On January 20, 2016, NASA reported that 2015 was the warmest year ever recorded on earth by the largest margin on record. This makes the fourth year in the 21st century that a new global record has been set. Should we be concerned? If you believe climatologists, 97 percent of whom agree that there is a global warming trend and that human beings are the main cause - then yes.
The question is, what can we do? I mean at an individual level. We can wait until we are blue in the face for legislation to make profound changes in the way we live, or some life-saving technology to come around, but this may never occur, and if it does, what if it is too late, or we are no longer around?
Alexander Imich is the world's oldest validated male supercentenarian, having turned 111 on Feb. 4, 2014. Born in Poland in 1903, he lived in New York until his death later that year. When the supercentenarian was asked his secrets of longevity, Imich credited not drinking alcohol, quitting smoking, playing multiple sports, including running and swimming, eating sparingly, and finally, not having children.
What can we learn from our man Imich? Having children has actually been shown to increase lifespan, while possibly also causing the formation of gray hairs, at least in the opinion of our father. But such a view as Mr. Imich held would, if shared by the world at large, certainly do a lot to curtail overpopulation. We are at 7 billion and counting, there is expected to be 9 billion people on Earth by 2050, especially if African women continue to put out an average of 5 children each (the global average is 2.5.) The question is how are we going to feed everyone? National Geographic claims to have the answer. In a recent issue, the magazine reported that with an increase in the world's population of 35 percent by 2050, crop production will need to double. Production will have to far outpace population growth as the developing world grows prosperous enough to eat more meat.
But we have a better idea. Change dietary patterns.
Since most land is used as pastureland over cropland, and much of cropland is used to feed the animals that then graze on pastures, if we as a world stop eating animals, then more cropland can be used to grow plants that feed people, as can much of the pastureland as well.
Feeding the world is not a problem if humans eat as nature intended. Of course this is often neglected in articles on food shortages and global warming, since the articles are usually written by meat eaters who, like most of us, cherish their habits and guard them jealously.
But we are primates, remember? And as such we are fashioned to consume the foods that our ape and gorillas and other furry-chested cousins consume: fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts. Add to this diet beans because they are inexpensive, environmentally friendly (as nitrogen fixers) and tasty too.
*Within a few decades even the winter years will be warm by historical standards, and the "new abnormal" will start across the tropics, where species are least able to adapt to even small variations because they are so used to a constant climate.
Since many biodiversity hotspots - the places richest in species - lie near the Equator, the temperature rise could threaten a large number of land and sea animals as soon as the late 2020s, sharply curtailing species diversity with sweeping ramifications. And yet some scientists still dismiss as unproved the many and frequent climate effects caused by warmer weather, such as tornadoes and hurricanes. But global warming is real. Scientists may disagree about how severe future weather changes will become, but one thing is pretty clear: to a great degree it's manmade, and much of it caused by carbon produced by fossil fuels.
Between the middle of the 18th century and 2012 more than 365 billion metric tons of carbon was released into the atmosphere. But skeptics argue that climate change is not our only problem, and we do not have unlimited resources required to make sweeping changes in how we live. In 2012 in Copenhagen, economists from around the world evaluated proposals on how best to solve the world's most pressing problems. Issues included malnutrition interventions, research and development to increase crop yields, early-warning systems for natural disasters and low-cost drugs for acute heart attack. Global warming barely cracked the top 10.
What do all these issues have in common? They are all related to diet.
It may seem an oversimplification, but extreme measures such as geoengineering solutions, which the Copenhagen experts recommend devoting $1 billion towards, and green energy technology, as well as other techie solutions to keeping the planet cool, are not really needed if we change the way we eat.
Now some experts argue that if you are malnourished and diseased, what the climate will be like at the end of the century is not a high priority. But what if the same thing that causes climate change also contributes to malnourishment and disease? Then by addressing the cause of these and other problems you have an instant cure-all! Seems too good to be true, doesn't it? Oh, but it isn't!
