Monday, November 1, 2010

November: Bad News for Carnivores

For those of us who are devoted meat eaters, the news is increasingly bad. A recent New York Times article entitled “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” has made this abundantly clear by comparing the impact of old gas-guzzling vehicles to that of meat eaters. Most of us understand that eating too much meat is bad for us, but we are hearing more and more that it’s bad for the planet, too. However, amid the nasty reports of greenhouse gas, water pollution, and deforestation, there is hope that improved methods and sensible practices may make our meat habit less negatively impactful on the planet… and, if we eat meat in moderate amounts, less negatively impactful on ourselves.

First the bad news. It is estimated by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization that 30 per cent of the world’s ice fee land is directly or indirectly used to produce meat. Furthermore, nearly 20 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gasses are generated by livestock production… that is more than transportation!

Meat production is extremely inefficient: to produce the same number of calories as a kilo of grain, a kilo of meat requires two to five times the amount of grain. In the United States, agriculture (much of it devoted to the production of meat) causes almost 75 per cent of all the water quality issues in that nation’s rivers. (Consider that, according to the New York Times, in the state of Iowa alone, hog factories create 50 million tons of excrement every year!)

And, of course, the connection between heart disease and some cancers and meat consumption has been well established. Furthermore, cattle, pigs, and chickens are fed a diet of hormones to increase their meat production and antibiotics to keep them healthy in factory farm conditions… drugs that find their way into our diet with potentially nasty effect.

The good news is that “it need not be so.” We can make a positive impact on the environment and our own health by choosing what (and how much) meat we choose to eat. First, most of the environmental degradation caused by meat production comes from enormous factory farms. We can insist on buying grass fed beef from grazing animals… but we’d have to eat less of it because gazing cannot produce anywhere near the amount of beef that a factory farm can. And we’d have to pay much more for it. Small scale production from humanely treated animals not only produces higher quality meat, but significantly reduces the environmental damage that raising it causes… but it comes at a cost. Locally, we can source grass fed beef without hormones, antibiotics, grains, or pesticides from CW Acres on Silver St. in Caistor Centre (

Can we reconcile our demand for meat with our concerns for the planet? The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization produced a study called “Livestock’s Long Shadow” in which it says “There are reasons for optimism that the conflicting demands for animal products and environmental services can be reconciled. Both demands are exerted by the same group of people ... the relatively affluent, middle- to high-income class, which is no longer confined to industrialized countries. ... This group of consumers is probably ready to use its growing voice to exert pressure for change and may be willing to absorb the inevitable price increases.”

I wonder if Canadians are ready to break our almost half-pound daily habit of meat consumption for a saner portion… from more humane and sustainable sources… at a higher cost.