Meat and the planet: cows, pigs and sheep environment's greatest threats?

"When you think about the growth of human population over the last century or so, it is all too easy to imagine it merely as an increase in the number of humans," writes the New York Times. "But as we multiply, so do all the things associated with us, including our livestock. With pigs and poultry, they form a critical part of our enormous biological footprint upon this planet."

//www.truthout.org/issues_06/122706ED.shtml

--------

The New Scientist
December 12, 2006

//environment.newscientist.com/article/dn10786-cows-pigs-and-sheep-environments-greatest-threats.html

Cows, pigs and sheep: Environment's greatest threats?

By Catherine Brahic

Cows, pigs, sheep and poultry have been awarded the dubious honour of being among the world's greatest environmental threats, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The report, entitled Livestock's long shadow, says the livestock industry is degrading land, contributing to the greenhouse effect, polluting water resources, and destroying biodiversity. In summary, the sector is "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale".

The authors say the demand for meat is expected to more than double by 2050 and therefore the environmental impact of production must be halved in order to avoid worsening the harmful impacts of the industry.

Perhaps the report's most striking finding is that the livestock sector accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions - more than transport, which emits 13.5%.

Entire cycle

The FAO's estimate of livestock emissions surpasses previous ones because this time researchers looked at the entire production cycle. This includes emissions generated by fertiliser and feed production, deforestation to open up pastures, manure management, and emissions from the livestock themselves and from transporting them and their feed.

Livestock require a lot of land, occupying 26% of Earth's ice-free land. Their pastures account for 70% of deforested areas in the Amazon, and their feed occupies one-third of global cropland.

Not only does deforestation increase greenhouse gas emissions by releasing carbon previously stored in trees, it is also a major driver in the loss of biodiversity. The report goes so far as to say that the livestock sector, which accounts for about 20% of terrestrial animal biomass, "may be a leading player in the reduction of biodiversity".

Livelihoods in livestock

Encouraging the global population to become vegans is not a viable solution, however. For starters, says the lead author of the FAO report, Henning Steinfeld, it is quite simply not an option for many of the one billion people whose livelihoods rely on livestock production.

Moreover, vegetable production is not devoid of environmental problems either. And recent studies have shown that global fish stocks are not sustainable at current levels of exploitation.

Steinfeld says the crux of the livestock problem is the sheer bulk of land the sector occupies: "We need to discourage indiscriminate deforestation for pasture, a large part of which takes place because of land speculation."

Convenient occupation

In the Amazon, where governments struggle to enforce legal systems, settlers occupy swathes of "no-man's land" and wait 15 years, after which time practice, though not law, dictates that they own the land. Using the land for pasture is simply a convenient tool to occupy the land, explains Steinfeld.

Ultimately, the authors argue, environmental services such as sustainably managed land and clean water, need to be given a price. "Most frequently, natural resources are free or underpriced, which leads to overexploitation and pollution," write the authors, concluding that "a top priority is to achieve prices and fees that reflect the full economic and environmental costs".

Steinfeld says negotiations of the next step of the Kyoto Protocol might be a good opportunity to do this.



Want to do something for the environment?
by Do not eat pigs.

//www.indybay.org/newsitems/2006/12/11/18336785.php

[Do not eat dead pigs (bacon, ham, pork chops). Below is a piece from another list about Smithfield pigs. Read it! Jean]

The current, December 14, edition of Rolling Stone magazine includes a lengthy piece, by contributor Jeff Tietz, about Smithfield pork producers. It covers the conditions the animals are kept in, and the environmental impact. The article is headed, "BossHog" and sub-headed, "America's top pork producer churns out a sea of waste that has destroyed rivers, killed millions of fish and generated one of the largest fines in EPA history. Welcome to the dark side of the other white meat." (pg 89.)

The lead photo is of a huge pile of pig carcasses, with the caption, "Pork producers generate millions of tons of hog waste each year including millions of dead pigs."

The article opens: "Smithfield Foods, the largest and most profitable pig processor in the world, killed 27 million hogs last year."

It tells us that hogs produce three times more excrement than humans do, and that "The best estimates put Smithfield total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year." We read, "So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do -- even if it came close to the same standard -- it would lose money."

It explains that the "pig shit" is so toxic because of the concentrated conditions the pigs are kept in:

"Smithfield's pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouselike barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty full grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens....

"The temperature inside hog houses is often hotter than ninety degrees. The air, saturated almost to the point of precipitation with gases from shit and chemicals, can be lethal to the pigs. Enormous exhaust fans run
24 hours a day... If they break down for any length of time, pigs start dying....

"Taken together, the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs' immune systems. They become susceptible to infection..."

So they are infused with antibiotics and doused with insecticides.

We read about the huge excrement holding pens, called lagoons, which often overflow: "Major floods have transferred entire counties into pig shit bayous."

The lagoons are so toxic, workers have been overcome by them and fallen in and drowned in pig shit.

The article tells us that according to the EPA, Smithfield dumps more toxic waste into the nation's water each year than all but three other industrial facilities in America. But, "The industry has long made generous campaign contributions to politicians responsible for regulating hog farms." We read, "In 1998 corporate hog farms in North Carolina spent $1 million to help defeat state legislators who wanted to clean up open-pit lagoons."

Tietz writes, "Studies have shown that lagoons emit hundreds of different volatile gases into the atmosphere, including ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. A single lagoon releases many millions of bacteria into the air per day, some resistant to human antibiotics."

With an environmentalist, he flies in a small plane over the Smithfield area, and watches as "several farmers spray their hog shit straight up into the air as a fine mist." He writes, "It looks like a public fountain. Lofted and atomized the shit is blown clear of the company's property. People who breathe the shit-infused air suffer from bronchitis, asthma, heart palpitations, headaches, diarrhea, nosebleeds and brain damage."

He writes that the ascending stench can nauseate pilots at 3,000 feet, and He goes into some detail about the suffering of people whose homes are down-wind of the farms. He visits a lagoon to take a good whiff, and writes that even as he thinks about the smell he fights an urge to vomit.

We read some specifics of Smithfield's environmental impact in North Carolina. In a span of four years its lagoons have spilled: "2 million gallons of shit into Cape Fear River, 1.5 million gallons into its Persimmon branch, one million gallons into the Trent River, and
200,000 gallons into Turkey Creek."

The waste kills plants and animals outright and also consumes available oxygen and suffocates fish. We read about various disastrous spills. For example: "The biggest spill in the history of corporate hog farming happened in 1995. The dike of a 120,000 square foot lagoon owned by a Smithfield competitor ruptured, releasing 25.8 million gallons of effluvium into the headwaters of the New River in North Carolina. It was the biggest environmental spill in United States history, more than twice as big as the Exxon Valdez oil spill six years earlier. The sludge was so toxic, it burned your skin if you touched it, and so dense it took almost two months to make its way sixteen miles downstream to the ocean. From the headwaters to the sea, every creature living in the river was killed. Fish died by the millions."

He describes dead fish covering the riverbanks, and the article includes a shocking photo of that phenomenon.

Please share this with everyone you know!


Informant: Scott Munson



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