means a meat eater uses more than six times as much farm land than a vegan. Here's some interesting facts. On one acre of land: 40,000 pounds of potatoes can be grown, 40,000 pounds of onions can be grown, 30,000 pounds of carrots can be grown, 50,000 pounds of tomatoes can be grown, 60,000 pounds of celery can be grown, and only 250 pounds of beef can be produced. Look at how much land is being wasted!
    A saddening example of the environmental damage due to the beef industry can be seen in Latin America. Since 1960 more than 25% of the forests in Central America have been cleared to create pasture land for grazing cattle. Frances Moore Lappe describes the procedure: "Gargantuan 35-ton D-9s mounted with angle plows weighing 2,500 pounds each ... bulldoze the forests at 2,700 yards an hour uprooting everything in sight." Doesn't that sound like a pleasant sight? In Costa Rica , the upper class cleared and enclosed 80% of the tropical forests in just 20 years, turning half of the country's cultivable land into cattle pastures to hold 2 million cattle. Only two thousand wealthy families own half of the productive land in Costa Rica. In Guatemala less than 3% of the population owns 70% of the agricultural land, most of it is used for cattle ranching. Nearly one third of Guatemala's produced beef is sent to the US. In Honduras, over 60% of the land is used to hold cattle. In that same country 62,000 metric tons of beef were produced in 1980. About one third of the beef produced in Honduras is sent to the US. In Mexico, 37 million acres of forests have been destroyed since 1987 to (you guessed it) provide more land for grazing cattle. The pattern of deforestation, land concentration, and displacement of peasant populations is being repeated throughout Latin America in a systematic effort to turn an entire continental landmass into a huge grazing land to support the beef diets of rich Latin Americans, Europeans, Americans, and Japanese.
    Brazil has been greatly affected by large-scale cattle ranching. In 1966 the government created a program called Operation Amazonia, designed to transform the world's last great rain forest (the Amazon) into financially productive land. The government provided special tax rates to encourage corporations to invest in the Amazon. Overnight American, European, and Japanese multinational companies flocked the Amazon, clearing forests primarily for grazing land for cattle. Between 1966 and 1983, nearly 40,000 square miles of Amazon forests were cleared for commercial development. The Brazilian government estimated that 38% of the forests cleared during that time were due to large-scale cattle developments. Presently, millions of cattle are grazing on the now deceased areas of the Amazon. The unfortunate irony is that the land massively being cleared to hold cattle is riot fit to do it's task. The soil base in a tropical ecosystem is very thin and contains few nutrients. So after just a few years (usually three to five) the soil is depleted, forcing the cattle ranchers to clear more virgin land.
    We need the rain forests. In these amazingly complex ancient forests over 50% of all living species dwell. In a tropical rain forest bordering Panama and Costa Rica over 500 species of birds were sighted in just a 300 mile square area, According to a study prepared by the National Academy of Sciences, a four-square-mile section of rain forest contains: "as many as 1,500 species of flowering plants and as many as 750 species of trees; such a patch also contains 125 mammal species, 400 species of birds, 100 of reptiles, 60 of amphibians, and 150 of butterflies," The National Academy also reported that two and a half acres may contain over 42,000 different insect species.
    Many of the things we, as humans, utilize are also found in the rain forest. Nearly a quarter of all medications and pharmaceuticals are derived from tropical plants. Seventy percent of all plants the National Cancer Institute identified as having anti-cancer properties come from tropical rain forests. These tropical forests also contain natural rubbers, latex, resins, gums, dyes, waxes, and oils that are used in industrial materials and as chemical bases for products in everything from deodorant and lipstick to cellophane and furniture polish. Despite all of the biological loss the multinational corporations, national governments, and cattle ranchers continue to plow and bum down the most complex and important brand of forests that exist.
    Only 2,000 years ago rain forests covered 12% of the earth's surface and covered five billion acres. In the past 2,000 years we have destroyed half of the biomass, most of the destruction took place in the last two centuries during the European expansion. Fifty seven percent of the remaining forest is located in the steadily shrinking Amazon.

