Environment  > What's the Beef & Who Pays?


How livestock are Threatening our Planet
EarthSave International 1-800-362-3648

444 NE Ravenna Blvd, # 205; Seattle, WA 98115
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EarthSave International educates, inspires and empowers people to shift toward a diet centered on fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes -- food choices that are healthy for people and the planet.


Despite growing alarm over the enormous and grave problems we face on the global level, scant attention has been paid to one of the prime causes of these problems: the fundamental shift in world agriculture during this century from food grains to feed grains. This shift is caused by the change in Western eating habits to ever-increasing animal product consumption -- a shift enabled by the industrialization and mechanization of farming practices.


Few people understand the extensive and devastating ramifications of this dietary shift. In fact, many of the world's problems are directly related to the heavy toll of modern animal agriculture on the planet.


The data here are a sampling of the growing body of literature based on current research which documents the pivotal role that livestock production plays in a number of global crises.


Not included here is further data about livestock's detrimental effects such as: the economic suffering of small farmers whose livelihoods have been replaced by multinational corporations, the unsanitary and unsafe working conditions of most slaughterhouses, the diseased meats processed by these houses, the inhumane treatment of all the animals, the mechanisms of disease caused by over-consumption of animal products, the shaping of our history by our appetite for animal foods, and other social and economic imbalances.


Our relationship to livestock goes back thousands of years: For example, the root meaning of the Sanskrit and Vedic words for war is "desire for more cows."


Land Usage & Grain Consumption


5.4 billion humans inhabit the Earth along with 1.28 billion cows, whose number has been doubled in the past 40 years. Cattle now outweigh humans by 2 to 1 in terms of total biomass.


There are a total of 4 billion cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, buffaloes and camels and 11 billion fowl. The fowl population has grown from 3 billion to nearly 11 billion since mid-century.


All these animals graze on one-half of the total land mass.


Grain consumption by livestock is growing twice as fast as grain consumption by people.


Cattle and other livestock consume over 70% of all the grain produced in the United States.


About 1/3 of the world's total grain harvest is fed to livestock while 1.3 billion people suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition, and 40-60 million people die each year from hunger and related diseases.


66% of US grain exports goes to feed livestock rather than hungry people.


Millions of acres of land in poor, non-industrialized countries are being used solely for grain production for European livestock consumption.


In 1984 when thousands of people there were dying daily from famine, Ethiopia continued growing and shipping millions of dollars' worth of livestock feed to the United Kingdom and other European nations.


To feed the world's current population an American-style diet would require 2 ½ times as much grain as the world's farmers produce for all purposes.


It seems disingenuous for the intellectual elite of the first world to dwell on the subject of too many babies being born in the second and third world nations while virtually ignoring the overpopulation of cattle and the realities of a food chain that robs the poor of sustenance to feed the rich a steady diet of grain-fed meat.




Disease and Death from Malnutrition or Over-consumption


While millions of human beings go hungry, millions more in the industrialized countries suffer and die from diseases caused by consuming an excess of animal foods which have a high content of protein, fat and cholesterol and absence of fiber.


Despite tremendous advances in medicine and hygiene, Western nations, which consume most of the world's livestock and dairy products (the average American consumes the meat of seven 1100 pound steers in his or her life), have ever-escalating medical costs and much higher incidences of the following diseases than predominantly vegetarian nations:


Arthritis Gallstones Obesity

Asthma Heart Disease Osteoporosis

Breast Cancer Hemorrhoids Peptic Ulcers

Colon Cancer Hypertension Prostate Cancer

Constipation Hypoglycemia Salmonellosis

Diabetes Impotence Strokes

Diverticulosis Kidney Disease Trichinosis


Our present lethargy of acceptance of atherosclerosis and other chronic diseases as inevitable is no longer tolerable in light of current knowledge, which can prevent this and many other diseases of affluence. The present band-aid approach of no red meat and taking the skin off chicken, is a meaningless insult to scholars of nutritive science.


