Category Archives: Vegetarian

Save the Planet: Eat Less Meat

Originally published on Care2.

What if you could make one immediate change in your life that would significantly decrease global warming and other damage to the environment? Great news: you can. Stop eating meat.

Perhaps the best thing you can do to save the environment is eat a plant-based diet, according to the United Nations, Sierra Club, Worldwatch Institute, Al Gore’s Live Earth, and many others. Even replacing just some of the meat you eat with grains, vegetables, legumes, fruit, and other plant-based foods can make a big difference.

Just changing the source of your meat won’t do much. As a recent New York Times op-ed by James E. McWilliams explained, there is no such thing as ecologically sustainable meat. Local, organic, free-range — all of it takes or will lead to a surprisingly large toll on the environment.

Meat production may be the most important reason for global warming, which results almost entirely from a combination of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Raising animals for food is a major source of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of the other two gases: 37% of methane and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions, as Kathy Freston reports in The Huffington Post. The United Nations has concluded that eating a vegan diet “is vital to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change,” according to The Guardian.

The livestock industry is largely responsible for deforestation, which obliterates ecosystems that would otherwise absorb carbon dioxide. According to Freston, “Animal agriculture takes up an incredible 70% of all agricultural land, and 30% of the total land surface of the planet. As a result, farmed animals are probably the biggest cause of slashing and burning the world’s forests. Today, 70% of former Amazon rainforest is used for pastureland, and feed crops cover much of the remainder.” Clearing all this land for pasture and feed crops also shrinks or eliminates the habitats for countless species of wildlife.

Just cutting back on your meat consumption has an impact. Al Gore’s Live Earth organization reports that “If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would save: 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost 4 months and 70 million gallons of gas, enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and Mexico combined with plenty to spare.” Joining the“Meatless Monday” movement, which encourages people to eat no meat for one day every week, could go a long way.

Driving a Prius doesn’t even approach the impact of eating less meat. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” A University of Chicago study confirms that in terms of fossil fuel consumption, there is “an order of magnitude” difference “between dietary and personal transportation choices.” What is on your plate matters much more than what is in your garage.

Climate change isn’t the only ill that the meat industry generates. Freston notes that “raising animals for food is a primary cause of land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution [including the ammonia that causes acid rain, and] loss of biodiversity.” The livestock industry alone is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global,” according to the U.N.’s report.

We don’t need to eat all this meat. We’d actually be healthier without it, as meat consumption plays a role in causing our three biggest killers: heart disease, cancer, and stroke. To help protect the environment and your health, visit the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for a free Vegetarian Starter Kit. The earth will thank you.

Photo Credit: penarc

 

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Horrific Conditions for Factory-Farmed Chickens Exposed

Originally published on Care2.

Kreider Farms is hell on earth for egg-laying chickens. The Humane Society of the United States released a mercifully short video summarizing its investigation of the conditions at Kreider.

According to HSUS, the investigation revealed:

  • Birds were severely overcrowded in cages more cramped than the national average; each hen received only 54–58 square inches of space on which to spend her life.
  • Injured and dead hens, including mummified bird carcasses, were found inside cages with living hens laying eggs for human consumption.
  • Hens were left without water for days when a water source malfunctioned, causing many to die.
  • Hens’ legs, wings, and heads were found trapped in cage wires and automated feeding machinery.
  • A thick layer of dead flies on the barn floors caused a crunching sound when walking on it.

Nicholas D. Kristof reports in The New York Times that Kreider produces “4.5 million eggs each day for supermarkets like ShopRite” — it is no fly-by-night operation, and its policies condemn millions of chickens to lives of unrelenting suffering.

Kristof reports that Kreider crams so many birds into small cages that they can hardly move for their entire lives. According to Kristof, HSUS’s investigator reported that the stench and filth in the barns are so repulsive that workers spend as little time in them as possible. Sadly the birds don’t have the option of walking out the door.

Kristof quotes Ron Kreider, president of Kreider Farms, as saying, “The reality of food processing can be off-putting to those not familiar with animal agriculture.” Not exactly reassuring words for those who care how animals raised for food are treated.

Since there is no government regulation guaranteeing that any label (like “organic” or “cage-free”) guarantees humane treatment for fowl, the best way to ensure that no birds were tortured in the production of your eggs is not to eat any.

Photo credit: Ethelred

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Superbug Meat: Factory Farms Weaken Antibiotics

Originally published on Care2; Open Salon Editor’s Pick

We’ve all heard about the antibiotic crisis: overuse has led to bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, opening the door to superbugs for which we have no cure. Those superbugs cause infections that are fatal in 30-60 percent of cases.