Consumption of animal food, particular those products derived from factory farms, is the cause of all the world's woes. Meat is a great carbon emitter. A 2006 UN report showed that global emissions from all livestock operations account for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, even more than cars, trucks and planes. It takes three units of fossil-fuel energy to produce one unit of food energy on average among all agricultural products. But for industrial meat, the ratio can be over thirty-five to one.
Raising animals for slaughter contributes to the prevalence of diseases. The modern intensive confinement production systems is stressful for food animals, and that stress increases both the shedding of pathogenic bacteria and the level of stress hormones that make their way into the food. The use of antibiotics to prevent disease and stimulate growth in cows and chickens and other animals causes diseases such as MRSA which are highly resistant to treatment with antibiotics and can be deadly in humans.
Twice as much land is used for pasture as is used for crops. What need do we have for increasing crop yields when there are millions of square miles currently used to fatten cows and other farm animals that could instead be used to grow fruits and vegetables and other plant foods? In addition to their environmental friendliness, plant foods are far more nutritious than animal protein, and lower in fat. And this is big (pardon the pun): more people die of obesity related illnesses than from starvation and malnutrition combined. In obesity, high-fat animal products are largely implicated. Reduce the consumption of meat, cheese and eggs in favor of fruits and vegetables and win the battle of the budge while eliminating world hunger simultaneously. Convinced yet?
Let's go back to some of the top 10 problems the Copenhagen convention focused on. Early warnings for natural disasters? There will be fewer tornadoes and hurricanes as we change our diet, reduce carbon emissions and the world cools. Heart disease? High fat diets are strongly associated with heart attacks, and no drug on the market, or surgical intervention, is as effective as dietary changes in treating this disease, which currently stands as the number 1 killer in America.
So why oh why is the discussion of global warming usually limited to reducing time in your (hybrid) vehicle when the focus should be placed on what's on your fork? In the debate over what to do about climate change and other pressing issues, the elephant in the room, our insatiable appetite for flesh and the widespread ramifications of what we eat, gets largely ignored. Maybe if more plant-eaters are on such panels the dietary changes would receive the attention they deserve. We are running out of options and time. So until you get elected to a panel of one to decide the fate of the planet, choose plants.
*In January, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for California, which has seen many a dry day for three years running. He asked residents to cut water consumption by 20 percent.
Six months after the government mandate, a survey was released that showed the Golden State had actually used 1 percent MORE water in the month of May, than the previous three-year average for the same month. So much for heeding the governor's bidding. And thus California remains stuck in a historic shortage.
How bad is it? Reservoirs are dwindling and the Sierra Nevada is melting. Time magazine reports that the drought will cost the state more than $2 billion this year. What else do officials have up their sleeve to awaken in Californians the pressing urge to act? Curbs on lawn watering and other outdoor uses carry fines of up to $500 per day. Of course the fines' real value is less enforcement than awareness. And officials recognize that what is required is for people to have a change of heart, or else the next drought will devastate California.
It is time to recognize one huge and largely ignored source of water consumption. Namely the production of animal protein for food. Factory farming swallows a tremendous amount of water. John Robbins notes in several exceptional books that cutting back on meat consumption would save much more water than any other measure, given that the water required to produce just ten pounds of steak equals the water consumption of the average household for a year. Not only that, about 70% of the water used in the 11 western states is dedicated to the raising of animals for food. This is not taking into account the pollution that occurs from manure run-off, which renders clean water undrinkable and further reduces the amount to go around.
And many factory farms exist right smack in the middle of California. So why isn't factory farming, and all the burgers, dogs, chicken wings, and turkey dinners, implicated in the drought besieging our fine state? Could it be that the powers that be are diverting our attention? It can't be something so simple as an oversight, could it? But if so, let's open our eyes and face the music (that's a mixed metaphor, but the point stands).
