November 18, 2011

Dispelling the notion that animal agriculture is beneficial to the environment

An increasing number of farmers or friends thereof, continue making the ecologically uneducated claim that animal agriculture, in specific, setting cows to pasture, is beneficial to the environment. I can only assume that their theory is based on the idea that cows, in free pasture, fertilize the land that they graze over. Whilst we do agree that naturally occurring herds of bovine, grazing under, once again, natural circumstances and in the proper numbers for a particular environment, would indeed fertilize some of the ground that they graze over, the mere idea that today’s numbers in bovines exploited through agriculture being a benefit to the planet, is simply absurd, at best.

Before we begin, we want to be clear in saying that everyone at AELLA is an animal rights activist, a human rights activist and an environmentally concerned citizen. We do our very best not to use animal-based products in all facets of our lives and we do not consume them. We also make every effort not to generate waste that will negatively affect our world, in especially, disposable plastics, Styrofoam, etc… We are vegan for life on the planet, all animals and for human posterity.

We state this for two reasons:

1). We wish to extend the message to everyone that we adore cows as compassionate, loving, docile animals which never asked to be force-bred and labeled as “livestock”. Our founders have taken some criticism for continually explaining that there are just too many cows on the planet. Both animal rights activists, as well as proponents of flesh and milk consumption have attacked us. The truth of the matter is that we are simply relaying facts that many others do not wish to face, whether they are promoting the meat and dairy industry, or solidifying their standing as animal activists. However, it is information that needs to be expressed. Are cows at fault for the situation? No, of course they are not. It is a human-generated issue based on our own overpopulation in regard to the way that we currently live and the only ecologically sane answer to the problem is for the entire human population to turn toward a vegan lifestyle. A global human population of billions can not consume animal-based products without generating severe devastation to life on the planet. It is just that simple.

2). We want those who consume animal products to read this, label us as animal rights/environmental activist “tree-huggers”, then attempt to research/dispute the information, herein. Up until now, at no point in the Earth’s history were there nearly 2 billion cows consuming vegetation on this planet. Whether cows are raised and fed in CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or “factory farms”), or the 2 billion cows simply roam freely on uncle Jeb’s ranch, it makes no viable difference in regard to the impact on the planet. The end result will be the same and deforestation, as well as wetland removal in favor of growing crops to sustain animal agriculture, will push all life toward extinction.

We will leave the methane impact factor completely out of this article, seeing as so many proponents of the meat and dairy industry ignore the issue or disbelieve in the effects of climate change. Simply stated, with or without the reality of climate change, animal agriculture will still press all life on the planet toward extinction, simply by stressing the Earth to produce more than what it can provide, dismantling vital ecosystems and culling vast biodiversity on an unprecedented scale. Just a piece of information before moving forward for those who discount methane expulsion as a viable threat, yet accept the fact that CO2 emissions represent a true danger to all life on the planet; you may wish to consider that deforestation expels more CO2 into our atmosphere than humanity’s entire global transit system and agriculture is by far, the main cause for planetary deforestation, mainly due to the stress caused by animal agriculture.

The majority of humanity is unfortunately skeptical regarding their ability to have an effect on our world. In truth, humans have forced other species into slavery, species that most certainly have the ability to change the very face of the planet on an undeniable level. In order to feed “livestock” animals, humans must utilize every spare plot of fertile land on Earth, and more. Wetlands are drained/removed, rain forests are dismantled, all to grow more grain than the planet was meant to generate, from which roughly half is fed to the animals that we exploit in agriculture. Consider that 1/2 of humanity is in the business of growing food, nearly half of which, is fed to animals that we label as “livestock”, not humans.

Perhaps, it is best to define what a cow is. Cows, themselves, are a “human-engineered” version of a domesticated breed of oxen (widely accepted to originate from the extinct Auroch, to be precise), which is an ungulate in the bovine family. Much like humans have generated the Cocker Spaniel from their root source, the wolf, through specialized breeding practices and environmental stimuli, we have created cows from oxen. Cows consume mass quantities of vegetation or grain to sustain themselves, roughly 30 times the amount of a full grown human being, with a comparable ratio regarding fresh water intake. It actually requires 16 pounds (7.25 kg) of grain to produce 1 pound (.45 kg) of beef and the amount of fresh water necessary to rear each cow in animal agriculture, could float a navy battleship. Dairy cows are said to consume up to 25 gallons of fresh water each day.

