UPDATED – December 2020. In light of COVID-19, I’ve made some updates to this Challenge including an introduction.
Please take a close look at the graphic, Earth’s Land Mammals by Weight. The data is taken from Vaclav Smil’s The Earth’s Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics and Change. You can see how humans have pushed wildlife to the brink, all to make room for cows.
Information on the impact of livestock on the planet is not that hard to find and has been out there for decades, but unfortunately people are not moved to change their eating habits.
“When the human population doubled from 1960 to 2000, milk consumption doubled, meat consumption tripled, egg consumption quadrupled and chicken consumption increased eight-fold. As population doubled, humans climbed up the food chain, the exact opposite of what an intelligent species should have been doing”. –Sailesh Rao, Climate Healers
Our food choices are unconscious and automatic. What we chose to eat emanates from a belief system and the practices of our unique culture or social group. (And throw in a bit of evolutionary biology to drive our taste for calorie dense foods that allowed our ancestors to survive long enough to reproduce!)
Currently, human population is 7.4 billion. The problem is our numbers are expected to increase by 35% in the coming decades, and increased meat consumption is the dietary trend of the developing world.
Since food production is the largest human endeavor, it is no longer possible to ignore the impact of our diet on the natural environment, as well as our health, and the billions of animals caught in the system who are confined, tortured and destroyed each year. Many signs point to a planet whose resources are so stretched that natural systems are collapsing. We have caused another great mass extinction of life on earth. Maintaining the status quo is simply not possible, nor is ignorance, because no one will be shielded from the negative outcomes.
While there are many areas of human activity that need examination and readjustment in light of our population explosion and rate of consumption, what we eat has a vast impact and is potentially the one behavior that we individuals could most easily adapt on our journey into the future. So much good can come from a humble plant-based lunch!
We are human beings, we make the traditions so we should have the right to change those traditions. – Molala Yousafzai
Ready for the data?
30 Day Zero Waste Challenge: Day 20
FOOD LOSS/WASTE SERIES: EAT FOOD. NOT TOO MUCH. MOSTLY PLANTS.
Today’s (dense) post is the final in the series of food loss and waste. (Phew!) The topic is waste from livestock production – loss and inefficiencies in the conversion of feed and grass into animal products.
We on the Zero Waste Journey aim for ‘Progress Not Perfection’ in our actions. But here we learn that we can make a huge dent in our impact on each other and the planet by moving toward a plant-based diet. Minimizing animal products is one of the best things we can do for people, food security, global warming, poverty, hunger, animals and the integrity of the earth’s stressed ecosystems.
In the 2017 study, “Losses, Inefficiencies and Waste in the Global Food System”, the authors examined food losses in six categories (Agriculture Production; Livestock Production; Handling, Storage, Transportation and Processing; Consumer Waste; and Overconsumption). Their conclusion: The “…greatest rates of loss were associated with livestock production, and consequently changes in the levels of meat, dairy and egg consumption can substantially affect the over all efﬁciency of the food system, and associated environmental impacts (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions). It is therefore regrettable from environmental and food security perspectives that rates of meat and dairy consumption are expected to continue to increase as average incomes rise potentially lowering efﬁciency of the overall food system, as well as increasing associated negative health implications (e.g.diabetes and heart disease).”
This is nothing new. Frances Moore Lappé’s 1971 book Diet for a Small Planet warns of the global impacts of meat production and the inherent inefficiencies in calorie conversion and its contribution to global food scarcity.
Globally over 56 billion land animals are raised and slaughtered for food and the number is predicted to double by 2050!! (Fishing and aquaculture is not included in this figure.) *For a run-down on the sickening loss and waste in fishing, visit Day 15: FOOD LOSS/WASTE SERIES: AVOID FISH, OR REDUCE/ CHOOSE CAREFULY.
Nearly half of the contiguous US is devoted to animal agriculture. “The US lower 48 states represents 1.9 billion acres. Of that 1.9 billion acres: 778 million acres of private land are used for livestock grazing (forest grazing, pasture grazing, and crop grazing), 345 million acres for feed crops, 230 million acres of public land are used for grazing livestock.”
- Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US.
- 30% of the total ice free surface of the earth is being used to feed livestock, not to raise grains, fruits and vegetables for human beings
- Animal products production (meat milk, eggs) uses 1/3 of the world’s fresh water
- 2500 gallons of water are used to produce one pound of beef
- Worldwide 50% of grain is fed to livestock
DISEASE OUTBREAKS – MORE LOSS TO CONSIDER
Losses in livestock production include animals killed before they are brought to market due to outbreaks from mad cow, foot in mouth disease, or mastitis. Examples of zoonotic diseases:
- The 2001 foot and mouth outbreak in the UK – between 6 million cows, pigs and sheep were destroyed, thrown into a pit and burned because of fears of it spreading to other animals. (Farmers did not want to vaccinate animals.)
- The 2003 Netherlands outbreak of avian influenza – one person died, 30 million birds destroyed as a preventative measure (most birds not infected).