    Unfortunately, the beef industry does more damage to the environment than just destroying the rain forests. They also play a role in the releasing of green house gasses into the atmosphere. In 1987, the burning of fossil fuels accounted for two-thirds of the 8.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The other one-third came from the burning of earth's biomass (trees, plants, etc.). The beef industry plays a large role in both of these forms of pollution.
    Plants take in carbon during the process of photosynthesis. When they die or are burned they release their stored carbon back into the atmosphere. The Amazon forest holds about 75 billion tons of carbon in its' trees alone. So when they are burned in enormous proportions, mass amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere. in 1987 (during the peak of the burning of the Amazon) 1.2 billion tons of carbon were discharged solely from the burning of the Amazon. The burning of tropical rain forests, the scorching of grazing lands, and the burning of agricultural wastes all release tremendous amounts of carbon into the air. The beef industry seems to like doing all three.
    The beef industry also plays a large role in the burning of fossil fuels. Today it takes one gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of grain-fed beef. To meet the needs of the average American family 260 gallons of gasoline must be burned a year. When 260 gallons of fuel are burned 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere (that's how much carbon the average vehicle gives off in six months).
    The use of petrochemical fertilizers, which are sprayed on grain feed for cattle, emit nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas. There has been a great increase in the use of chemical fertilizers from 1950 to 1989. In 1950 14 million tons of fertilizers were used and in 1989 143 million tons were used. Now nitrous oxide released from fertilizers and other chemicals account for 6% of the global warming effect.
    Lastly, cattle emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Methane emissions are responsible for 18% of the global warming trend. A methane molecule can trap 25 times as much sun light than a carbon dioxide molecule can, Scientists are predicting that methane will become the primary global warming gas within 50 years and the cattle aren't helping things. The world's 1.3 billion cattle are responsible for emitting 60 million tons or 12% of the total methane released into the atmosphere.
     Let's take a look at how global warming will effect the future of this planet. Scientists are now predicting a 4 to 9 degree rise in the earth’s surface temperature over the next fifty years, They are also predicting a 3 to 5 feet rise in the sea level also over the next 50 years. If polar ice caps melt it could be even higher. If this happens ocean salt water will invade the coastal regions and contaminate the already scarce drinking water for millions of people. Islands, such as the Caribbean would be submerged by ocean water. Global warming will also shift rainfall patterns, which will cause rivers, lakes, and dams to begin to dry up. Wild life is also in trouble, because according to Richard Akerr "each degree centigrade of warming pushes climatic zones 100 to 150 km. [60 to 95 miles] northward." Forests,, insects, microbes, and animals will be trapped by these shifts in climate and be forced to bite the dust. All of the present-day buildings, bridges, dams, roads, sewer systems, canals, and machinery will not be able to be utilized a hundred years from now, because they are all based around our present-day ecosystem, which is steadily changing.

    Cattle are a major cause of desertification, which is defined as "impoverishment of and ecosystems by the impact of man's activities. This process leads to reduced productivity of plants, soil degradation, and alternations in the biomass and diversity of life forms." Desertification is caused by the overgrazing of livestock, over cultivation of land, deforestation, and insufficient irrigation techniques. Today 29% of earth's land mass suffers from desertification to a certain extent. Each year 1.5 million acres of land around the globe are lost to desertification. Desertification also leads to farming families being forced off their infertile land into urban slums. By the end of the century over half of humanity will live in urban areas.
    Presently, there are over a billion cattle overgrazing on grass, stripping the vegetative cover from the earth's grasslands and making them vulnerable to water and wind erosion. In the last century, over 60% of the world's range land has been damaged by overgrazing. The millions of acres of crops grown for cattle are also being eroded as farmers try to suck all the nutrients possible from the soil to meet the needs of the growing cattle and human populations. We are currently losing 25 billion tons of topsoil a year and have used up a third of all US topsoil (85% from cattle). It was estimated every pound of feedlot steak uses 35 pounds of topsoil. Topsoil takes 200 to 1,000 years to form. Farmers don't wait for more topsoil to form so they clear more virgin lands, or (in wealthier nations) use artificial petrochemicals to enhance soil, Therefore, much of the world's grain is grown in an oil base. That's probably great for us.
    Cattle's powerful hooves compact soil and stomp down native plants at the pressure of 24 pounds per square inch. When soil is in a compacted state it is difficult to absorb water, which makes it prone to attract flash floods. The, constant pounding of range land interferes with the microworld’s duty of maintaining soil fertility and the creation of more sod. The billions of micro organisms (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae, nematodes, earthworms, insects, and mites) would love to due their duty, but the cattle make it pretty difficulty.

    It's time we move beyond products that cause bad health, starvation (of food and water), and ecocide. There is too much being lost by animal consumption to let this continue. It is possible to reverse all of the devastation that animal consumption causes (even though it is very unlikely to happen before millions more die of starvation and the environment goes into a much worse state), but we can change ourselves and influence others by education. Education is the only way change will come.

All information was derived from: "Beyond Beef" by Jeremy Rifkin (very informative)
'May All Be Fed" by John Robbins (excellent book)
'The Vegetarian Teen" by Dr. Charles A. Salter

—Mark Osmond/ 8364 Washburn/ Goodrich MI 48438
(please note: this address is from 1999 and may no longer be valid - ed)