Wild herds of oxen, natural and indigenous herbivores, residing in many corners of the globe throughout Earth’s history, were most certainly an integral part of the ecosystem, as well as the landscape. Grazing over pasture, leaving their waste behind to help re-fertilize the ground, was a natural and balanced process in the life of wild oxen. Naturally occurring oxen herds both negatively and positively affected flora in a balance forged over countless millennia. What farmers fail to realize is that oxen once numbered, at most, in the ten to hundred thousands on any given continent before the explosion in human population and subsequently, animal agriculture. Prior to human intervention, bovines may have possibly held global population numbers somewhere in the area of 1 million, not 1 billion. Again, there was never a time in Earth’s history when it could possibly sustain the stresses involved with feeding 2 billion bovines and the human race is in direct responsibility. Believe that your daily choices do indeed, have a profound impact on the world around you.

A global human penchant for animal products has strained the planet to mass-produce grain in order to sustain the flesh, egg and dairy industries. We are shredding rain forests, the very “lungs” of our planet, at an alarming rate, draining wetlands which filter deadly toxins from our ecosystem and depleting the Earth’s most finite fresh water supply, all in favor of animal agriculture. Seeing as United States citizens are among the top consumers of animal-based products per person on a daily basis, we will refer to U.S. based statistics as example in regard to negative forest, rain forest and wetland impact.

In the United States alone, more than 360 million acres of forest have been “clear-cut” in favor of animal agriculture. Of course, we also import animal products and utilize lands outside of the United States in order to feed animals, satiating our demand for meat. A Smithsonian study estimated that for each hamburger garnered from animals raised on former rain forest land, approximately 55 square feet of forest was necessary for removal and that every minute of every day, a land area equal to seven football fields is completely deforested in the Amazon basin. It takes roughly 5 years for humans to deforest a land mass as extensive as a nation the size of Greece and on our current path, all rain forests on the planet will be exhausted within this century.

In the past, before the explosion in human population a few centuries ago, a proper ecologic balance existed on the Earth. Rain forests once covered 14% of the planet’s land surface. Today, it now covers less than 6% and this is directly due to animal agriculture that an overpopulated human species employs. We are losing 135 known plant, animal and insect species every single day to deforestation. This does not even speak in regard to the loss of countless microorganisms that help root the foundations of life. Also, consider that many plants of the rain forest are utilized in valuable, life-saving medical research. Some 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rain forest plant ingredients. Scientists have only begun to discover the medicinal value that plants of the rain forests hold for humanity. It is estimated that a mere 1% of these possible miracle, life-giving plants have currently been studied and tested.

For more facts regarding deforestation, please refer to National Geographic’s deforestation pages here and their “Eye In The Sky” video here from NASA showing the loss of Amazon rain forest near Santa Cruz, Bolivia comparing the years 1973, 1986 and 1996.

As there are a myriad incorrect rain forest facts and figures posted all over the internet, I would direct you to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which sources its agricultural information from over 190 member nations. According to the UNFCCC secretariat, the overwhelming direct cause of deforestation is indeed, agriculture. Subsistence farming (meaning self-sufficient) is responsible for 48% of all planetary deforestation and industrial agriculture is responsible for 32% of all planetary deforestation. Any reputable source will mention agriculture in general, as having the most viable impact in regard to deforestation. Even the majority of informational resources that you will come across which “promote” animal agriculture can not deny the ecologic facts.

When we consider that humanity feeds and sustains roughly 70 billion land-based “livestock” animals annually, 2 billion of those animals being cows that are consuming more resources on their own than 10 billion human beings are capable of consuming, it is plain to see why animal agriculture is the real problem in the equation. Why expend 16 pounds of grain, some 2,000 gallons of fresh-water and over 200 square feet of rain forest, just to produce one pound of beef? Other animal-based products generate similar ridiculous grain-feed and water taxation ratios in comparison to simply consuming the grain, itself.