Protein Requirements


Our need for protein is greatest during infancy when our body weight doubles in 8 months. Nature's optimum food for infants is mother's breast milk which contains 5% of its calories as protein. Adults, who are no longer increasing their body mass like an infant, need less than 5% of their calories as protein.


No adult mammal in the wild eats food that contains more protein than its mother's milk. The average Westerner who consumes meat, fish and dairy products gets 3 to 5 times the amount of protein that adult humans need. The human body compensates for this excess, causing physical imbalances which contribute to many of the diseases listed above.


Health Costs


The US national health bill consumes 12% of its Gross National Product and threatens the foundation of medical care as we know it today.


While the US debates about the billions of dollars needed for national health insurance, it ignores the Surgeon General's report that 68% of all deaths are diet related and does little to recommend and support healthy food choices.


If people are falling over the edge of a cliff and sustaining injuries, the problem could be dealt with by stationing ambulances at the bottom, or erecting a fence at the top. Unfortunately, we put far too much effort into the provisioning of ambulances and far too little into the simple approach of erecting fences.




Since 1960 more than 25% of Central American rainforests have been cleared to create pastureland for cattle.


By the late 1970s, two thirds of all the agricultural land in Central America was utilized for livestocks, which was destined for export to North America.


Cattle ranching has destroyed more rainforest in Central America than any other activity.


For every quarter-pound hamburger that comes from a steer raised in Central or South America, approximately 165 pounds of living matter have been destroyed, including some of 20-30 different plant species, perhaps 100 insect species, and dozens of bird, mammal, and reptile species.


While peasant agriculture can often sustain a hundred people per square mile, the average rainforest cattle ranch "employs one person per 2,000 head of cattle and this...amounts at best to one person per twelve square miles." It has been the decision to use the land to create an artificial food chain, the most inequitable in history, that has resulted in misery for hundreds of millions of human beings around the world.


Topsoil Loss


85% of US topsoil lost from cropland, pasture, rangeland and forest land is directly associated with raising live-stock.

Each pound of feedlot steak costs about 35 pounds of eroded topsoil.

An inch of topsoil takes between 200 and 1,000 years to form under natural conditions.

The direct and indirect costs of soil erosion and runoff in the US exceeds $44 billion a year.

Topsoil depletion has been the cause for the demise of many great civilizations.




The United Nations Environmental Program defines desertification as impoverishment of arid, semiarid and subarid ecosystems by the impact of man's activities. This process leads to reduced productivity of desirable plants, alterations in the biomass and in the diversity of life forms, accelerated soil degradation, and increased hazards for human occupancy.


Cattle production is the primary factor in all five causes of desertification: over-grazing of livestock; over-cultivation of the land; improper irrigation techniques; deforestation; and prevention of reforestation.


Each year nearly 1.5 million acres of land around the world are virtually lost to desertification. 52 million more acres become so eroded that they can no longer be grazed or cultivated.


Desertification of the world's rangeland, forests, and fields has spawned the greatest mass migration in world history. By the turn of the century, over half of humanity will live in urban areas.


Dwindling Fresh Water Supplies


50% of all the water consumed in the US is used to grow feed and provide drinking water for cattle and other livestock.

Producing a pound of beef protein often requires up to 15 times more water than producing an equivalent amount of plant protein.

Water tables in the Midwest and Great Plains states are fast being depleted, and shortages are requiring industrial, commercial and residential sectors to fundamentally alter water-use patterns.


Reports by the General Accounting Office, the Rand Corporation, and the Water Resources Council have made it clear that current water use practices threaten to undermine the economies of 17 Western States. These states receive limited precipitation, yet their water supplies could support an economy and population twice their current size. But most of the water goes directly or indirectly to produce livestock.




Cattle and other livestock account for twice the amount of pollutants as come from all US industrial sources.


