Archive for Environmental Impact

The Environmental Unsustainability of a Meat-Based Diet.

In an article published in the september 2003 edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel examine the comparative environmental impact of the average American meat-based diet and the average American lactoovovegetarian diet (lactoovovegetarians eat dairy and eggs, but no other animal-based foods). They found that the amount of feed grain used to produce the milk and eggs in the vegetarian diet was 450 kg, while the amount of feed grain used to produce the animal products contained in the meat-based diet was almost twice that (816 kg). This explains the difference in the amount of cropland used to produce the food contained in each diet. The vegetarian diet used less than 0.4 ha of cropland, while the meat-based diet used 0.5 ha of cropland. It also explains the difference in the amount of fossil fuel required to produce the food consumed in the vegetarian diet as opposed to the meat-based diet. 25 Calories of fossil fuel are required to produce 1 Calorie of animal protein, while only 2.2 Calories of fossil fuel are needed to produce a Calorie of grain protein. 17 % of fossil fuel used in the US is used for food production.

50 % of the total land in the US is used for food production. And 90% of cropland loses soil at a rate 13 times that which is sustainable. It takes 500 years to replace one inch of lost soil, so farmers are using increasingly large amounts of commercial fertilizers in an attempt to replace lost nutrients. These fertilizers are created using large amounts of fossil fuel, and toxins from them are contaminating the local water and making their way into the ocean. And 85% of fresh water consumed in the US is used for agriculture.

Most Americans claim that they need to eat meat in order to get enough protein. The truth is that the meat based diet contains 112 g of protein per day and the vegetarian diet contains 89 g of protein per day, but the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is only 54 g of protein per day. So even without eating meat, most Americans are getting much more protein than they actually need.

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Water, Water Everywhere

I the past twenty years, a global water shortage has appeared. The shortage is caused by a combination of Global Warming, Population Increase, and an Increase in Water Consumption by the richest 10-15% of the global population (this includes almost every American). Currently, there is not enough fresh water in the world to keep up with demand, and the global poor are loosing out. Water systems are being privatized (sold to corporations), causing prices to go up so much that the same amount of water used by a typical family in a month before now costs as much as the family makes in a month. In other places the water is being bought to make products like soda for export, leaving very little water for the people that live in the area.

So what does the global water shortage have to do with factory farming? According to Waterfootprint.org  the two are closely linked.

  • 1 kg (2.2 lb) of factory farmed beef takes 15500 liters of water to produce and process
  • 1 kg of chicken meat requires 3900 liters of water
  • 1 kg cheese uses 5000 liters of water in its production
  • Just one egg needs 200 liters of water
  • It takes 2400 liters of water to make one hamburger (most of the water goes into making the beef)
  • 1000 liters of water go into making just 1 liter of milk
  • 1 kg of pork uses up 4800 liters of water in its production

Contrast this with just 1300 liters of water per kilogram of barley or wheat, 900 liters per kilogram of potato flakes, 185 liters per 200 gram bag of potato chips, 70 liters per apple, 40 liters per slice of wheat bread, or 1800 liters per kilogram of soybeans, and it’s apparent that meat and other animal products use much more water than any other food type. Simply by cutting back on our meat consumption, especially beef, would greatly reduce the amount of water we use, and if enough people did this, it would significantly decrease the global water shortage.

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