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Organic Consumers Association

Eating As Though the Environment Mattered

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Organic Transitions page and our CAFO's vs. Free Range page.

Imagine taking 6-20 plates of food and dumping them in the trash, perfectly fresh and edible. Off they go to the landfill. Obviously, none of us would behave so wastefully.

And yet that's precisely the effect each time any of us consumes meat, since the vast majority of the calories consumed by a chicken, pig, or other animal goes into keeping that animal alive (or into producing bones, blood, and other parts humans don't consume). Only a small fraction of those calories is turned into flesh.

And that's just the pure "calories in, calories out" equation. When you factor in all the extra stages of production that are required for meat relative to grains and legumes, the anti-environmental nature of meat consumption becomes even more stark: First, you have to grow many times more corn, grain, and soy (with all the required tilling, irrigation, crop dusters, poisons, and so on), than would be required if we ate the plants directly. Then you have to transport all that grain and soy to feed manufacturers, in gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing 18-wheelers. Then you have to operate the feed mill (again, using massive amounts of resources), truck the feed to the factory farms, operate the factory farms, truck the animals many miles to slaughterhouses, operate the slaughterhouses, truck the meat to processing plants, operate the meat processing plants, truck the meat to grocery stores (in refrigerated trucks), and keep the meat in refrigerators or freezers at the stores.

With every stage comes significant additional energy needs, and with that energy use comes air and water pollution, and massive greenhouse gas production. Of course, grains and legumes require some of these stages too, but they cut out the pollution spewing factory farms and slaughterhouses, as well as multiple stages of heavily polluting tractor-trailer trucks. And as was already noted, they also require a fraction of the calories (and tillers, pesticides, herbicides, etc.) from crops, since those crops are turned directly into food rather than funneled through animals first.

The vast inefficiency of funneling crops through animals means that eating meat is -- according to the United Nations -- "one of the major causes of the world's most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity."     


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