And so, while it is certainly prudent to save water by reducing the time spent washing cars, watering lawns at dusk or dawn rather than in the heat of day, and investing in a low flow shower head, cutting back on meat consumption is where the real money, and water, are at.
But until "officials" including our governor adopt dietary changes necessary to improve the environment, relying on the government who is under the sway of major lobbyists to see the elephant in the room is an exercise in frustration. But you have the power. Consider that each person uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day. The USGS water science school tells us that the largest use of household water is flushing the toilet, and after that, taking showers and baths. Cutting down water usage by 20 percent would mean 20 less gallons used per day, or 10 fewer toilet flushes, or 5 fewer minutes in the shower, assuming you used a water-saving device. But have you ever refrained from flushing the toilet after peeing? It stinks!
When you consider that a lb of beef requires 1800 gallons of water to produce, the biggest help you can be at the individual level is to forego the meat and instead eat your greens and sweets and beans and seeds. By substituting out the 5 oz of chicken breast you normally have for lunch and instead enjoy an equal amount of beans or a piece of tofu (chicken: 468 gallons of water per pound, soybeans 206 gallons per pound), you save 80 gallons of water. Just in one meal. No time spent shivering in the shower or browning your toilet rim, no parched plants or dirty cars involved. If everyone markedly reduced consumption of flesh foods and eggs and dairy or stopped eating them altogether, the 20 percent goal reduction would occur overnight. California would soon be an oasis! Just a simple substitution, which not only will save the state, but serve your health.
*Food chemists are hard at work concocting plant-protein-based foods with more protein than beef, more omegas than salmon, as well as calcium, antioxidants and B-vitamins, which also deliver juicy flavor and the texture of the real thing. Exciting news.
Of course faux flesh is a highly processed food derived from pea and other proteins and refined in extruders to the point of unrecognizability. But it contains no saturated fat and cholesterol and its carbon footprint is practically nonexistent compared with the energy costs associated with the production of animal foods. And what are these energy costs?
Only three percent of the plant matter that goes into cow feed winds up as muscle (meat). The rest, as author Rowan Jacobsen writing for Outside magazine tells us, gets "burned for energy, ejected as methane, blown off as excess heat, shot out the back of the beast, or repurposed into non-meat-like things such as blood, bone and brains." The process "buries river systems in manure and requires an absurd amount of land. Roughly three-fifths of all farmland is used to produce cattle, although beef accounts for just 5 percent of our protein."
Despite the environmental costs, global protein consumption is expected to double by 2050.
The world's 22 billion livestock animals - cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs and poultry - account for over half (51 percent) of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions (GHGs), according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute and entitled "Livestock and Climate Change."
And these animals, which function as living plant-protein processors by converting the energy in grass and grain to muscle for meat, are very inefficient at what they do. They are much better at producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas which they belch into the air at the rate of 103 million tons per year. One molecule of methane traps 25 times as much heat as a molecule of CO2.
It takes 9 calories of edible feed to produce 1 calorie of edible chicken. Cows are far more inefficient at making muscle. 36 calories goes in a steer's system to produce 1 calorie of edible meat. And while doing so, each cow produces the annual GHGs of a car driven about 9,000 miles. And grass-fed beef, the rage in many communities, is actually worse on the environment, generating more methane than grain-fed cows and having nearly twice the carbon footprint.
The conclusion is simple. To save the environment, we must eat less meat.
But substituting the burger for the processed-plant variety, while a step in the right direction, is not in the best service of your health. Fake meat is after all highly processed. The best you can do, both for your environment and your personal health, is to choose plants in their whole and unprocessed state.
*During my medical residency one of my attending physicians once said to me: "I always try to buy fresh vegetables to make for my kids but more often than not they wind up wilting in the back of the fridge only to be thrown out. I am sorry to say that it's the nonperishable items like macaroni and bread that end up getting eaten."
This is not uncommon, especially for working parents who try to balance busy schedules and housekeeping duties. As they say, haste makes waste.