What we haven’t heard as much is that the biggest abuser of antibiotics isn’t human patients and their doctors: it is factory farms, which are responsible for 80 percent of antibiotic use. They spike livestock feed with the medications to make “meat animals” grow faster. Seven million pounds of antibiotics are sold for human use every year, while 28.8 million pounds go into cows, pigs, turkeys, sheep and chickens.

Lawsuit Against the FDA

Recently the government moved a couple steps closer to ending this lunacy. First, in a lawsuit called Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. vs. U.S. Food & Drug Administration, federal Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz ordered the FDA to reintroduce a draft rule it first proposed 35 years ago but never acted on.

The rule would require that “an antibacterial drug fed…to animals must be shown not to promote increased resistance to antibacterials used in human medicine.” The rule would not prohibit giving animals medication to treat disease. The Court’s order would obligate the FDA only to give the public (i.e. agribusiness) a chance to contribute its two cents (i.e. big fat political donations) on whether the proposed rule should be adopted. Legally, the Court can’t make the administration adopt the rule.

The FDA Asks Agribusiness, Pretty Please, to Take Antibiotics Out of Feed Voluntarily

Second, the FDA announced after Magistrate Judge Katz’s ruling that it is “proposing a voluntary initiative” to end the use of antibiotics to speed the growth of animals raised for meat, while permitting the use of the medications to treat disease under a veterinarian’s supervision.

The new initiative, being voluntary, is toothless. The Center for Science in the Public Interest called it “tragically flawed” because it relies “too heavily on the drug industry and animal producers to act voluntarily in the best interest of consumers.”

The FDA practically boasted in its press release that it had worked “to ensure that the voices of livestock producers across the country were taken into account.” These are the same producers who have dictated the government’s non-action on this issue for three decades and it is no surprise that they are still running the show.

Agribusiness Pretends to Play Along; Nobody Buys It

Agribusiness is trying to ward off meaningful government intervention with a charade that it is voluntarily slashing its use of antibiotics. For instance, as Reuters reports, “the poultry industry [says] it already has ratcheted down ‘by a large margin’ its use of antibiotics.” But agribusiness has been on notice since 1977 that the government disapproved of its massive overconsumption of antibiotics and didn’t try to fix the problem until now. It is awfully convenient to claim that it can self-regulate just when a federal lawsuit shines a light on its long-term failure to do just that.

The same Reuters article reports that the “director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, noted voluntary efforts to reduce antibiotic use and said, ‘We believe additional steps are necessary to have a real impact on this problem.’” In other words, the FDA admits that agribusiness is not and will not do enough to solve the problem voluntarily. Still, it chose to address the problem with a brand new voluntary initiative. That is an agency working hard to have no impact on anything.

The Science Says: Global Public Health Crisis

Contrast this sluggish inaction with the magnitude of the problem: the FDA itself told the Court that antibiotic resistance is “a mounting public health problem of global significance” and that dosing livestock with antibiotics “for production purposes…is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health.”

There is no doubt that factory farms’ use of antibiotics is directly causing the rise of superbugs. The science is clear that feeding animals antibiotics just to make them grow larger faster threatens human health. In 1997, for example, the World Health Organization recommended a ban on feeding animals antibiotics for growth if the same antibiotics are used to treat humans. In 2010, the FDA reviewed this and other studies and concluded, as it had back in the ’70s, that factory farms shouldn’t feed antibiotics to animals. And just like in the ’70s, the FDA once again didn’t do a thing about it.

Why it has been necessary to sue the FDA to make them do what they already know they should do is a mystery. And this lawsuit isn’t even the first effort to roust the administration to action. In 2009 and subsequent years, as reported by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “hundreds of…health, consumer, environmental, agricultural, and humane organizations” supported a bill in Congress to address the problem. It didn’t pass.

Doctors Want to Protect Antibiotics

Doctors are on the front lines of the battle against antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and they have taken sides in the struggle to get antibiotics out of factory farm feed. Three antibiotics doctors commonly prescribe, penicillin and two forms of tetracycline, are at issue in the lawsuit. The American Medical Association endorsed the 2009 bill to reduce the amount of these medications fed to animals raised for meat.

The AMA’s newspaper quoted Dr. Brad Spellberg, associate professor of medicine at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California, as saying, “I’ve seen patients die of treatable infections. I’ve told their family, ‘I have no medicine to use.’ This is a catastrophic public health crisis. I don’t know how else to put it.

Our health is far more important than some extra profit for factory farming conglomerates. Please help convince our government of that by signing the petition to the Obama administration calling for an end to agribusiness’s abuse of antibiotics.

Photo Credit: NDSU Ag Comm

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