Similar devastation to natural wetlands have occurred. As wetlands generally consist of fairly flat areas of very rich soil, which becomes highly productive agricultural land when drained, they have become targets for the agricultural industry. Over 220 million acres of wetlands once existed in the lower 48 United States during the 1600’s. Since that time, over half of these toxin-filtering systems have been drained and converted to farm land. Some 22 states have lost over 50% of their natural wetlands. Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio have lost more than 80% of their wetlands. California and Iowa have lost nearly 99%. Between the 1970’s and the 1980’s, approximately 4.4 million acres of inland freshwater wetlands and 71,000 acres of coastal wetlands were drained. Agricultural drainage of wetlands is responsible for over 87% of the losses with only 8% due to urban development, itself. For a history of United States wetlands, please refer to the United States Geological Survey here.

Prior to the industrial revolution, which we will refer to in time frame as the period in between the 18th to the 19th century, total recorded human population in the United States was somewhere in the area of 4-5 million, a sharp difference between the 315 million living in the nation today. At that point in history, exploiting animals would be a moral dilemma based solely on the plight of animals, however, today, the moral implications extend to all current and future life on the planet. The statistics apply in any nation in regard to a much larger human population than was evident in the past, which exploits animals, again, stressing the planet to overproduce. For a timeline in regard to human population in the United States in regard to animal agriculture please refer to this post supplied by “A Growing Nation – A History of American Agriculture”.

The simple point of this article is to fully explain to “organic” and “free-range” farmers or their proponents that there is no place on the planet for 2 billion cows, whether they be exploited in a building or on a field. There is also not enough by way of resources to sustain the rest of the 70 billion land-based animals that we exploit and slaughter on an annual basis. The sustainability in human demand for animal products would only be ecologically feasible if the ratio between human vegetarians and human animal-based product consumers were inverted from their current standing. At that point, the consumption of animals would most likely be viewed by the majority of humanity as it should be; destructive, barbaric, inhumane, exploitative and brutal.

Realities in regard to ecology can not be dismissed and the continuance in the exploitation of animals for human consumption must end if humanity is to ensure the continuance of its posterity. No arguments made by proponents of animal agriculture can dissuade the fact that our planet can not sustain what we are currently demanding from it. Any excuses made on behalf of animal agriculture will only condemn our mutual grandchildren. We can only hope that more people will begin to open their eyes to the common-sense realities around them, because if humanity does not awaken from its apathetic slumber posthaste, we will soon reach a point that we can not return from. The only viable chance that we have requires us to remove animal-based products from our plates and turn away from the industries that are destroying our world.

The AELLA team

Rudy says:

A well written and very informative article. Thank you for sharing friend!

Cheryl Will says:

Hi Anthony,
This was a great article. It is shocking to me that even when people know the truth that they still continue to consume animals. I haven’t always been VEGAN. I started the journey about 6 yrs. ago. I never was a big meat eater. But of course this is what was put on my plate growing up. Then it becomes a habit. I feel so guilty still for not knowing the depths of the dispare that animals are forced to endure. But I admit I did know that they were killed. I never liked that part but yet from time to time I ate animals. I did not know that they were tortured. I will NEVER be a part of that evil cycle of abuse ever again!!! A nurse recently told me & I quote: “I love my dog but I don’t care about a cow I don’t even know”. I thought to myself…….wow I wonder if she cares about people she doesn’t know…….hum. I learned about the unimaginable suffering of animals, the destruction of our planet, & so much more. I’m still learning. Once I educated myself about where my food really comes from & what it takes to get to my plate………..my life changed FOREVER. I can’t make up for the past but I can share my experience & belief that we should all go VEGAN. I just wanted you to know that I like reading your articles & posts on FB. I have learned alot in the last 6 yrs. but I always want to know more. I am doing my small part by not buying ANY animal products. I also rescue dogs & train them. I have become an animal activist & rescuer. Nothing fits better in my life than this choice……….a happy well informed choice. Merry Christmas to you & your family.
Best Regards,
Cheryl

Dawn Timney says:

Perfectly said! I echo everything you stated!