Epiphany: The Price of Farming Meat

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Sofia Pineda Ochoa, MD

Note: This communication is not medical or scientific advice. This is my personal opinion, which is based on the information sourced and cited below- sources that I considered to be likely presenting reliable facts or data.

Reusable water bottles. Cloth grocery bags. CFL bulbs. These are some of the ways folks are attempting to “go green” these days, but all of them combined hardly make a dent in helping the planet when compared to the impact a meat-free diet would have. An animal-based diet isn’t just bad for the environment in a single regard; it’s an eco offender on multiple counts. No matter how well intended a meat eater’s recycling efforts may be, when you get right down to it, a mutually exclusive relationship exists between the labels of “carnivore” and “environmentalist”.

You know how some hotels have that card asking you to be a green guest by re-hanging your towel? Well, washing a towel seems rather irrelevant when compared to the six months of showers one could take using the water needed for just one pound of beef (1). And while these places often pride themselves over their swimming pools, going for a dip in one becomes a sobering experience once a person learns that the average cow will go through several of the Olympic variety prior to slaughter (2) (a large part of it is used for grain production to feed the animals).

Another thing hotels do is implement systems that require a room key to turn on the lights. Turning off lights when not in use is an easy way to conserve energy, for sure, but it’s hardly significant compared to the fossil fuel that could be saved if more people chose something other than meat to put the proverbial “meat on their bones”. This is because it takes 11 times the amount of energy to produce a single calorie of animal protein than it does for that same calorie of plant protein (3). It takes the equivalent of a gallon of gas to produce a pound of grain-fed beef in the USA (4).

Speaking of cars, there may be emission restrictions for gas guzzlers of all kinds, but the same can’t be said for the type of emissions that come from a steer’s… erm… rear. Forget pumpkin, pecan or even apple pie. The most popular kind of pie found in the United States is cow pie; raising animals for food in the United States produces roughly 89,000 pounds of manure per second (12). And manure cannot be considered “à la mode”, since it causes runoff and contaminates our waters. Factory farms have been known to spray excess manure into the air to bypass their water pollution limits (7), and hydrogen sulfide — a toxic gas that can cause health problems from flu-like symptoms to death — also gets released into the air because of the massive manure (8).

Regarding climate change, global warming or the greenhouse effect- the uncomfortable truth is that raising animals for food is the worst offender of them all when it comes to methane and nitrous oxide emissions (9). Cattle are just doing what comes naturally, but methane is 20 times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide (10),(11).

Seven hundred million acres are used for grazing in the USA. That is the equivalent of California…seven times over (13). Maintaining this monopoly over the land erodes soil (14), and about 48,000 miles of rivers and streams and 400,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs have been fouled by grazing (15).

Another place where land gets leased for meat is the rainforest. A whopping 70 percent of it has been leveled for grazing (16), and a lot of the remainder goes toward growing grains to feed animals raised for their flesh (17). This is a tremendous waste of resources considering most animals have a grossly unbalanced input-to-output ratio when it comes to food (18). Rainforest destruction also inevitably brands thousands of creatures homeless, or extinct. People should ask themselves if that meat dish is really worth it when it comes at the cost of leveled square feet of rain forest and all of the exotic animals contained therein (20).

When it comes to reasons for not eating meat, the big three nearly always get cited first: cruelty, health, and environment. Not everyone cares about the animal cruelty involved in meat production, while others remain perfectly content about risking their health for hamburgers. However, unlike the previous two motivations, the environmental impact of eating meat is something that cannot be ignored. Our air, land and water are taking a beating, thanks to what most people are eating. It seems incredibly irresponsible to sacrifice our planet for our plates.


1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 18, 19 ‐ People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (n.d.). Meat Production Wastes Natural Resources. Retrieved from http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/meat-wastes-natural-resources.aspx

You save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you do by not showering for six months!

It takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie from animal protein as it does to make one calorie from plant protein.

The massive amounts of excrement produced by these farms emit toxic gases such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia into the air.

When the cesspools holding tons of urine and feces get full, factory farms frequently dodge water pollution limits by spraying liquid manure into the air, creating mists that are carried away by the wind.

Animals raised for food in the U.S. produce far more excrement than the entire U.S. human population, roughly 89,000 pounds per second, all without the benefit of waste-treatment systems.

Raising animals for food is grossly inefficient, because while animals eat large quantities of grain, soybeans, oats, and corn, they only produce comparatively small amounts of meat, dairy products, or eggs in return.

According to Greenpeace, all the wild animals and trees in more than 2.9 million acres of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil were destroyed in the 2004-2005 crop season in order to grow crops that are used to feed chickens and other animals in factory farms.

2 ‐ Group III, E. (2010, July 16). Is Eating Meat Bad For The Environment? Retrieved from http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/is-eating-meat-bad-for-the-environment/

To illustrate, the average beef cow will use about 30 olympic-size swimming pools worth of water before it goes to slaughter.

4, 11 ‐ Worldwatch Institute (July/August 2004). MEAT: Now, It’s Not Personal! World Watch Magazine, 17(4). Retrieved from http://www.worldwatch.org/system/files/EP174A.pdf

It takes the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of grain-fed beef in the United States.

Belching, flatulent livestock emit 16 percent of the world’s annual production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

9, 10 ‐ People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (n.d.). Fight Global Warming by Going Vegetarian. Retrieved from http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/global-warming.aspx

Raising animals for food is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

Scientists report that every pound of methane is more than 20 times as effective as carbon dioxide is at trapping heat in our atmosphere.

16, 17- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department (2006)
Retreived from: http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0612sp1.htm

Expansion of grazing land for livestock is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America: some 70 percent of previously forested land in the Amazon is used as pasture, and feed crops cover a large part of the reminder. About 70 percent of all grazing land in dry areas is considered degraded, mostly because of overgrazing, compaction and erosion attributable to livestock activity.

13, 14, 15 ‐ Environmental Working Group (n.d.). Lifecycle Graphic: Grazing. Retrieved from http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/interactive-graphic/grazing/

700 million acres – seven times the size of California – are devoted to animal grazing in the U.S. Grazing animals erode soil, often pollute nearby streams with manure and constantly release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Livestock manure and soil trampled near stream banks deposit sediment, nutrients and pathogens into waterways, contaminating drinking water and limiting recreational use. Roughly 48,000 miles of rivers and streams and 400,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs are currently fouled by grazing, according to the EPA.

20 ‐ Hackett, J. (n.d.). How does meat consumption contribute to rainforest depletion? Retrieved from http://vegetarian.about.com/od/vegetarianvegan101/f/forestclearcut.htm

For each hamburger that originated from animals raised on rainforest land, approximately 55 square feet of forest have been destroyed.

Photo by: Ian Britton


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