Studies have shown that grass-fed cows generate less greenhouse gas emissions

Jennifer Tehraud

People might think that if you are a vegan, your nutritional philosophy is based on religious, ethical or health-related motives. But actually, people are also turning to veganism because they are aware of the fact that livestock production generates approximately one fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases, with which it outruns transportation. This was discovered by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. In other words, the production of 1kg of beef results in more CO² emissions than driving the car for three hours while leaving all the lights on at home, according to scientists. What kind of influence does livestock production have on the environment?

  • Methane is released through the belching of cattle: Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and its capacity to trap heat in the atmosphere is 21 times great than that of CO². 
  • Fertilizing compounds such as sulphur dioxide and phosphate destroy ecosystems in rivers and lakes. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture in the U.S. contributes to approximately ¾ of all water-quality problems in rivers and streams. Farm facilities often resemble prisons and are located hundreds of miles away from major cities. Their manure pollutes rivers and our valuable groundwater. In the state of Iowa, hog factories and farms produce more than 50 million tons of excrement annually. 
  • The livestock and the food needs to be transported which causes further emissions.
  • The livestock is fed with soy which requires cutting down the rainforest to make room for cultivating it in order to be able to export the demanded quantities to feed the thousands of cows and pigs slaughtered daily.

More meat for the richest, nothing left for the poor
As people are becoming richer and living standards in many countries are rising, meat is becoming more affordable and the meat industry is booming; however, not for the poorest of the poor. As the demand for meat increases, more quantities of feed such as corn and soy are required. A growing demand will lead to higher prices, according to some experts. Citizens in richer nations might not feel this as much though as those in poorer countries. As the demand for ethanol is rising, food prices are already rocketing upwards which accounts for the 40 % rise last year in the food price index calculated by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization. 800 million people on Earth suffer from hunger or malnutrition. It seems paradox that the majority of corn and soy cultivated worldwide feeds livestock. If we were to consume grains directly, we would need two to five times less grain than for raising livestock. 

The risks of grain-fed livestock
Factory farming is only possible with the use of antibiotics. This can be easily explained. Naturally, cattle are not supposed to eat grains but grass. Their digestive systems are not meant to process grains. A diet based on grains leads to a rapid increase of weight which makes intensive livestock farming very efficient. However, as animals are kept in very confined spaces, they infect themselves easily with disease which makes the use of antibiotics inevitable. 
We are exposed to the risk of experiencing health problems by eating too much red meat, especially the mone that stems from grain-fed cows. Scientists have continuously offered explanations for the link between colon cancer and red meat. In a study, it was shown that people who consumed large amounts of meat had large quantities of N-nitroso compounds (NOCs) in their stool which are chemicals that potentially cause cancer. The ones that consumed vegetarian food had low levels of NOCs and the people that ate meat as well as high-fiber diets had intermediate amounts. Another discovery showed that people eating diets with large quantities of meat had a large number of cells in their bodies where DNA changes had taken place caused by the NOCs. Vegetarians had the lowest number of cells with damaged genetic material while in people consuming high-meat, high-fiber diets, intermediate numbers of damaged material were detected. Processed meat also represents a risk which contains preservatives. Nitrates, which is a food preservative found in processed food such as hot dogs, is converted into nitrosamines which are carcinogenic.
The problem with grain-fed animals is that they also contribute to other health problems in today’s industrialized world including cardiac diseases and diabetes. Meat does provide, useful proteins, but quantities must be small. Some scientists even suggest making meat the side dish of a meal. It is also advisable to avoid foods cooked at high temperatures as the chemical process can generate carcinogenic compounds, especially in grilled or pan-fried food.
According to the market research company Packaged Facts, a study with participants between 50 and 71 years old showed that 11% of deaths in men and 16% of deaths in women would have been less likely if the person had consumed less red meat. The study also established a link between red meat consumption and higher cancer and cardiovascular mortality rates. These are the leading causes of death in the United States. The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute. The study also showed that a higher consumption of legumes, grains and white meat slightly decreased mortality. These foods are packed with proteins but don’t present the same risks as red or processed meat 

What is the answer to this problem?
·         An improved waste management: Animal waste can be used to generate electricity such as at the Yagi Bioecology Center of Nantan City in Japan. The Center processes animal waste and food waste by means of fermentation and generates biogas with which electric power can be generated. As farmers began to notice the usefulness they started expanding their businesses. The Center is completely self-sufficient when it comes to electric power. Global warming is prevented as methane is not released into the atmosphere. The Center proves that generating electricity from animal waste at a large scale is not only a futuristic vision but is actually currently being applied successfully. 

  • Improved farming practices: Within the framework of a serious of ambitious environmental goals, the US company PepsiCo, Inc is promoting and employing proven sustainable agriculture practices. PepsiCo aims to reduce water waste during irrigation and avoid the pollution of ground or surface water with pesticides, nutrients or soil. It has committed to conserving and preserving soil through the improvement of soil fertility, optimizing the use of pesticides and nutrients and reducing direct as well as indirect greenhouse gases. In India, PepsiCo started an initiative promoting and employing the direct seeding of rice technology which saved more than 7 billion liters of water in 2010. India is one of the largest rice producers worldwide but faces severe water shortages.
  • Meat without feet: In vitro meat is an animal product made of flesh that does not require the slaughtering of an animal to be produced. It is meat grown in a laboratory and was originally intended for astronauts as space food. In vitro meat is said to require less resources and generate less greenhouse gases and other waste harmful to the environment in comparison to conventional meat production. Scientists at Oxford and the University of Amsterdam found that in vitro meat was “potentially…much more efficient and environmentally friendly” by generating only 4% greenhouse gas emissions and requiring only 2% of the land that the livestock industry currently uses. 
  • Eating less meat: consuming meat only once or twice a week would do a lot of good for our planet. We would take the pressure on the Amazon basin which is currently the target of the livestock industry seeking new land to grow soy to feed their livestock and it would greatly reduce the quantities of greenhouse gases released inot the atmosphere.
  • Organic Grass-Fed Beef: Raising cows on pastures rather than inside and feeding them soy so that they get bigger faster is a way to protect the environment. It helps maintain landscapes and improves the diversity of grasses by dispersing seeds and breaking up the soil crusts, results in healthier animals, promotes cleaner water and prevents soil erosion thanks to their grazing activity. Grass-Fed Beef also enhances our health by being two to four times richer in omega 3 fatty acids, being high in unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats, being 3 to 5 times higher in Conjugated Linoleic Acid and containing over 400% more of vitamin A and E. In a Swedish study from 2003, it was shown that the production of organic beef on grass rather than feed, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and consumes 85% less energy.
  • Charging fees for the pollution of rivers: It would be interesting to see livestock companies pay for their pollution of rivers if they are still not willing to change their agricultural highly polluting practices. This would put them at a disadvantage in comparison to organic farms or other farms promoting and employing sustainable agricultural practices. 
  • Campaigns to raise awareness: we have the knowledge, we are informed of the consequences and we know what to change…so why is the media still silent? Let’s start talking about! The link between human health, animal welfare and environmental protection needs to be promoted just like anti-smoking or anti-violence campaigns.

Perhaps, the combination of deforestation, pollution, climate change, starvation, heart disease and animal cruelty will slowly incite people to consume less meat and think that going green is not only something for green fanatics but concerns each and every one of us. 

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