What are the consequences of our preoccupation with choosing meat over vegetable proteins?
Impact on Food Security
Farm animals are forcefully bred often using crude and cruel methods of artificial insemination, to create a much larger population than would normally occur in nature. These animals have to then be fed both food and water for the duration of their lives before they themselves are turned into food. Therefore, in the meat industry, larger amounts of food are used to make smaller amounts of food. As a result, a meat meal takes a lot more resources to produce than a vegetarian meal. This ineffectual process of food production is robbing the world of food instead of supplying it with food. If more people chose vegetarian or vegan food sources and fewer animals were bred for the meat industry, then more food will be available for our starving masses and many a humanitarian crisis could be averted. Instead, according to Farm Sanctuary SA, over 50% of the world’s grain and 71% of the world’s fresh water is fed to animals in the meat industry.
Impact on Environment
Meat production uses more water than crop production alone since the animals (which are bred into existence for the meat industry) have to be fed water and, more significantly, the crops that are used to feed them have to be grown using water. Furthermore, faecal matter from livestock production is polluting our remaining water resources.
According to the United Nations report titled Livestock’s Long Shadow, “In all, livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land and 30% of the land surface of the planet.” It is therefore a key factor in deforestation, soil degradation and loss of biodiverse habitats. At a time when climate change looms as one of humanities’ biggest threats, the report also states that the livestock sector is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is a higher share than for which transport is responsible, as well as 64% of anthropogenic (as a result of the influence of human beings) ammonia emissions which contributes significantly to acid rain and the acidification of ecosystems. The well sited report goes on to state that, “In the United States, with the world’s fourth largest land area, livestock are responsible for an estimated 55% of erosion and sediment, 37% of pesticide use, 50% of antibiotic use, and a third of the loads of Nitrogen and Phosphorous into fresh water resources.”
This extensive report does not cover the impact overfishing has on our underwater eco-systems or the impact of fish farming on chemical and antibiotic pollution. Fishing methods are not selective and as a result predators such as sharks and dolphins are also not immune to the fishing nets. The oceans are not able to multiply its biomass as quickly as we are fishing it, this has a knock on effect on reefs and other ecosystems.
Impact on Health
An article produced by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine references several studies proving the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. It states that vegetarians are 40% less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters. In particular, colon cancer risk can be increased by roughly 300% with the regular consumption of meat products.
Other studies show that low fat, high fibre vegetarian or vegan diets also help prevent heart disease and can even reverse atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) when combined with other interventions. However, heart diets including lean meats, dairy and chicken are much less effective, usually only slowing down the process of atherosclerosis.
Vegetarian diets can also lower blood pressure (within just two weeks of changing diet), prevent and sometimes even reverse diabetes, prevent gallstones, kidney stones and osteoporosis, as well as reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.
Breastfeeding mothers who are vegetarian have been found to have fewer environmental pollutants in their breast milk. The Physicians Committee which combines the expertise of more than 12000 physicians, go so far as to say that, ” A vegetarian menu is life extending.”
Perhaps the most scary part of the meat industry is it’s reliance on antibiotics (used because of the poor conditions animals are kept in), which is arguably causing the spread of antibiotic resistant strains of viruses and bacteria. It is said that 80% of antibiotics in the U.S. are used by the meat industry. As a parent who’s children had to rely on antibiotics in the past, this strikes fear in my heart.
Most farmed animals endure severe forms of suffering including tail docking, castration, debeaking and teeth clipping (all without anaesthetic). These sensitive animals are often kept in extremely overcrowded, poorly ventilated, filthy sheds with no room to even spread their wings. They are then slaughtered at just a fraction of their natural life span or, as in the case of many egg laying hens, they die of sheer exhaustion after being genetically and nutritionally manipulated to lay more eggs than any hen would under natural circumstances. These voiceless creatures, who many believe God entrusted to us, receive little or no compassion as they are forced to endure more than any of us would, for the sake of our cultural norms or individual desires.
All things considered, one cannot help but conclude that the welfare of farmed animals are more closely linked to our own welfare than we would care to admit.