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Cooked Meat Might Be Responsible for the Evolution of Homosapiens

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I looked into if it is ethical in terms of our environment to eat meat. In order to understand the situation, you have to understand its background. We started eating large quantities of meat during the industrialization of the United States in the early 1900s when companies began applying the same ideas used in Henry Ford’s assembly lines into agriculture and livestock. Food items that were once expensive and seemed like a luxury were now cheaper and easier to get. Because of the employment of these in-depth procedures, more and more animals were being slaughtered every second, and that number keeps increasing. The article Could Less Meat Mean More Food shares the statistic that the US has 4.5% of the world’s population but is responsible for 15% of the global meat consumption. Americans are eating more meat than ever before and this could have consequences. Because of the environmental impacts including the depletion of resources causing food scarcity, air pollution, water depletion and pollution, and deforestation, I came to the conclusion that it is not ethical or responsible to eat large quantities of meat.

To begin, the production of meat is partially responsible for food scarcity and the depletion of some resources. The human population is growing at an extremely fast rate and it is a struggle to produce enough food to feed everyone. In the text Standing in Livestock’s ‘Long Shadow’ by Brian Henning, the effects of meat production on the environment are discussed. Henning states, “…the morality and sustainability of one’s diet are inversely related to the proportion of animals and animal products one consumes” (Henning 63). The overconsumption of meat is often disregarded by the public and not recognized as a factor in the global nutrition crisis.

According to Henning, about 1 billion are overfed compared to about 800 million malnourished. “Animals now detract far more from the global food supply than they provide” (Henning 68). This is because only a small amount of the total energy taken in by an animal can be converted into edible biomass. “…each movement up the trophic pyramid away from primary producers results in a significant loss of energy” (Henning 68). This shows how it is more efficient to eat food that is lower on the food chain such as plant based foods because more energy can be provided. “According to the USDA, the ratio of kilograms of grain to animal protein is 0.7 to 1 for milk, 2.3 to 1 for chicken, 5.9 to 1 for pork, 11 to 1 for eggs, 13 to 1 for beef, and 21 to 1 for lamb. In other words, it takes 21 kg of edible grain to yield 1 edible kg of lamb and 13 kg of edible grain for one kg of beef,”(Henning 68). This data demonstrates how much food and energy we are wasting to produce certain types of meat and how some types might be more ethical to consume than others.

This text also explores data that suggests that a third of the annual global harvest is consumed by livestock. This is a huge loss of edible nutrition and the article argues that this is morally unacceptable. Both this article and the article How does meat in the diet take an environmental toll? claim that the grain fed to just US livestock alone could feed all the the 800 million malnourished people in the world. The article Could Less Meat Mean More Food? by Erik Stokstad, explains that animals use up to 80% of the agricultural land in the world, however they only supply 15% of all the calories. All these facts show that consuming a large amount of meat might not be ethical because of the food scarcity around the world.

Another way that meat production affects the environment is through air pollution. Henning discusses how through energy analysis studies, it was found that in order to produce one calorie of beef, 40 calories of fossil fuel are needed. This can be compared to 14:1 for milk and about 2:1 for grain. This shows how inefficient it is to produce beef compared to other food. The article How does meat in the diet take an environmental toll? finds through studies conducted that red meat is accountable for 10 to 40 times as much greenhouse gas emissions as vegetables and grains. Henning also argues that what people don’t realize is that “the food we eat contributes more to global climate change than what we drive or the energy we use” (Henning 73). Throughout the world, agricultural emissions overpower both power generation and transportation.

Agricultural admissions contributes to as much as a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have gone up by over a third from pre-industrial times, while the methane concentration has more than doubled. “Though still present in the atmosphere in far smaller amounts than carbon dioxide, methane plays a disproportionate role in global warming, contributing 21 percent of all anthropogenic warming. The reason for this has to do with differences in the molecular properties of atmospheric methane” (Henning 74). Methane is different than CO2 because although is lasts for a shorter amount of time in the atmosphere, it is way more potent at trapping heat. “Indeed, molecule-for-molecule, methane traps twenty-three times as much heat as carbon dioxide”(Henning 74). “EWG estimates that growing livestock feed in the U.S. alone requires 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer each year across some 149 million acres of cropland” (Sarasota 1).

