To Beef or Not to Beef: The Cattle Industry is Trampling All Over Our Environment

The next time you bite into that double quarter-pounder with cheese, you may want to think twice about it.  Literally though, once for your health and once for Mother Nature dearest.

The livestock and agricultural industry is the single largest producer of methane, one of the biggest contributors to global warming.  In fact, 100 million tons of methane is produced each year by the animal agricultural business alone.

About 85% of the people I’ve talked to, had no idea that eating meat had such a big impact on the environment.  It’s understandable that the general public cannot cease use of all fossil fuels, electricity, and gas-guzzling SUVs, but altering your diet toward a more plant-based focus is both one of the easiest things to do to decrease your carbon footprint, as well as quickest.  You may not be in a position to trade in your car for the latest electric vehicle, but you can be aware of the choices you make at the grocery store.

This blog series is here to provide the public with the information, resources, and alternatives to avoid resorting to the all-too-easy contribution of methane production.  Public Citizen will be providing an informative blog series dedicated to the effects of meat production on the environment with various other focuses throughout this legislative season.  So stay tuned for more juicy details to come!

Graph depicting different Texas agricultural sectors and their percentages

The livestock and cattle industry is responsible for at least 20% of greenhouse gas emissions…that’s more than all of transportation combined! That deliciously marinated beef you are about to consume accounts for 37% of all anthropogenic methane, mostly through a process known as enteric fermentation by ruminants, as well as 65% of all our anthopogenic nitrous oxide.

Now this comes from manure sources too and not just methane folks! To put that into perspective, methane is 20 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide with regard to its weight.  And nitrous oxide is just as guilty.  Nitrous oxide is the cause of ozone pollution as well as the smog in the atmosphere.  It’s a compound complexity on the rise! But we’ll leave the scientific jargon to linger for awhile.

Evidence also suggests that cattle production is the largest sectoral source of water pollutants on the planet.  This is a result from not only the animal waste itself, but also from the fertilizers, pesticides used for feed crops, and antibiotic hormones distributed during the growth process. The list goes on my friends…don’t forget to add the chemicals from the tanneries, and the sediments from the eroded pasturelands.

Livestock production also consumes about 8% of all human sources of water in a world that’s already facing water shortages.  That is quite a list, but that list only pertains to our precious water sources that we are already struggling to maintain sustainably.

In the United States alone, the livestock industry is responsible for 37% of all pesticide use and 50% of all antibiotic use. In addition, livestock also take up about 20% of all terrestrial biomass on Earth–just so we can all enjoy a steak or a burger whenever we please.

As the cattle industry infiltrates approximately 1/4 of our usable landmass, our planet is already struggling, might I add, with the ramifications of overpopulation.  That’s 20% more land space human beings could be occupying if we all weren’t so addicted to that tender, juicy burger sold at the restaurant down the street.

To add to our already pressing overpopulated circumstances, just think of all the natural habitats that the wildlife used to have access to prior to the invasion of those who go “mooooooooo!”  So where do all those animals go, or better yet, where have they gone?

While the entire cattle industry is busy occupying 26% of all territorial land surface, let’s not forget to factor in all the food they eat too!  Crop production of feed crop to feed the livestock requires 1/3 of all Earth’s arable land.  If I remember correctly, we’ve still got millions of starving people in the world who die every day from hunger.  Instead of feeding the impoverished and working toward ending world hunger, we are stuffing our cattle’s faces with all the food they could ever want.  And why? Only so they can get sent to the market nice and plump to eventually only satisfy our own indulgences.

people eating burgers

I don’t know about you all, but all that jazz on the cattle industry is enough to kill my appetite for a juicy steak, and fast too.  But for our more stubborn population who might need a bit more persuasive evidence: the cattle industry is one of the major factors resulting in deforestation and overgrazing of the land as well as soil erosion.

Stay tuned for a later entry to come entirely focused on the cattle industry’s destructive tendencies, especially in areas like South America.  Its impact on our crucial resource, the Amazon Rainforest, will shock you.

The basics concerning the environmental impacts of cattle production with respect to global warming have, for now, been skimmed.  The compound consequences felt by both the environment and your health ought to be enough to turn your head, though.  It has now been established that eating meat is detrimental to our environment, but it is also worthy to note how risky it can be to your own personal health.

Historically speaking, our ancestors never intentionally consumed as much meat as in the present day.  Our nature was that of hunting and gathering, eating meat only when necessary.  The human being was still never intended to eat meat in the amount we currently consume today.  Again, be on the lookout for a blog entry in the future specifically pertaining to the historical progress of humans consumption of meat, it’s a pretty fascinating topic.

But as for now, we’ll stay focused on the health aspect of meat consumption.  Studies have been done that indicate those who eat a vegetarian diet are much healthier than those who consume meat.  As long as vegetarians are adamant about their nutrient intake, they, in fact, have lower cholesterol levels as opposed to the consumer of meat.  This can have drastic impacts on one’s longevity.  Lower cholesterol levels are a result from a lower fat intake, which in turn, decreases the risk of heart disease.

Those who eat meat are also at a higher risk for certain cancers.  For example, evidence suggests that women who consume red meat nearly double their risks of being diagnosed with breast cancer.  Meat contains a substantial amount of saturated fat which is also linked to other circulatory system diseases in addition to heart disease.  17 million Americans are impacted by the effects of heart disease, whether it be a coronary heart attack, or something more acute.

Obesity is on the rise and becoming an epidemic here in the United States, and vegetarians have been proven to have a lower BMI index than those who consume meat products.  Studies also show that in comparison to plants, meats tend to have higher concentration levels of environmental toxins, like mercury, and other pesticide residues.  On another note, meat is processed in plants that have had questionable sanitation methods.  Remember mad cow disease? Well, diseases of food poisoning result from meat consumption rather than from a plant-based diet.  Overuse of antibiotics and hormones is another risk posed when consuming meat.

Cartoon of cows discussing hormone and and antibiotic ingestionIf people aren’t going to admit to the fact that meat production degrades the environment at a devastating rate…then at least they should consider the health of the matter: you put yourself and your well-being at risk.  I’m sure many would agree that that risk isn’t worth the taste of that juicy burger down the street.

As Texans, meat seems to be part of our nature, hardly thinking twice about the consequence it may have.  While halting all consumption of any type of meat immediately is quite the extreme route, there are alternatives to eating meat for every meal.  Going to the grocery store and being more aware of the choices you have as a responsible citizen really can impact the environment in a more positive manner.  Recognizing and acting upon those choices is key…. after all, diet is one of the easiest and most proactive ways a Texan can help alter the implications our planet is currently facing.

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