Sunday, January 27, 2008

NY Times article on the Meat Industry and the Environment

This article, "Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler", in today's New York Times is a very interesting read about the effects of the meat industry on the environment. It is written by Mark Bittman, a cookbook author who wrote "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" and prior to that he wrote a well know book on cooking fish.

The article points out many of the pollution problems with the livestock industry including groundwater contamination and the losses of the rain forest in order to make more land to grow grain for meat. I do wish he'd done more than barely mention the UN study that pointed to livestock production as the main contributor to greenhouse gasses. One reason I wanted to post this article is because I have many friends who are environmentalists and worry over ever mile driven and the gas consumption of their cars but never consider that going vegetarian might be the best thing that they can do for the planet. I don't want to be too pushy about this, but the United Nations report says that rearing livestock produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars so I think that going vegetarian should at least be worthy of consideration in the eyes of any environmentalist.

Here are several interesting quotes from the NY times article (but I encourage you to read the article itself):

The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States — much of which now serves the demand for meat — contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year (dairy and eggs are separate, and hardly insignificant), an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago. We each consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein. (The recommended level is itself considered by many dietary experts to be higher than it needs to be.) It’s likely that most of us would do just fine on around 30 grams of protein a day, virtually all of it from plant sources .

Perhaps the best hope for change lies in consumers’ becoming aware of the true costs of industrial meat production. “When you look at environmental problems in the U.S.,” says Professor Eshel, “nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production.

World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050, which one expert, Henning Steinfeld of the United Nations, says is resulting in a “relentless growth in livestock production.”

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