The organic waste generated by a typical 10,000-head feedlot is equivalent to the human waste generated in a city of 110,000 people.


The nitrogen from cattle wastes is converted into ammonia and nitrates and leaches into ground and surface water, where it pollutes wells, rivers, and streams, contaminating drinking water and killing aquatic life. Nitrates can cause irreversible nervous system impairments, cancer, and "blue baby" syndrome.


Manure nitrogen also escapes into the air as gaseous ammonia, a pollutant that causes acid rain and other forms of acid deposition. The ammonia that the livestock industry discharges into the air is the single largest source of acid deposited on Dutch soils -- doing more damage than the country's cars or factories.




Oil is used in the livestock industries for fuel for transport and tractors, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides; so much, in fact, that animal products could be considered petroleum byproducts.


To produce a pound of grain-fed beef in the US takes the equivalent of one gallon of gasoline.


To produce one calorie of protein from beef takes 78 calories of fossil fuel. To produce one calorie of protein from soybeans takes two calories of fossil fuel.


Global Warming


The grain-fed cattle complex is now a significant factor in the emission of three of the four global warming gases -- carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides and methane.


Carbon Dioxide: Much of the biomass burned in the world today is to support the worldwide cattle-ranching industry. Millions of acres of tropical forests are burned each year, releasing millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Every fast food hamburger made of rainforest beef adds 500 pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from the burning of forests.


The yearly beef requirements of an average family of four meat-eaters requires the expenditure of more than 260 gallons of fossil fuel. When that fuel is burned it releases more than 2.5 tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere -- as much CO2 as the average car emits in 6 months.


Nitrous Oxides: In the past 40 years, the use of chemical fertilizers has increased dramatically: 14 million tons in 1950; 143 million tons in 1989.


Nitrous oxide released from fertilizer and other sources now accounts for 6% of the global warming effect.


US corn fields -- 80% producing live-stock feed -- consume about 40% of the country's nitrogen fertilizer.


Methane: The world's 1.28 billion cattle emit approximately 100 million tons, or 20% of all the methane released into the atmosphere -- about 3% of global warming from all gases.




The proportion of crops lost to pests has increased nearly 20% since chemical pesticides came on the scene after World War II.


61% of all herbicides used in the United States are sprayed on corn and soybeans, which are used primarily as feed for cattle and other livestock.


Meat is the major source of pesticide residues in the Western diet. Of the 10 foods most likely to cause cancer from herbicide residues, beef is number one.


The direct and indirect cost of pesticide use is from $2 to $4 billion per year.


Government Subsides of Livestock


Subsidies and special arrangements for livestock production prevail in many countries, often expanding the efforts to increase profits and consequently worsening the inevitable environmental impact. Subsidies take the form of guaranteed minimum prices, government storage of surpluses, feed and irrigation subsidies, import levies, and product insurance.


In 1990 government programs in the European nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development provided subsidies to animal farmers and feed grower worth $120 billion.


The World Bank lends livestock projects $100 million annually.


The US government subsidizes irrigation water to animal feed growers for $500 million to $1 billion annually. Often the market value of the feed is less than the cost incurred by federal government in providing the water to grow it.


Agriculture programs in Western nations tend to support animal and feed farms more than fruit and vegetable growers -- despite the health guidelines of Western governments advising citizens to eat fewer animal products and more fruits and vegetables.


Are We Willing to make Changes?


Physicians at the First National Conference on the Elimination of Coronary Artery Disease in 1991 agreed resoundingly with nutritionist Colin Campbell, Ph.D., when he said, "Why must we be reticent about recommending a diet which we know is safe and healthy? We, as scientists, can no longer take the attitude that the public cannot benefit from information they are not ready for. I personally have great faith in the public. We must tell them that a diet of stems, seeds, flowers, fruit and leaves is the healthiest diet and the only diet we can promote, endorse and recommend!"


