by Alex in Toulouse
Wed Jan 25th, 2006 at 08:53:09 PM EST
« Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. » ~Albert Einstein
Welcome to a world in which food revolves so much around meat, that when you lack the money to often buy meat, you're considered barely capable of looking after your family. Welcome to a world in which you can't formally invite people for dinner at your house and serve them only peas and carrots, for you may pass off as a penny picker. Welcome to a world in which the carcasses of breast-feeding and caring mothers are chopped and neatly presented in polysterene packages streaked with marketing slogans written in snazzy colours. Welcome to the meat age. Welcome to a world bent on eating more and more meat.
In France alone, people eat 50% more meat than 50 years ago, 200% more meat than 100 years ago, and 500% more meat than 200 years ago (source). But France is no outstanding culprit, as this trend is not specific to developed nations, as you will see below the fold. Follow me inside for a quick review of the reasons why you shouldn't eat as much meat as you (perhaps) do. Or simply why you should stop eating meat altogether.
1) Meat as a cause of global warming
For starters, some meat-destined animals require land surfaces to graze on, but land surfaces are required to produce the feed required to grow all animals. Increased meat production thus leads to increased deforestation, as that is the simplest way to create more arable land. Deforestation means less carbon sinks, and means more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
As the following graph shows, the more meat people eat, the more land surface needs to be attributed to meet meat-production needs:
Agricultural surface required to feed the entire German population in millions of hectares on left, vs percentage of meat in the average meal on bottom (ps: the dotted line shows all-organic production vs the full line which is regular production, which hints that if you want the world to go all-organic, you'll have to eat less meat ... as organic production rates are lower than industrial ones):
And this is not going to get any better. As mentioned above the fold, the world is consuming more and more meat. Generally speaking, the multiplication ratio from 1961 and forecast up to 2020 of meat production for the entire world, is 4.42, while the multiplication ratio of the world's population forecast over the same period is only 2.61 (3.081 billion in 1961, 8.050 billion expected in 2020). And this trend is valid even for the less meat-friendly countries. Looking at India, a country known not only for its birdy nam-nam, but also for its tendency to venerate cows, the population multiplication ratio for the past 40 years is 2.73, while the meat production multiplication ratio for the same period is 3.5.
(nota bene: I will write a seperate diary on dairy cattle and egg-producing chicken later on, when time allows)
b) Grown animals waste all our crops
But "wait a minute", you'll say ... "why can't we simply replace surfaces currently destined to us humans with surfaces destined to cattle, instead of requiring deforestation"?
For the simple reason that animals grown for meat are wasteful in the sense that many more calories of crop are used to produce one single calorie of meat. You cannot thus substitute the former for the latter. In fact, animals consume 40% of the world's crops, this figure however includes dairy cattle but this element doesn't change the impact. This figure anyhow is an average, in the USA cattle consume 80% of all crops grown. These crops being grown with tools (tractors ...) and products (fertilizers ...) that are part of the carbon cycle, growing more calories from crops then the calories we get from meat logically produces more greenhouse gases.
In this perspective, according to Jean-Marc Jancovici's figures, the "production" of 1 kilogram of veal meat releases more greenhouse gases than driving 100 kilometers in a car. But it's actually far worse, since this is only a "carcass equivalent" as Jancovici calls it. Meaning that this does not include processing, packaging, or transportation gases associated with that kilogram of meat!
Many other things also come into consideration here, but do not necessarily concern global warming. I'm thinking about cattle excretions that pollute water systems, I'm thinking about water in general etc (for example 3000 liters of water are required to produce 160 grams of steak meat, while the same quantity of wheat requires only 72 liters. And since 160g of ground wheat contains 518 calories while a 160g steak only contains 250, you can imagine how insanely wasteful this is.)
Anyhow, to sum it all up for you, the food consumed by all the bovines in the world, yes only the bovines, would feed 8.7 billion human beings, which as you will have noticed, is more than the current population on Earth.
2) Meat as a cause of poor health
a) Humans may not be designed to eat meat
This is still very much open to debate. But the very fact that doubts exist means that there is no way to brush vegetarians away with a sweep of the hand while confidently proclaiming: "I have to eat meat, I'm an omnivore".
Let's look at where the anti-meat camp stands. On the cheap argument side you'll find: "just because you can digest animals does not mean you are supposed to", or "you are not fit to run fast to catch prey, unlike meat-eaters who have fast reflexes ... try catching a chicken to get the idea". On the more serious argument side, you'll find things such as: "our saliva is alkaline and contains ptyalin for predigestion of grains", or that "meat-eating animals have an unlimited capacity to handle saturated fats and cholesterol, unlike us", or on the more behavioural side of things, that "we do not have the instinct to pounce on a bird, nor does the sight of a bird make our mouths water when we are hungry, but we often secrete saliva when we see a bunch of juicy grapes". Etc etc etc
I doubt that I can get much organised structure out of all the things that have been said over the years on this issue, so for now only retain that there is a possibility that mankind may have evolved from hundreds of thousands of years of eating mainly fruits and roots, and that suddenly increasing meat consumption by 500% can't really be something that human anatomy will have had enough time to plan for .... but then again who knows.
b) Link between frequent red meat consumption and colo-rectal cancers and cardio-vascular diseases
The only certain thing for now, is that if you eat meat in unreasonable amounts, you're in for physical trouble. High cholesterol, toxins stored in body fat, a weaker immune system ... the list of grievances is quite long, but not all entries are certified.
For now, only some correlations are more or less established, and they generally concern red meat (and not poultry for example). The first one is the link between red meat consumption and colo-rectal cancers.