I thought about this the other day when my grandmother came over for lunch. My mother made pasta. "Why do you make pasta," I said, "when grandma never eats anything but fruit?" Sure enough my grandmother didn't touch the pasta, although she served herself a healthy portion - I presume for politeness' sake. And this is how social conventions get us into trouble. Why didn't she just stick to the fruit?
In a recent year the Agriculture Department estimated that 133 billion pounds of food was lost at the retail and consumer levels. This is almost a third of the nation's food supply, or over 400 lbs of food per American, with vegetables nearly topping the list of the food groups most likely to wind up in the trash. This is a real problem. As the Wall Street Journal reports, when edible food gets thrown away, significant amounts of energy and chemicals used to grow the food are also wasted. Plus, when food rots in landfills, it produces the harmful greenhouse gas methane, exacerbating global warming.
It gets worse: according to the National Institutes of Health food waste absorbs more than 25% of freshwater consumption. During this California drought, we now know where to point the finger of blame. And what about those starving children in Africa! Or for that matter, America? In 2012 nearly 50 million Americans reported not having enough to eat at certain times of the year.
If I'd have asked my grandmother why she served herself pasta she didn't intend to eat she may have cited courtesy, or perhaps she was unaware. Like so many of life's behaviors, the act of serving the food may have been reflexive. How much of our actions are unconscious! In a recent poll, nearly 75 percent of Americans believed they wasted less food than the average household. This, a mathematical impossibility, prompted one expert to lament: "We have a major problem that we don't even see." But we feel the loss - to the tune of over 150 billion dollars down the drain.
So what leads to consumer waste? Of course there is overbuying and confusion over expiration dates, as well as the good intentions of my attending physician and social graces of my grandmother. And with everything so oversized, from markets (Costco) to SUVs and industrial refrigerators the temptation is to buy more than is necessary and then waste what is unused. Expiration dates are a problem as well, as they mislead customers into throwing food away before it has really gone bad.
The United Kingdom reports that over half of wasted food could have been eaten. The same probably goes for America. All it takes is awareness. Be conscious of what you do. Eat what's on your plate. The phrase doubles as a metaphor for life. Waste not want not.
*The Doomsday Clock was devised nearly 70 years ago by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a watchdog group created at the end of World War II by Manhattan Project scientists (the guys who developed the A-bomb.) And this year the Clock moved forward for the first time since 2012, inching three minutes closer to midnight. It is now 11:57 pm. At the metaphorical midnight, the world will end.
What prompted the move closer to our doom? Scientists have cited a slowdown of nuclear disarmament and threats of climate change. Now there is nothing you or I can personally do about ending the threat of nuclear war. But what about climate change? Consider that deforestation has a major impact on global temperatures. Brazil's tropical forests pump 20 billion tons of water vapor daily into the atmosphere through leaf transpiration, and though destruction of forests plummeted in the last decade, since August 2014 tree cutting more than doubled in Brazil compared to the same period a year earlier.
Most of the land cleared will serve as cattle pasture, due to the higher global prices for beef. Richard Schiffman, writing for Scientific American, notes that cutting the forest for cattle ranches is the single largest driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, accounting for nearly 70 percent of clearing.
Scientists fear that if the practice goes on, it could lead to a permanent drought in Brazil, and tree loss there ripples beyond the South American country's boundaries, affecting weather systems a continent away. One study predicts that a fully deforested Amazon (it is currently nearly 20 percent tree-free) would mean 50 percent less snowfall in California's Sierra Nevada, which would reduce the spring runoff on which agriculture depends. I'd so miss my kiwis and plums and spinach, and yes garlic! And you thought we in the Golden State were in a drought now. If things don't change just you wait. No wonder why scientists are so concerned.
I visited the Amazon once, as a college student in the early 90s. This was during a 20-year period of increased forest clearing worldwide, a trend that ended in Brazil from 2004 to 2011. Back in the summer of 1994 the air was thick with the smoke from massive forest fires, and the sky loomed an angry black. I couldn't put out the flames, I'm only one dude, but I did choose against upholding the dietary habits for which the forest burns.