People everywhere can help restore animal agriculture to sustainability by changing their diets. Personal habits, just as national policies, can shift dramatically when enough people say "enough."


Please join with other caring and committed people by making a shift in your diet now and sharing this information with others -- family, friends, associates, local newspapers and radio stations and your government officials.


-- "Beyond Beef, the Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture", "Taking Stock: Animal Farming and the Environment", and "Diet for a New



"FOODS THAT FIGHT PAIN", PCRM and Dr. Neal Barnard


An Introduction by Audrey Nickel

From The Grapevine, Summer 1998 (Triangle Vegetarian Society, Chapel Hill, NC -- www.ivu.org/tvs )


"You are what you eat." That's what my mother always told me. I doubt even she realized just how true that statement is. Every day, it seems, we hear another report on how our food choices affect our overall health, our susceptibility to certain diseases, our longevity. Every day we come closer to the conclusion that the secret to a healthy life lies not in some far away laboratory, but right at the ends of our forks.


Renowned health activist and physician Dr. Neal Barnard has taken this conclusion one step further in his new book Foods that Fight Pain: Revolutionary New Strategies for Maximum Pain Relief (1998, Harmony Books, a division of Crown Publishers, $25). Most of you have probably heard of Dr. Barnard in his role as President and Founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and editor-in-chief of its excellent periodical, Good Medicine. He is an active clinical researcher and author of numerous scientific publications. You may even have read some of his other books, such as Eat Right, Live Longer and Food For Life.


In his new book, Dr. Barnard explores how food choices can be used to fight or even prevent pain -- from backaches and migraines to post-surgical pain and even cancer pain. For example, did you know that:


  • vitamin B6 can be used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome?

  • lysine can be used to prevent and treat herpes and canker sores?

  • coffee can sometimes cure migraines?

  • rice can calm your digestion?

  • sugar can make you more sensitive to pain?

The book includes a selection of vegan menus and recipes by Jennifer Raymond, designed by her to fit in with Dr. Barnard's pain-fighting plan. The recipes sound delicious and easy to prepare, and most can be made with ingredients found in any well-stocked supermarket.


PCRM, founded in 1985, is a nationwide non-profit organization of over 5,000 physicians and 100,000 laypersons that promotes preventative medicine and addresses controversies in modern medicine. PCRM is involved in advocacy and education about the relationship between diet and health, and conducts research, including a recent breakthrough study showing a new approach to diabetes that can actually get many patients off their medication. PCRM is currently planning research on using diet to help improve survival rates in cancer patients.


As President of PCRM, Dr. Barnard has been instrumental in reforming federal dietary guidelines. In his published research, he has shown how poor diet is responsible for up to $60 billion every year in health care costs. His interest in healthy eating evolved over many years. His family background includes both doctors and cattle ranchers -- two groups that are increasingly at odds over health issues. Before going to medical school, he worked as an autopsy assistant, observing first-hand the deadly effects of poor diet, including heart disease and colon cancer.


For more information about Dr. Barnard and PCRM, you can reach PCRM at 5100 Wisconsin Ave., Suit 404, Washington, D.C. 20016, (202) 686-2210, or on the web at www.pcrm.org. PCRM is a great group to join, and membership gives you a copy of their quarterly Good Medicine magazine.


Web Sites of Interest


If you are interested in the relationship between diet and health, in addition to the PCRM site, you might enjoy some of the following web sites:


Dr. Charles Attwood (well-known vegan pediatrician): www.vegsource.org/attwood
Dr. Michael Klaper (author of Pregnancy, Children and the Vegan Diet): www.vegsource.org/klaper
Dr. John McDougall (Founder of The McDougall Plan for Healthy Living): www.drmcdougall.com
Dr. Ruth Heidrich (author of A Race For Life): www.vegsource.org/heidrich

Book Review -- by Dilip Barman, President, Triangle Vegetarian Society (dilip@ivu.org)