As you can see from the following graph, it's tempting to conclude that the more meat you eat, the more at risk of getting colon cancer you stand:
The BBC has often written articles on red meat and health, here is a pair:
Red meat 'cancer threat'
Red meat 'linked to cancer risk'
Ok, you all know this, I'll skip going into detail. Mad cow, foot and mouth, avian flu and what not ... are these caused by the industry's poor standards, or are they unavoidable in farmed animals overfed with anti-biotics?
3) Meat as a tremendous cause of animal suffering
a) Is it really that bad for the animals? What about all those cows that seem to lie around doing nothing all day?
The cows you see roaming around are luckier than some, a good deal of them either belong to small producers and will thus be able to enjoy a longer life outside the pen, or are lucky dairy cows (nota bene: dairy cows in the industrial sector are no better off than their meat-destined counterparts ... they are turned into living contraptions that pour milk, nothing more ... more on this in a seperate diary, later).
As a general rule, the organic industry is generally more conscientious about its treatment of animals. But you already know this. What you may not know is that the European Union has planned, for 2007, the implementation of various laws meant to reduce animal cruelty by limiting industrial animal production (by banning all sorts of practices, from overcrowding pens to regulations on transport). Which is a good step forward. However, this will not be a miracle solution at all, only a beginning. For one, it will not regulate on calves, or veals if you prefer, any further than it did in 1997. The existing regulation will be used (1997 amendment here). So how bad is it for the veals? Well, veals are commonly afflicted with anemia, their diet being intentionally lacking in iron (in order to maintain their meat as white as possible) and fibers. They suffer from chronic diarrhea and pneumonia and are generally (barely) kept alive with antibotics, and calmed with high doses of tranquilizers. After 5 or 6 months spent immobile and in general darkness, they finally emerge to see the sun ... on the day of their slaughter. Just don't eat veal. If you read the 1997 text you'll see that nothing much is going to change for them, oh yeah sure, they'll be allowed to scratch their ears once every ten days, according to regulation B/Z/3200 or whatever ...
Chickens, being less demanding in surface, get the worst fate of all. And the EU's 2007 beef-up will do nothing to make their lives less miserable, albeit perhaps add 2 cm2 of living area per chicken. I'm not talking about the egg-producing ones, again this will be dealt with later. For now let's focus on the meat-destined ones. For starters, chickens can live, under "normal" circumstances, up to 12 years. In the industry, they are killed 5-6 weeks after hatching. The average industrial chicken is grown in an A4-sized area, too small for it to spread its wings. Ulcers are very common in industrial chickens. Which is kind of logical when you consider the amount of stress that they go through. And, as stress leads to agression, young chicks have their beak severed off a few hours after hatching, with a hot blade. This beak-removing operation kills a number of chicks on the spot (heart attack). Selective breeding and various other dubious growth-enhancing discoveries have led chickens to grow faster than ever before ... but at the cost of their organs not keeping apace, leading to various types of cardio-pulmonary problems. Fortunately for them, I guess, they are killed before these problems become unbearable. Their bone structure may not always follow the rythm of growth either, leading to twisted, mangled legs.
In other words, it sucks to be an industrially-grown chicken, or turkey, or canard (duck) or whatever ...
b) But do we really care about chickens, I mean aren't they kind of dumb? Or haven't we made them dumber over the years?
Chickens deserve a lot more credit than they get. I'll just give you these two quotes and a link to make up your own mind:
"Chickens show sophisticated social behavior," Dr. Joy Mench, Professor and Director of the Center for Animal Welfare at the University of California at Davis, "That's what a pecking order is all about. They can recognize more than a hundred other chickens and remember them. They have more than thirty types of vocalizations."
"In no way can these living conditions meet the demands of a complex nervous system designed to form a multitude of memories and make complex decisions."(1)
--Lesley Rogers, Ph.D., on battery cages, author of The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken
c) Hey, I don't kill the animals, they're already dead when they land in my plate
Throughout his life, the average Frenchmen will be directly responsible for the death of approximately 1,500 animals whose rotting flesh will land in his stomach. Yet this number makes no provisions for animals killed outside of slaughterhouses or that die during transportation or during the growing-up cycle.
The following pictures here should give you some insight about how ugly it gets. Besides, have you ever walked near a carcass-disposing center? If you have, then you're familiar with the horrible smell of death that floats around them for sometimes miles around. Ok, here come the pictures, close your eyes if you don't want to feel a shiver running down your spine:
Here is a cow restrained for slaughter:
And here you can see videos of chickens being "brought up" and slaughtered: http://www.chickenindustry.com/cfi/videogallery/ , or alternately watch this one: http://www.cok.net/camp/inv/perdue/video.php
Then you can always read this Washington Post article (PDF): http://www.hfa.org/hot_topic/wash_post.pdf
Meat is the world's Axis of Evil. Eat less meat! If you don't do it for the animals, then at least do it for the climate. Eat less meat!
I now have to write 3 follow-up diaries on:
a) the impact of dairy cattle on the environment, and their treatment in the industry
b) why it's important to only eat fish from pisciculture
c) why not eating meat can kill you when you're an eskimo
In the meantime, in case you're thinking of having a nice & juicy & rotting slice from a cow's muscle: drop that steak and give me twenty! If you can't help it, then you must at least STOP BUYING INDUSTRIAL MEAT! Buy meat from smaller estates, on which chickens roam free and are killed later, on which cows can lie in the grass and go moooooo for a while. At the very least do this. And if you're up to it, try quitting meat, it's really not that hard.
ps: a text in French on the EU's plan regarding farm animal cruelty