On the same trip I visited a cattle ranch. The rancher proudly showed me the testosterone he used to inject the steers. That extra testosterone of course makes its way into the meat and into the blood of humans who eat it. Too much testosterone is converted to DHT which contributes to male pattern baldness and prostate enlargement, even cancer. Practices not good for either man or beast.
What's more, consumption of animal protein is linked to overweight and obesity, which are associated with sleep apnea (snoring), a disorder shared by 25 million Americans, many of whom are obese. When a person puts on extra weight, fat narrows the tube of the airway, blocking the flow of air to the lungs. Sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression and an impaired ability to think clearly, which may be why meat eaters persist in their ways. Vicious cycle!
So beat the meat, save the world, ra ra ra. Insignificant though it may seem, the food an individual (you) consumes has far-reaching effects. Because the only thing good about being 2 Minutes to Midnight is the classic song by that name. There's no Living After Midnight in this scenario. So keep the Apocalypse at bay. Save the day. Choose plants.
*I have a scientist friend who has done some research in global warming. She and her colleagues have published the results of their work in the prestigious journal Science. It seems the recent decade-long hiatus in global surface temperatures is not the result of human efforts to decrease carbon emissions, because during that time we really haven't cut down. Rather it is due to shifting patterns in the oceans, which absorb some of the atmospheric heat before moving around and releasing it somewhere else. This phenomenon has been going on for as long as the Earth has been a planet with water. Hardly a sign that the trend in hot weather is abating, the hiatus is actually a predictor of scary things to come, so we can expect global temperatures to get hotter faster in the forthcoming years - despite our efforts to cut carbon emissions. And we are trying. I'm trying. But riding my bike instead of driving and eating plants over the more carbon-costly animal foods is small savings, and I'm one among 7.3 billion and counting. A global effort is needed. Enter the Paris Agreement.
On December 12 the Paris Agreement was signed by nearly 200 countries in an effort to curtail global warming through a global reduction in carbon emissions. But even if the agreement's minimum goals are met and the Earth remains under a ceiling of 2 degrees Celsius above baseline (baseline being the average global temperature before the start of the industrial age around the year 1800), this will not prevent some islands from sinking and as many as a third of the species from going extinct.
I know the business of climate scientists is to analyze the problem and not necessarily to provide solutions or forecast the future, but given what seems to be an inevitable increase in temperature as a function of billions of humans living on Earth and using fuel, regardless of however much we may be able to slow the increase in the Earth’s temperature, isn’t the ultimate extinction of most of life inevitable? If nation's meet the initial Paris pledges to reduce emissions, by the year 2100 the Earth will be 3.5 degrees hotter than it was in the year 1800, with the result that coastal cities are sunk and half the species of plants and animals die out. Or will it be the case that despite our efforts, global warming will continue at a more or less rapid pace and serve to diminish the Earth’s population to a level whose modest carbon emissions do not warm the planet any longer?
Remember, the baseline temperature the Paris Agreement used is what the Earth's weather was like when industry took off. And in 1800 there were only 1 billion people on Earth, and no factory farms, planes, trains or automobiles. So get ready to hoof it, and to do without the hoofed animals. But that will be the year 2100 or beyond. One shudders at the thought of bequeathing such a warm world to our grandkids. One more reason not to procreate. Of course, many believe that there are alternate energy sources able to sustain such a large number of people (10 billion by 2050 is the projection); but many of these many are the businessmen who stand to gain from such technologies. Like carbon capture, one of the latest candidates to save the world, which is proving to be pretty much hot air. We better get used to that. Hot air, I mean. Yet another reason to "take off all your clothes." Whoa, Nelly!
*My climatologist friend will be attending a series of talks in New Orleans next week given through the American Meteorological Society, asked for my input regarding which lectures she should attend. I suggested the talk on urban growth and climate change as well as the 4 pm talk on the need for collaboration among different specialties. The latter because scientists are notoriously clique-sh.