- The 2015 outbreak of avian influenza H5N2 in chicken and turkey factories in Midwest – 43 million birds in 15 states were killed (30 million in Iowa alone), no humans cases were reported.
- World bank accounts zoonotic diseases for 70% of emerging infectious diseases! And livestock production is a major culprit. This means that means millions of animal and plant products will be thrown away because of contamination of salmonella, campylobacter, or E.coli.
GLOBAL PANDEMICS NOW AND LATER
- Deadly avian influenza viruses , H7N9 and H5N1, with mortality rates of 37.1% and 53.2%, respectively, have potential to be devastating pandemics. (For comparison – H1N1 was <1%, COVID is 1.15%.)
More from the CDC on zoontic diseases.
“But what of the inedible parts? Parts like bones, bladders, diaphragms, lungs, sphincter muscles, fat and gristle. Or external parts: heads, feet, hooves, skin, hair or udders? Or the liquids – the blood and urine? And solids – the feces and stomach contents? None of this is of any use to the human food industry. Yet it accounts for about 49% of a cattle carcass; 44% of a pig; 37% of a chicken; and 57% of most fish species.” Don’t forget hatchery waste (all male chicks are considered waste). “Slaughterhouse Waste – It All Has to Be Dealt With.”
The literal waste (urine, feces) from livestock production wreaking havoc on lakes, rivers, and on human health of fenceline communities.
- Every minute 7 million pounds of feces are produced by animals in the US raised for food. (This does not include backyard operations or other operation outside of USDA jurisdiction) or billions of fish raised in aquaculture settings.
- A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people.
- 130 times more animal waste than human waste is produced in the US – 1.4 billion tons from the meat industry annually. 5 tons of animal waste is produced per person in the US.
- 10 million pigs in North Carolina Produce the Waste Equal to 100 million humans
LIVESTOCK IMPACTS ON PUBLIC LANDS AND WILDLIFE
“Animal agriculture contributes to species extinction in many ways. In addition to the monumental habitat destruction caused by clearing forests and converting land to grow feed crops and for animal grazing, predators and “competition” species are frequently targeted and hunted because of a perceived threat to livestock profits. The widespread use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers used in the production of feed crops often interferes with the reproductive systems of animals and poison waterways. The overexploitation of wild species through commercial fishing, bushmeat trade as well as animal agriculture’s impact on climate change, all contribute to global depletion of species and resources.” More here.
“Global populations of birds, reptiles, mammals, amphibians and fish have declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012.” See Center for Biological Diversity’s Campaign: Take Extinction Off Your Plate. http://takeextinctionoffyourplate.com
- How Eating Meat Hurts Wildlife and the Planet: Species Endangerment, Climate Change, Habitat Loss, Water Use and Pollution
- Glaser, Christine, et al. “Costs and Consequences: The Real Price of Livestock Grazing on America’s Public Lands”. For the Center for Biological Diversity. January 2015
INTERSECTION OF FOOD AND CLIMATE
- Stepping up to the plate: how taking a day off meat can be a part of climate action: “Our food system plays an important role in climate change and environmental degradation. Food production is a major driver of deforestation, biodiversity loss, water use and pollution and climate change. In fact, animal agriculture makes up 14.5 percent of all of man-made greenhouse gas emissions — more than the vehicle exhaust from all cars worldwide. With demand for meat and dairy expected to skyrocket by 2050, rethinking how we eat can make a big difference in fighting climate change.”
- The importance of reduced meat and dairy consumption for meeting stringent climate change targets – Climatic Change, May 2014, Volume 124, Issue 1–2, pp 79–91 https://link.springer.com/journal/10584
- Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change.
MORE INFORMATION AND LINKS:
- Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health.
- “Six Arguments For a Greener Diet: How a More Plant-based Diet Could Save Your Health and the Environment.” Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2006.
- Food Facts: How Much Water Does it Take to Produce
- “Risk Assessment Evaluation for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” Environmental Protection Agency 2004
- “Animal Agriculture: Waste Management Practices”. United States General Accounting Office. July 1999
- CDC Confirms Ties to Virus First Discovered in U.S. Pig Factories
- Comparing Swine Waste to Human Waste – North Carolina Riverkeeper & Waterkeeper Alliance
A WINNING IDEA
From Michael Pollan: “Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food.”
Quote of the Day:
“For me hope isn’t wishful thinking or blind faith about the future. It’s a stance toward life – one of curiosity and humility.” -Frances Moore Lappé
Next – Day 21: Cloth Napkins (phew, something easy!)
The full Food Loss/Waste series:
- DAY 15: AVOID FISH OR REDUCE/CHOOSE CAREFULLY
- DAY 16: MAKE AN AUDIT OF YOUR OWN FOOD WASTE
- DAY 17: HELP WITH FOOD RESCUE IN YOUR COMMUNITY!
- DAY 18: FARM TO GROCERY STORE – LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD!
- DAY 19: TREAT YOURSELF TO A HOUSEHOLD HABITS MAKEOVER!
- DAY 20: FINAL IN THE SERIES – EAT FOOD. NOT TOO MUCH. MOSTLY PLANTS.