29 August 2012

Why eating meat is irresponsible

In Eating Animals Jonathan Safron Foer wrote, "We see farmed animals so rarely today, it becomes easy to forget all of this. Earlier generations were more familiar than we are with the personalities of farmed animals and the violence done to them. They would have known that pigs are playful, smart, and curious (we would say "like dogs"), and that they have complex social relationships." This is the description of our lives. Through either inundation or lack of participation we become desensitized to the world around us. We don't notice the volume of music or the amount of violence on television; we become blind to the people present while we text and talk to people on our mobile phones.

Surrounded by violence, we shun compassion and write off empathy as weakness. Submerged in pornographic imagery, we neglect commitment and love.

Yet in order to be caring human beings we must challenge ourselves not to forget and not to allow sensory overload to be our excuse for harming the planet and our fellow animals.

Today millions of animals are tortured and slaughtered so that some people can devour filet mignon for lunch and dinner.

According to PETA, "it takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons." And, "it takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat, and even fish on fish farms must be fed up to 5 pounds of wild-caught fish to produce 1 pound of farmed fish flesh."

The US Geological Survey supports Peta's figures and adds that, "Estimates vary a lot due to different conditions of raising cows and to the extent of the production chain of water that is used. It takes a lot of water to grow grain, forage, and roughage to feed a cow, as well as water to drink and to service the cow." The numbers the USGS provides are in order to make a hamburger (it doesn't list the weight). According to their figures 4,000-18,000 gallons of water are required to produce a hamburger. Compare that to wheat, which requires about 110 gallons of water.

In the very near future, the great crises that face our planet, lack of fossil fuels, global warming, poverty, will be upon us. Perhaps the greatest challenge will be access to fresh water; this challenge will affect all of us, as opposed to what it is today, mostly people in impoverished areas. If we don't take our water consumption seriously now, we will face dire consequences in the future.

As for the amount of grain needed for 1 pound of beef, consider the numbers from the UW Extension.
There are reasons why you have heard many numbers because it depends a bit on production practices and your definition of a pound of beef. An old rule of thumb is that it requires 50 bushels of corn to finish an animal for our U.S. desired endpoint (USDA choice grade; USDA yield grade 2 or 3; approximately 28% body fat). There are 56 pounds of corn in a bushel, so you will need around 2,800 pounds of corn to produce an animal that weighs 1,250 to 1,350 pounds. This equates to 2.07 to 2.24 pounds of corn per pound of finished animal. The reason you have numbers that are much higher than that may be due to many factors. Cattle convert (pounds of feed per pounds of gain) at around 5.5 to 6.5 in the feedlot. That means you need to feed about 5.5 to 6.5 pounds of diet (assuming normal finishing diet) for an animal to gain 1 pound. However, they do not enter the feedlot until they already weigh 600 to 900 pounds. During that time, they consume mostly forage prior to entering the feedlot (most producers use forage because it is cheaper and a good use of fiber that would otherwise not be harvested). So, it is misleading to say that it takes 6 pounds of corn to make 1 pound of beef. The reason you may have heard 20 pounds of corn is because not all the 1,250 to 1,350 pounds of live animal is consumed (as beef anyway).
According to UW Extension, the amount of feed required depends on the definition of use of an animal. If we limit the definition to beef then the amount of grain per pound is very high. But if we include all of the products created such as leather then the amount of grain per pound decreases. Either way, it does take a lot of grain to produce a pound of meat. Is this grain that people could consume and could it be used more effectively?

If Safron Foer's Eating Animals isn't convincing enough nor are the statistics about amounts of grain and water used to create meat, then watch the videos below. Follow that up with Food, Inc. and you may find yourself questioning the reasons for continuing to eat meat.

If we lose our compassion, we lose hope.

"We can't plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, 'What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?'"

Links of interest:

NPR's A Nation of Meat Eaters: See how it all Adds up

Ms. Portman's a vegetarian, how about you?

Review of Eating Animals

Is it ethical to eat meat?

Interview with JSF

Meat-Free Meals

Cases in Point: Arguments for Foregoing Meat
The Crisis of Water
Consumption today

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