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Problems with Meat

Looking at current meat production systems, what practices REALLY do not work and why?

Farmer in Chief

Michael Pollan, New York Times Magazine (Food and Farming Spokesperson—Sustainability Advocacy)

Subsidized monocultures of grain also led directly to monocultures of animals: since factory farms could buy grain for less than it cost farmers to grow it, they could now fatten animals more cheaply than farmers. So America's meat and dairy animals migrated from farm to feedlot, driving down the price of animal protein to the point where an American can enjoy eating, on average, 190 pounds of meat a year—a half pound every day.

Meat is Murder on the Environment

Daniele Fanelli, New Scientist Magazine (MediaResearch)

A kilogram of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for three hours while leaving all the lights on back home. This is among the findings of a study by Akifumi Ogino of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, which assessed the effects of beef production on global warming, water acidification and eutrophication, and energy consumption.

1995 US Food Systems Flow Commentary and Calculations

Heller & Keoleian, Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan (AcademiaResearch) and Vital Systems (Sustainability Advocacy)

Overall efficiency of producing animal products for US is about 10%.

Daily Red Meat Raises Chances of Dying Early

31041240949757RedMeat.jpgRob Stein, Washington Post (Media—Research—Health)


Paying a Price for Loving Red Meat

New York Times graphic by Yarek Waszul
Yarek Waszul, NY Times

Jane E. Brody, New York Times (Media—Research—Health)

Both the Stein and Brody articles cite the results of a recent National Cancer Institute study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, that evaluated mortality and meat consumption in a group of over a half million people. The bottom line result:


Extrapolated to all Americans in the age group studied, the new findings suggest that over the course of a decade, the deaths of one million men and perhaps half a million women could be prevented just by eating less red and processed meats, according to estimates prepared by Dr. Barry Popkin, who wrote an editorial accompanying the report.

To prevent premature deaths related to red and processed meats, Dr. Popkin suggested in an interview that people should eat a hamburger only once or twice a week instead of every day, a small steak once a week instead of every other day, and a hot dog every month and a half instead of once a week.

Barry Popkin's accompanying article (full version here) expands the meat consumption discussion to the "major repercussions created by the rising animal source food intake on several related global crises linked with water, climate, and energy." Citing just one of the many useful resources Popkin brings together in his article, the recent pivotal FAO report on the global impacts of livestock:

One estimate is that 23% of the world's water goes to livestock use in total; their more conservative marginal additional use for livestock is about 15% of the world's water.

The effect of livestock production on water pollution, however, is far greater. In the United States, livestock production accounts for 55% of the erosion process, 37% of pesticides applied, 50% of antibiotics consumed, and a third of total discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface water.

The Untold Costs of CAFOs

Doug Gurian-Sherman, Union of Concerned Scientists (Sustainability Advocacy—Research)

Hogs in confinement

Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), are changing agriculture across the nation, with the help of $35 billion in taxpayer subsidies of cheap feed grains, such as corn. Over half of food animals are now produced by only five percent of animal operations, with up to tens of thousands of beef cattle or hogs, or hundreds of thousands of chickens in a single facility. UCS finds CAFOs corn-fed meat to be less nutritious than grazing, and eating a grain-based diet has been shown to make animals sick—accounting for 70% of all antibiotics and related drugs used in the US.

The CAFOs present another hazard which our government must clean up—the half billion tons of manure they produce each year—equivalent to having an extra billion people living in the US, but whose wastes are not required to be treated under current law.

Some subsidized pollution cleanup is provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for "lagoons" of liquid manure that leak and seep, contaminating streams and groundwater. Numerous other public health and environmental problems result from this expanding, and insufficiently regulated industrial livestock production process. (Full UCS Report - PDF. See also the related comprehensive report by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production).

Poisoned Waters

FRONTLINE (WGBH Boston) (Media—Sustainability Advocacy)

This documentary, broadcast in April 2009, highlights the contribution of CAFOs to creating dead zones (areas where no living thing can survive) covering as much as 40% of the area of Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the US.

The Ecological Footprint of your Breakfast

Christopher Dey, University of Sydney's Center for Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) (Academia—Research)