Cowspiracy: The truth about animal agriculture

Image: Pixabay. Cows emit methane via bacteria in their stomachs that aid digestion.

Image: Pixabay. Cows emit methane via bacteria in their stomachs that aid digestion.

MISCONCEPTIONS associated with the meat industry and the world of animal agriculture is the product of a controversial topic that isn’t talked about enough. It is time for the polarised argument on meat-eaters versus vegetarianism to be thought of as a debate between sustainable and unsustainable choices.

The impact that animal agriculture has on the environment may come as a surprise, and with the human population set to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, some may ask, is an omnivorous diet sustainable for the earth? It appears it may not be all that simple, but the debate has to begin somewhere.

Agriculture is important- many people rely on it worldwide. Many people in developing countries rely solely on farming and fishing in order to survive. However, the impacts of global agriculture on the environment should be taken more into consideration.

We are all discouraged from wasting water in our homes. However, this may not be an issue of such significance in comparison to the 34-76 trillion gallons of water that is consumed annually through animal agriculture alone. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service 2013, agriculture is responsible for 80 to 90 per cent of US water consumption.

Although the majority of facts and figures stated here have been sourced from the popular documentary ‘Cowspiracy’, it must be noted it isn’t the most reliable source. Some of the papers used to conclude some statistics were not peer reviewed, and are unreliable, but that does not mean none of it is true.

The crops used to feed animals that are bred for human consumption and use must also be considered; growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56 per cent of water in the U.S.
One third of ice-free land on earth is occupied by livestock or livestock feed where grazing animals are constantly releasing methane. Ruminant livestock (grazing animals who have four stomachs), emit methane when they digest their food, a greenhouse gas that has a 23 times more powerful impact on the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. However, carbon dioxide is also produced in its masses from this industry: livestock and their by-products account for 32,000 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

Consider species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction. Animal agriculture impacts species extinction in many ways: forest destruction and the conversion of land to grow feed crops and animal grazing further reduces the extensive range of grasses, plant and animal species that could potentially thrive in these areas.
Predators and ‘competition species’ are often targeted and hunted as they are seen as a threat to livestock profits. The widespread and often unchecked use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides used in the production of feed crops can have huge impacts on mineral soil depletion, air pollution and the acidification of soil, to name just a few.

Whether or not it is worth cutting meat entirely out of your diet based on these reasons is questionable; for some, it is from a morally conscious perspective. Videos leaked on social media of the slaughter of livestock seem to horrify some for all of about 10 minutes, and then it is forgotten. It should be remembered that the actions performed in those videos are not a one- time thing; it is happening right now, and millions of animals will be slaughtered in an inhumane manner every day.

The counterargument for this problem is that meat and dairy products are enjoyable and full of protein. The difficulty of cutting meat out of your diet is understandable when it is considered by many as a valuable, primary source of protein. However, there are many other easily accessible foods that contain large amounts of protein. For example, green peas, quinoa, almonds, beans, soya, chickpeas, tofu, and ‘mock meat’ supplements are equally high in protein and other nutrients.

The livestock industry is a controversial one. Meat consumption of course has its benefits, providing creatine that creates energy reserves in muscle and brain tissue and vitamin B12 for the health of nerve cells and prevention of certain types of anaemia. However, as vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming increasingly popular, it should be reassuring that if done properly, it can be a very healthy way of living for both your health and the environment.

The western pride that comes along with eating meat shouldn’t be used against those who choose not to, and of course, vice versa. However, it should be something to consider, but if cutting down on your meat intake is not of your interest, try avoiding any industrially processed foods and purchase locally produced meat if possible.

One comment

  1. Vegetarian for over 50 years after seeing Cowspiracy vegan sounds better. Will have to rethink my relationship with the deer that are eating my peaches? There must be a balance here somewhere living in a state where agriculture is important but not as important as manufacture of munitions.

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