Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Impact of Livestock

With the price of our groceries bills rising due to rising gas prices, how can we change our eating habits to save money.  Well we could eat less, with rising obesity rates across the globe it is evident that maybe humans are eating too much.  Another way we could reduce our grocery bills is by including less meat in our meals.  Meat is consistently the one of the most expensive portion of any grocery bill.  You don't believe me, just take a look at your grocery store!  The majority of the people I know eat meat with every meal and yet it is the most expensive portion of their meal. Not only that but most people usually eat more than the recommended daily servings of meat for every meal.  The price of meat is also rising due to the price of corn rising as well, corn is a major part of livestock diets.

It is recommended to only eat one serving of meat per day, where a serving size is between 65-100 grams.  Most people will eat two strips of bacon (24 grams) for breakfast, deli meat (85 grams) in a sandwich for lunch, and a chicken breast, steak or pork chop (100-200 grams) every dinner.  This means that a typical individual is having on average 210-310 grams of meat every day, over the recommended meat daily serving size by 100-200 grams or 50-100%.  This means that grocery bills are 50-100% higher than they need to.

A single person eating 250 grams of meat per day translates into 90 kilograms of meat a year.  A typical cow weighs 400 kg, only about 35% or 140kg is edible meat.  So this means that every three people consumes approximately two cows worth of meat over a given year.  Now lets say that approximately half of the population of Edmonton eats at this rate, so that is 500,000 people.  The city of Edmonton eating at a rate of 90 kg of meat a year consumes at least 300,000 cattle a year.  This works out to be 2 cows for every 3 people.

Lets take a look at why meat products are so expensive.  Cattle farming typically requires 5.75 acres of land per cow for grazing purposes.  One 400 kg cow requires 120 L of water, 10 kg of hay, and 10 kg of corn products a day to stay healthy.  Cattle typically live for 2 years before they are slaughtered, so that means over a two year lifespan each cow will consume 90,000 L of water, 6,000 kg of hay, and 13,000 kg of corn products.  Based on these numbers in order to feed 500,000 Edmontonians you would have to use enough water to fill 11,571 Olympic sized pools, and farm land equivalent to 7 times the size of Edmonton. 

Livestock such as cattle make up a large portion of our resource usage.  The agriculture industry is responsible for 70% of the worlds total fresh water usage, and up to 50% of the grains produced worldwide are used to feed livestock. 

Comparison of Grazing and Feed Crop Land Required for 250 grams (red), 100 grams (orange), and 50 grams (yellow) of meat per day to the area of Edmonton

Lets look at how this could change if every single person were to at least follow the recommended guideline of only 100 g of meat or one chicken breast per day.  This works out to be 1 cows for every 4 people.  A single person eating 100 grams of meat a day translates into 35 kilograms of meat per year.   This would be a 40% reduction for the majority of peoples eating habits, and would represent a a significant reduction in grocery bills.  Just by eating the recommended daily servings of meat, Edmonton is consuming 170,000 fewer cattle.  In order to feed 500,000 Edmontonians eating the recommended daily servings you would have to use enough water to fill 4,692 Olympic sized pools, and farm land equivalent to 3 times the size of Edmonton. We could reduce our environmental impact by 40% simply by following the recommended daily meat serving size.

It is proven by the millions of vegetarians and vegans worldwide that developed nations do not need to eat meat products in order to survive.  Obviously there are going to be individuals that like the taste of meat, and therefore are reluctant of completely giving it up.  You do not have to eliminate meat from your diets completely, however we should do as much as possible to reduce our meat consumption.  If 500,000 Edmontonians cut their daily meat consumption to half of the recommended daily serving (half a chicken breast), or the recommended servings for 3 days of the week, it would only need 2000 pools and farm land equivalent to the size of Edmonton.  This is works to 8 people for every cow, and would represent a 75% reduction in your grocery bill.  With your savings you could even invest in higher quality meats such as filet Mignon more often.

Livestock require large tracts of land just to allow them to graze and exist.  Farmers allow their cattle to deplete the pastures of grassland, this combined with the heft of the heifers causes soil erosion.  We are depleting our arable land everyday by continuing to raise livestock.  We need to preserve what arable land we have left, since 40% of our arable land has already degraded worldwide. Quite often cattle farms will be located right up to freshwater sources.  The large quantities of manure being excreted by the cattle are allowed to leach into our drinking supplies everyday.  Cattle not require large amounts of water to grow, but they are also poisoning our drinking waters.   The cattle themselves produce green house gasses in the form of methane.  Cattle manure contains high levels of phosphorous, the same harmful substance found in fertilizers.  The large quantities of land being used for livestock is also encroaching on other wildlife habitats.  Rainforest's are also being cleared in order to create grazing lands, and an estimated 70% certain vital life giving forests have been devastated.

Cattle's not only require large amounts of land to roam, but large amounts of land are required to grow the cattle feed as well.  The problem with this is that we are growing grain to feed our cattle in order to feed our selves, where we could be using the land to grow food for the 1 billion starving people worldwide.  We could easily provide the earths population worldwide with enough food to survive.  We cannot however have the whole world consuming meat products at the rate that wealthy nations do.  The corn and hay that is grown in order to sustain livestock also requires large amounts of water, fertilizers, and pesticides.  Fertilizers and pesticides require energy to manufacture and are disrupting the balance of ecosystems, these chemicals also leach into our water supplies.

Depictions of industrial pig factory farms (top), chicken
factory coops (center), and cattle factory farms (bottom).
Photos Courtesy of 

This all depends on the livestock being raised in a humane manner, however it turns out that a new 20th century trend of livestock farming has emerged to meet the levels of consumption.  This new way of livestock farming is called factory farming.  These animals are often only given a few inches to move, as multiple animals are packed into one tiny pen in order to save space and thus money.  Many of these animals never see daylight, and are forced to live in their own defecation.  On top of all this the animals are not respected or well treated by their handlers.  The animals are often killed in plain view of the others,  which is just cruel as these animals feel fear.

These situations are also highly dangerous for the animals in the case of natural disasters such as tornadoes or fires, as the handlers often vacate the premises leaving thousands of animals susceptible and defenseless to the threat. 

One of the reasons that these factories even exist is partly due society having removed itself from the process of having to butcher its own food.  We hire someone else to prepare and package our food, such that a large majority never has to witness the horrors involved with the process.  If we never see or know what happens then it must be ok, right?

Dairy products also put the same strains onto our environment, and if you eat both dairy and meat products you are essentially doubling your impact since the cattle that produce your milk are not the same as the ones providing your meat.  It is recommended that you consume 2 cups or one glass of milk every day.  A healthy cow can produce 30 litres of milk a day, this means that 100 people will consume the milk from one cow in a single day if they follow the recommended dairy consumption and 7000 cattle are required to provide enough dairy for Edmonton. 

Livestock require large amounts of antibiotics to ward off illnesses, which helps facilitate super bugs.  Milk production also requires large amounts of energy to heat the milk in order to pasteurize the milk.   There are also harmful effects from the hormones that are used to allow the livestock to develop bigger and faster as well as the human that ingests the meat.

Livestock farms and the feed crops worldwide are responsible for 8% of total water usage, 26% of total earths land surface, 37% of pesticide use, 33% of phosphorus pollution, 18% of green house gasses, 37% of the worlds methane, 50% of antibiotic use, 66% of ammonia (which causes acid rain), 67% of nitrous oxide.

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