If you live or go to school in Portland, vegetarianism and veganism are probably not foreign ideas to you. You may even be familiar with some of the reasons that cause people to choose these lifestyles.
Two of the most prominent reasons are the desire to end animal cruelty and to improve health. However, there is one other well-known (but no less important) reason to avoid consuming animal products: The effect the animal agriculture industry has on the environment.
It’s commonly known that to “go green” it’s wise to recycle, compost, drive less, bike more, take shorter showers, turn your lights off when you are not using them, etc. But did you know that if you eat just one less burger a week, it reduces your ecological footprint as much as if you took your car off the road for 320 miles?
Animals raised for food require huge amounts of food, water, land and energy. The byproducts of the animal agriculture industry (animal waste and methane gas) also pollute air, land and waterways.
In industrial livestock operations that hold thousands of animals, large quantities of animal waste accumulate and leach harmful nitrates and pathogens into groundwater, threatening our drinking water supplies. Such operations are also responsible for the destruction of many wetlands, coral reefs, mangrove swamps and other similarly vulnerable ecosystems.
What is industrial agriculture, or factory farming? The following definition refers to a modern type of agriculture system that rears livestock for food using intensive methods: Factory farming is characterized by dense populations of livestock raised in confined spaces and requiring huge amounts of water, food and medical attention.
Industrial agriculture has strayed so far from traditional techniques that it is no longer referred to as “farming” by the government.
Statistics from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say “chickens, pigs, cattle, and other animals raised for food are the primary consumers of water in the U.S.: A single pig consumes 21 gallons of drinking water per day, while a cow on a dairy farm drinks as much as 50 gallons daily. It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of cow flesh, whereas it takes about 180 gallons of water to make 1 pound of whole wheat flour.”
Meat production is an inefficient use of grain as well—as many as 13 pounds of grain go to produce just one pound of edible flesh. The grain would be much more efficient if consumed directly by humans.
A shocking 51 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are released by animal agriculture operations, and a meat eater’s diet is responsible for up to seven times more emissions as a vegan’s diet is.
The United Nations recently published a report titled “Industrial Livestock Production Near Cities Can Damage Environment,” concluding that a significant worldwide shift toward vegetarianism/veganism will be necessary to effectively fight the effects of climate change.
When factory farms pollute communities, they also affect public health and increase medical expenses. Jobs are lost at small traditional farms and businesses that are bankrupted by corporate consolidation.
Even with all of this knowledge, outdated and misguided policies actually promote environmentally damaging livestock production and even subsidize harmful chemical fertilizers. Factory farms also employ powerful lobbyists to influence the government agencies that monitor them, and because they are technically considered agriculture and not industrial, their scale of production (and pollution) is not regulated in an effective manner.
Industrially produced food appears to be expensive, but when you go to the grocery store to buy meat or dairy the price tag doesn’t even begin to reflect the real cost behind your dinner.
So, what can you do? Everyone can play a part in ending the environmentally unsound factory farming system.
First, consider decreasing the amount of animal products you consume. Even if you cut meat out of your diet just one day a week—perhaps on “Meatless Monday”—you’re on your way to making a significant impact.
Second, try buying from local sustainable farms. The Portland State Famers Market is a great resource and is set up in the Park Blocks at 8 a.m. every Saturday. When you buy sustainably grown and produced food, you send a message with those dollars that says you’re not willing to sacrifice the health of the land or quality of your food.
PETA Fact Sheet:
A vegetarian diet can feed more people than a meat based diet. For example, approximately 20,000 pounds of potatoes can be grown on one acre of land. Comparatively, only around 165 pounds of beef can be produced on one acre of land.
The total production of excrement by the U.S. population is 12,000 pounds per second. The total production of excrement by U.S. livestock is 250,000 pounds per second, which would be greatly reduced if humans ate a more plant based diet and had little or no need for domesticated livestock.
Cows and sheep are responsible for 37 percent of the total methane (23 times as warming as CO2) generated by human activity.
The livestock industry generates 64 percent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.
Livestock production is responsible for 70 percent of deforestation in the Amazon region of Latin America, where rainforests are being cleared to create new pastures.