As for the former, population growth and its effects on climate change, this could really be a gem. Because the climate change discussion is often limited to fossil fuel consumption. Methane production and its influence on climate change (most people only think coal, gas, oil) is rarely addressed. Remember that a 2006 UN report showed that global emissions from all livestock operations account for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, even more than cars, trucks, and planes. But even rarer still is the effect a bloated population exerts on the Earth. If you think about it without the Technological Revolution the world’s population would have capped at about 1 billion people – it was around 500 million during Christ’s time, whether you believe he was God or not is another story - and is set to reach 10 billion in 2050! The question is can the Mother Earth support so many mouths to feed?
The effort to avoid catastrophic warming must be multi-pronged to include not only more environmentally friendly forms of energy consumption (thus, no factory farming, reducing the amount of cow flatulence and corresponding methane) but fewer consumers as well! Nobody likes to be told what to do, in this case what not to do, and indiscriminate breeding has been a hallowed practice for millennia. But imagine if everyone got married and had only 1 child: the population over the next several generations would actually go down by a half rather than continue to skyrocket. This is an extreme and arguably impracticable example. But it is only outlandish in light of current practices where some couples make like rabbits and put out a half a dozen or more kids. Nevertheless population control supports the point that action at the individual level cannot be avoided and restraint and moderation must play a part.
It’s like the person who stuffs his face with junk food and balloons up to 300 pounds (just as the world’s population has ballooned up through indiscriminate practices). He is told by health experts that obesity is unhealthy in itself and carries with it additional risks of heart disease, stroke and certain forms of cancer. So he is put on a diet to avoid premature death. And he grunts and groans and asks for gastric bypass. We tell him, as we must tell the world, that technology got us into this mess and won’t necessarily save us. Because gastric bypass doesn’t always work. Just ask Chris Christie.
Restriction is not all that fun or even easy, but some weight-loss plans are easier than others, and in any plan eating less (and in this case breeding less, and consuming less energy through lifestyle changes with or without a transition to alternative energy sources) is key. We just need to find the formula that works for Earth.
*Take a stroll around your local supermarket and you will notice something rather interesting. The price of meat is around the same as the price of produce. In some cases, produce costs more! Eggs are $1.80 a dozen, while you can't buy a small box of berries for under $1.99. Chicken breast at $1 per pound for the price of apples? How can this be?
Surely it is less costly and time consuming to pick a green out of the ground or a sweet off the tree than it is to raise an animal for slaughter then kill it, skin it, gut it, and chop it up. The latter is a multi-step process that involves hordes of (underpaid) workers in multiple locations, not to mention the hardship on the animal who is forced to be confined to a small space its entire life then be shipped over long distances to be shot in the head and sliced in half. How can the flimsy price of animal protein reflect all the food it takes to feed the beasts, who consume pounds of corn and soy per day during their regrettably brief and miserable lives, while producing equal amounts of manure and methane, which has nowhere to go but in our waters and into the air.
But back to the point: How on Earth can meat be so cheap??? Two words: subsidies, and externalized costs.
If you've been keeping up with the news, you'll know that our elected officials are currently debating the Farm Bill, which among other things addresses how much money is given to farmers to grow/raise the food we consume. Why the government and by extension taxpayers should give farmers anything at all aside from the price of their goods doesn't make sense from a market standpoint and is a throwback to a bygone time. If you've ever taken an economics class you know that consumer demand should dictate price and profit should dictate participation. That's what happens in the case of fruits and vegetables, which receive almost no government aid.
The Farm Bill has been much debated, and delayed. It seems the price of protein is a very contentious issue. One side argues that factory farms - those large-scale productions that account for most of the world's meat, eggs, and dairy - are the safest, most efficient, and most cost-effective way to raise large numbers of animals, and the only way to sell eggs, milk, and body parts at a price that virtually every American can afford.
