FEATURE ARTICLE - SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2007, From CoopAmerica.org
Eat Less Meat, Cool the Planet
Enjoy healthier meals that are lower in fat and help minimize the risk of heart disease.
Reduce your personal global warming emissions.
Reducing the amount of animal products in your diet can prevent tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report in February of this year, concluding that livestock is responsible for 18 percent of our world global warming emissions. When you take into account meat’s entire lifecycle, each meat eater is responsible for 1.5 more tons of greenhouse gases than a vegan per year, according to a study by the University of Chicago. Yearly global meat production is projected to more than double from what it was at the turn of the century by 2050, which will only increase the associated global warming gases. One of the quickest ways we can lower our collective greenhouse gas emissions is to eat less meat.
According to The Way We Eat (Rodale, 2006), by Peter Singer and Jim Mason, it takes 13 lbs. of grain to produce one lb. of beef and three lbs. of grain for one lb. of chicken. We save all of those resources and their related emissions by eating that grain directly.The study also took into account that the digestive systems of ruminant animals used for red meat are a main source of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 23 times more warming than carbon dioxide, although it cycles out of the atmosphere in eight years, compared to CO2’s more than 100. Livestock manure is also responsible for 65 percent of nitrous oxide emissions—another greenhouse gas that, while less warming than CO2, persists in the atmosphere even longer. “And the less meat you eat overall, the more lightly you tread on the planet.”
From an animal rights perspective, many livestock animals live in crowded, unsanitary conditions on huge corporate farms bent on maximizing production. But it’s not only the animals that suffer the ill effects of this treatment. Attempting to compensate for the stress the animals are under, factory meat farms often feed animals copious amounts of antibiotics to keep them healthy and promote growth—eight times more antibiotics by volume than humans consume, according to the WorldWatch Institute. The proliferation of antibiotics is breeding antibiotic resistant “supergerms,” resulting in hard-to-treat diseases in humans and animals alike, says the World Health Organization.
The waste runoff from factory farms, which is making our water unhealthy. Compared to pasta production, red meat production results in 17 times the common water pollution and five times the toxic water pollution from waste, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The American Heart Association (AHA) notes that vegetarian and vegan diets tend to be lower in fats and cholesterol than the average US diet. As a result, the AHA says, “Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, and some forms of cancer.
While a vegetarian or vegan diet is the most sustainable option, here’s our take on the labels you’ll see on meat, to help you make better choices: Beef, pork, and poultry that is certified organic comes from animals that have never been fed antibiotics or related drugs, and have been provided 100 percent organic grain—farmed without chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and that does not contain hormones or animal by-products. The USDA oversees the organic label, which is verified by certifying agencies that inspect each farm at least annually. The USDA requires cows and pigs raised organically for their meat to have continuous access the outdoors. However, the agency does allow organic chickens to be confined, without continuous outdoor access.Honor Schauland, a spokesperson for the Organic Consumers’ Association (OCA), says that while many organic farms do provide their animals with plenty of pasture time, some large, corporate operations may not, because the USDA regulation is “somewhat vague.” Organically farmed animals are sent to organic-certified slaughterhouses that may use inhumane killing methods. From an environmental perspective, grass-fed or grass-finished beef is a better option than conventional red meat if it comes from a source you trust—there is no one overseeing the grass-fed label. . The words all-natural on a meat label indicate that the meat contains no artificial color, flavors, or preservatives, or any other synthetic ingredients. The meat animals may have been treated with antibiotics. The USDA regulates this label on meat, and Minowa says it’s also trustworthy. “However, meat with this label could still have trace levels of pesticides, antibiotics, or synthetic hormones, whereas organic meat will not,” he notes. Free-range/free-roaming labels are used mainly for poultry and eggs to indicate that the products came from poultry that had access to the outdoors. However, there are no set standards for what kind of access this is. According to Consumers Union, some “free-range” birds are still kept in cramped quarters, where a door is only opened for a few brief minutes a day. This label is regulated by the USDA for poultry only, not eggs.
If you eat meat, consider trying a vegetarian diet: You’ll have the satisfaction of healthier meals, lowering your personal global warming footprint, and having your diet reflect your social, animal welfare, and environmental values.