– Here’s a bit of reading.
The first one found by Lindsay via the New York Times:
Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler
By MARK BITTMAN
Published: January 27, 2008
A SEA change in the consumption of a resource that Americans take for granted may be in store â€” something cheap, plentiful, widely enjoyed and a part of daily life. And it isnâ€™t oil.
The two commodities share a great deal: Like oil, meat is subsidized by the federal government. Like oil, meat is subject to accelerating demand as nations become wealthier, and this, in turn, sends prices higher. Finally â€” like oil â€” meat is something people are encouraged to consume less of, as the toll exacted by industrial production increases, and becomes increasingly visible.
Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years, encouraged by growing affluence and nourished by the proliferation of huge, confined animal feeding operations. These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the worldâ€™s tropical rain forests.
Just this week, the president of Brazil announced emergency measures to halt the burning and cutting of the countryâ€™s rain forests for crop and grazing land. In the last five months alone, the government says, 1,250 square miles were lost.
The worldâ€™s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. (In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last 20 years.) World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050, which one expert, Henning Steinfeld of the United Nations, says is resulting in a â€œrelentless growth in livestock production.â€
Americans eat about the same amount of meat as we have for some time, about eight ounces a day, roughly twice the global average. At about 5 percent of the worldâ€™s population, we â€œprocessâ€ (that is, grow and kill) nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the worldâ€™s total.
Growing meat (itâ€™s hard to use the word â€œraisingâ€ when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that itâ€™s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earthâ€™s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nationâ€™s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the worldâ€™s greenhouse gases â€” more than transportation.
To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan â€” a Camry, say â€” to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.
Grain, meat and even energy are roped together in a way that could have dire results. More meat means a corresponding increase in demand for feed, especially corn and soy, which some experts say will contribute to higher prices.
This will be inconvenient for citizens of wealthier nations, but it could have tragic consequences for those of poorer ones, especially if higher prices for feed divert production away from food crops. The demand for ethanol is already pushing up prices, and explains, in part, the 40 percent rise last year in the food price index calculated by the United Nationsâ€™ Food and Agricultural Organization.
Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.
The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States â€” much of which now serves the demand for meat â€” contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nationâ€™s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.