The article explains how this creates a large quantity of nitrous oxide, which is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Likewise, methane from cattle produces 20% of all methane emissions in the U.S. The article also explains a study involving environmental impact of gasoline compared to producing beef. The study came to the conclusion that “Producing 1 kg of beef thus has a similar impact on the environment as 6.2 gallons of gasoline, or driving 160 miles in the average American mid-size car” (Henning 74). The study proved that the meat we consume is more responsible for climate change than the cars we drive. The article What is the true cost of eating meat? by Bibi Zee discusses a 2017 landmark that found “…the top three meat firms- JBS,Cargill and Tyson- emitted more greenhouse gases in 2016 than all of France” (Zee 2). As you can see, air pollution plays a big role in determining if it is ethical in terms of the environment to consume and produce meat.

In addition to food scarcity and air pollution, livestock contribute to water pollution. In Standing in Livestock’s ‘Long Shadow’, Henning points out that “…worldwide, one in six people don’t have access to fresh water and more than twice that number, 2.4 billion people, lack access to adequate sanitation facilities” (Henning 69). This article makes it clear that there is a severe worldwide freshwater crisis, and it is only growing. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we are rapidly approaching serious issues involving freshwater shortage, and depletion. “By the year 2025, the FAO estimates that 64% of the world’s population may live in “water-stressed” basins. And by 2050 the number of individuals living in severely stressed water basins is projected to rise from 1.5 billion to 3 to 5 billion” (Henning 70). Clearly, this is a significant problem that is only growing and that we should be doing something about. What we often fail to realize is how large of a role agriculture plays in the depletion and degradation of our freshwater supply.

The article states, “Domestic use of water accounts for only 10% of freshwater consumption while agriculture accounts for 66–70% of global freshwater usage, making it the single largest user of freshwater” (Henning 70). The article also explains the amounts of water that is needed to produce different foods. “… it takes 1,799 gallons of water to create one pound of beef, 576 gallons for one pound of pork, 468 gallons for one pound of chicken, and 216 gallons for one pound of soybeans” (Henning 70). The study came to the conclusion that it takes 100 times more water to generate one kilogram of animal protein than than a kilogram of grain protein.

Not only is livestock depleting our freshwater sources, but it is also polluting our freshwater. “…livestock produce ten times more waste than the human population” (Henning 70). This waste is compiled in lagoons that regularly leak into aquifers and waterways. This can cause an extensive amount of harm to the environment because it creates a surplus of nutrients in the water, causing eutrophication and dead zones. Dead zones are low-oxygen areas that cause the marine life around them to die. This waste leaking into our freshwater sources makes it unsanitary to humans, therefore we can no longer drink it. Since there is already a growing freshwater shortage around the world, this is a major issue. The US is the world’s fourth largest area, but is accountable for 37% of all pesticide use and a third of the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen polluting our sources of freshwater.

Our marine ecosystems are already put under a lot of stress with the conditions we have created.This pesticide and fertilizer use causes a large amount of organic matter to pollute our water sources resulting in eutrophication and dead zones in the water. This excess amount of organic matter can come from animal feces and leftover feed and crop residues. The FAO finds that the livestock sector “is probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, ‘dead’ zones in coastal areas, [and] degradation of coral reefs…” (Henning 71). Henning decides that because meat is unneeded for our health and removes more from our food supply than it adds, it isn’t ethically fair to keep eating it. Henning declares “…not only is the inefficient and wasteful use of increasingly scarce freshwater ecologically unsustainable, it is morally unacceptable to continue to preference the acquired taste of meat over the need for life-giving freshwater ” (Henning 71). This brings attention the the fact that we all need water to live, so it may not be ethical or smart to continue polluting and depleting it to this extent through livestock and meat production.

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