But critics counter that a grocery-store price tag does not reflect the actual cost of producing a pound of protein. While corporations bank the profits, contract farmers foot the bill for waste disposal. Should anything go wrong - and manure lagoons are known to leak and flood - taxpayers are left to clean up the mess. If factory farms were forced to pay for the management of their own animals’ waste – and for cleaning up after big spills – then food prices would rise dramatically. (The result being that consumers would eat a lot less meat. With the laundry list of diseases associated with meat-eating, how's that a bad thing?)
Everyone who pays income tax is forking over money to keep CAFOs (factory farms) in business, in the form of farm subsidies, which has only helped to perpetuate the animal-factory industry. Sadly, this goes for meat-eaters and vegans/vegetarians alike.
In CAFOs Uncovered, the Union of Concerned Scientists detailed U.S. policies that allowed factory farms to dominate meat and dairy production. Subsidies to grow animal feed, for example, saved CAFOs $35 billion in operating costs between 1997 and 2005. According to the Environmental Working Group, the feds wrote checks for $256 billion in farm subsidies for commodities, crop insurance, and disaster programs, and $39 billion in conservation payments between 1995 and 2012. And the big boys (names like Tyson, Perdue, and Smithfield) get the lion's share of government money. Obama himself said agriculture is agribusiness, with politics and profit being inextricably intertwined with animal protein.
And the price is paid by the planet.
We as a nation have moved to a model of agriculture that produces cheap meat but risks the health of everyone, and while the CAFO model appears to be efficient, that is only because important costs are not reflected in either the cost of the production system or its products, but are instead paid for by the public in other ways. These external costs include declining property values, the public health costs of pollution, the cost of fighting resistant infections, and the cost of cleanup of spills and other environmental disasters, notes David Kirby in his book, "Animal Factory."
All of these costs are picked up by you, though they are not included in the cost of producing or buying the meat, poultry, eggs, and milk that the modern industrial animal agriculture provides. It is externalization, not efficiency, that makes industrial meat so cheap. CAFOs are neither economically nor environmentally sustainable. We can no longer afford to remain blissfully unaware of the cost involved at so many different levels of that ice cream or frozen yogurt, the diner omelet, protein shake, chicken breast sandwich, bacon breakfast, etc. etc. Just because it comes in socially acceptable pretty packages doesn’t mean you should accept it.
As the Pew Commission report notes, industrial animal farms seemed to bless the world with tremendous increases in short-term farm efficiency and affordable food, but the boom has not come without serious unintended consequences and questions about its long-term sustainability. Ill-advised policies created CAFOs, which did not evolve naturally through agricultural progress or from rational planning or market forces but were a product of short-term thinking to feed a rapidly growing population by satisfying the ever-increasing appetite for flesh. Factory farms now produce most of the animal protein in our diets. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria because of the overuse of antibiotics; air quality problems; the contamination of rivers, streams, and coastal waters with concentrated animal waste are all realities that won't just go away on their own. It will take new policies to replace them with more sustainable, environmentally friendly production methods, but as we are seeing with the debacle that the Farm Bill has become, these changes are not likely to happen anytime soon.
Government protects the prevailing system, the status quo. Misguided federal farm policies have encouraged the growth of massive confined animal feeding operations by shifting billions of dollars in environmental, health, and economic costs to taxpayers and communities. And the forces that be profit considerably by maintaining things as they are. It is up to you as a consumer. Supply will match demand, and until demand for meat and eggs and dairy falls to zero, supply will still exist, at the cost of the taxpayer’s money, environment, health, and the future.
It is said that food - like sex, politics, and religion - is an intensely personal, emotional, and complicated subject. Thus the phrase "there's no accounting for taste." Well, it is intensely personal, emotional, and complicated, for the animal that is killed! And when the production of food comes at so great an expense, it needs to be addressed.
The power lies with you. Each time you visit the market or sit down at the table, you make a vote.