Bill Totten's Weblog

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Cow - Public Enemy Number One?

by Craig Mackintosh (December 11 2006)

Consistent with a raft of studies done by various scientists and organisations over the last two decades, the United Nations has just released a report entitled "Livestock's Long Shadow", detailing the impact our penchant for eating meat has on the environment and on global warming.


A United Nations report has identified the world’s rapidly growing herds of cattle as the greatest threat to the climate, forests and wildlife. And they are blamed for a host of other environmental crimes, from acid rain to the introduction of alien species, from producing deserts to creating dead zones in the oceans, from poisoning rivers and drinking water to destroying coral reefs.

The 400-page report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow, also surveys the damage done by sheep, chickens, pigs and goats. But in almost every case, the world’s 1.5 billion cattle are most to blame. - The Independent (December 28 2006)

A few shocking facts from the UN Report, Livestock's Long Shadow:

* Livestock are responsible for eighteen per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.

* Burning fuel to produce fertiliser to grow feed, to produce meat and to transport it - and clearing vegetation for grazing - produces nine per cent of all emissions of carbon dioxide.

* Their wind and manure emit more than one third of emissions of methane, which warms the world twenty times faster than carbon dioxide.

* Livestock produces more than a hundred other polluting gases, including more than two-thirds of the world's emissions of ammonia, one of the main causes of acid rain.

* Ranching is "the major driver of deforestation" worldwide.

* Overgrazing is turning a fifth of all pastures and ranges into desert.

* Cows soak up vast amounts of water: it takes a staggering 990 litres of water to produce one litre of milk.

* Wastes from feedlots and fertilisers used to grow their feed overnourish water, causing weeds to choke all other life.

* Pesticides, antibiotics and hormones used to treat them get into drinking water and endanger human health.

* The pollution washes down to the sea, killing coral reefs and creating "dead zones" devoid of life.

The report concludes that, unless drastic changes are made, the massive damage done by livestock will more than double by 2050, as demand for meat increases.

Essentially, by reducing or eliminating our appetite for meat, vast tracts of land that are now straining under hooves and chemicals could be returned to their natural carbon-absorbing state, and much needed biodiversity can be returned. This includes not just the land cattle roam on, but the huge tracts of land used for growing livestock feed. Rainforests would no longer 'need' to be cut down, and the huge amounts of energy consumed in meat production can be diverted to more productive activities.

In all, livestock production accounts for seventy percent of all agricultural land and thirty percent of the land surface of the planet. Expansion of livestock production is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America where the greatest amount of deforestation is occurring: seventy percent of previous forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and feedcrops cover a large part of the remainder.

I'll repeat that - livestock production "takes up thirty percent of the land surface of the planet". That's a lot of polluting, consuming, baggage we're carrying. Yes, we need to get rid of our incandescent light bulbs and our gas-guzzling SUV's - but let's also consider the impact of what we put on our plate.

Bill Totten


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