Here’s the truth: Consumption of animal products is unsustainable.
But, but, but…grass fed, free range, small family-owned farms…
Nope. None of it. The addition of sustainable, by any term, to a package of meat or dairy is simply a marketing ploy. People want to feel good about themselves, they don’t want to feel guilty. Especially if they, like most people, consider themselves to be ‘conscious’ or ‘ethical’ consumers. The industry knows this and so with the use of clever packaging and romantic farm animal pictures, they continue to sell you cruelty and line their pockets with your dollars (the only part of the process that’s green).
Factory farming is the worst of the worst in terms of sustainability and animal cruelty. 98% of the meat, milk, and eggs sold in America comes from animals raised on factory farms (CAFOs).**** CAFOs (concentrated animal feed operations) are animal hell. Cows are packed by the thousands into small caged lots, they are not allowed to move around (so as not to burn calories and get fat as fast as possible), they spend their days eating corn and defecating and urinating where they stand. Cows are the worst producers of methane via belches and farts. Methane is a greenhouse gas 21x more powerful than carbon dioxide* and stays in the ozone longer than CO2.
“Trying to regulate climate change without touching the meat industry is like trying to curb the obesity crisis without confronting, well, the meat industry.” -Neal Barnard, M.D.*
Cows are forced to eat corn, which is not their natural diet of grass. This results in e.Coli (see Food, Inc.). Cows are kept alive on a cocktail of antibiotics to keep infections and disease at bay, resulting in antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”, they are also injected with hormones to grow bigger, faster. A single bite of beef contains: hormones, antibiotics, bacteria, and feces. There are only 60 major meat packing corporations in the U.S. who slaughter and produce 26 billion pounds of beef annually so every hamburger you eat contains parts from hundreds of different cows (many of them sick and diseased) all ground together.
For dairy cows, the suffering might be considered worse because they have to endure it longer as well as have baby after baby ripped away from them during their lifetime. First, consuming cow’s milk is highly unnatural. Cow’s milk is a fatty, hormonal secretion designed to grow a 65lb. calf to a 700lb. cow in a year. Cow’s milk contains huge quantities of the hormone estrogen because the mama cow was pregnant resulting in yet another danger of consuming milk (Hello early puberty). People need to realize that dairy cows don’t naturally keep producing milk. Like humans, they lactate after pregnancy to feed their babies! In order to keep the cash cows pumping, the dairy industry artificially inseminates and manipulates cows to be continually pregnant and produce thousands of extra gallons of milk more than she regularly would! Over time, this increased strain results in the cows’ udders becoming painfully enlarged. Their udders drag on the ground and become infected (mastitis) due to fecal matter and bacteria contamination.*** When their udders are hooked to the machines that pump milk, the feces and blood from her sores also gets into the liquid. (Not to mention the hormones and antibiotics!)
When the dairy cow no longer produces milk, she is sent to be slaughtered for meat. All the babies she had in her lifetime were ripped from her within a day or two. If they were males, they were sold and slaughtered for veal, or raised and slaughtered for beef. If they were female, they met the same fate as their mothers.
Naturally cows live into their late teens or about 20 years. On a “sustainable” family farm, cows are slaughtered at 23 months. Dairy cows are killed after 4 years.
Pigs and poultry aren’t treated any better. Chickens are squashed together in tiny cages. Their beaks are often cut (very painfully) which can result in infections. Their feet get cut from standing on the wire caging and they might even smother to death because of overcrowding. They are forced to grow so large so fast that their legs aren’t strong enough to hold them up when they near their peak weight. Meet-breed chickens are slaughtered at 42 days old. Egg-breed chickens are slaughtered at 18-20 months. We’ve all seen the footage of male baby chicks being ground up alive…they are useless to egg producers and get turned into chicken nuggets.
The pigs…we can’t even do it the justice of calling the meat “pig” we have to call it pork, ham, bacon…they are fattened and slaughtered at just 7 months. Naturally, a pig can live over a decade. Pigs are intelligent, playful, and many people keep them as companion animals (pets)…I want to rescue one myself as soon as I am able to. When a female pig gives birth, her babies aren’t even allowed to suckle next to her….she’s in a cage and they reach her through the wire.
Globally, about 56 billion animals are slaughtered for food every year not including seafood (UN Food and Agriculture Org.). Every second, 1776 animals are killed.**
- 15lbs. of grain= 1lb. of beef**
- 3lbs. of grain= 1lb. of pork*
15 lbs. of grain could feed 10+ people for a day. 1 lb. of beef feeds four for dinner! Which sounds more economical and sustainable to you? There are 1 billion people who go hungry everyday on this planet. If we stopped planting 2/3 of our available agricultural land to crops that feed farm animals and instead redirected our resources to plant food for humans, we could feed 12-13 billion people.
82% of the world’s starving children live in countries where grain is grown to feed animals consumed by wealthier people.
As well, globally the meat and dairy industries use 1/3 of all the fresh water available in the world today! 1 in 6 people (1.1 billion) currently go without access to fresh drinking water.
Does such a thing even exist? First, intentional slaughter of animals is an example of speciesism when we value some members of a species above others. There is nothing ethical about slaughtering and eating cows, pigs, and chickens without batting an eye…”humane” death is still death. ‘Grass-fed’, ‘Family-owned’, ‘free-range’, ‘ethical’, are even more unsustainable than the cruel practices of factory farming.
All alternative methods of raising farm animals are more time intensive and resource intensive. All the environmental problems and health ills caused by conventional animal agriculture still occurs with alternative methods of meat production: waste of land, waste of water, production of greenhouse gases, and animal suffering (they are still slaughtered). “Beef per pound still has an extremely unsustainable carbon footprint and uses an inordinate amount of water. No ethical meat will be good for the environment.”*****
Breeding and raising animals only to kill them and end their life prematurely is still morally wrong.
For the final nail in the coffin: ethical meat is expensive. If the govt. stopped subsidizing the grain we feed to the animals then conventional meat and dairy prices would skyrocket. Suddenly, the argument that a vegan diet is expensive doesn’t seem to hold water.
- Factory farmed animal products are the result of suffering and only persist due to consumer demand (misinformed or uneducated) and profitability.
- Meat is artificially cheap. Where has our moral code gone if we have forgotten that all life is priceless?
- Ethical meat is an unsustainable ideal that is still environmentally destructive and morally wrong.
- Go vegan. You’ll be happier living in alignment with your values.
* Barnard, Neal, M.D. Huffington Post Green Blog, “Cows–Not Coal–Are the Real Climate Change Culprits”, updated August 25, 2014.
**Moby. Huffington Post The World Post, “Save the Humans“, updated Sept. 30, 2014.
***Pierre, John. Mind Body Green, “The Sour Facts About Milk: What Every Parent Needs to Know“, Sept. 19, 2013.
****Doane, Beth. Living Green Magazine, “How Cows Kill Rainforests: The Flip-Side of An All-Beef Patty“, Feb. 07, 2013.
*****Chituc, Vlad. TIME blog, “The Case Against Eating Ethically-Raised Meat“, Oct. 2, 2014.