More On Meat

Found a couple interesting articles on the environmental impacts of eating meat today. First, from Wired, an argument that eating meat is an ethical issue because of its impacts on the global food supply. Livestock require lots of food to eat and big areas to hang out in, so that prompts deforestation, decreases farmland, and drives up grain prices. There are plenty of other things driving up food prices (corn-based ethanol, argh), but the rising demand for meat is certainly one of them. After describing food riots in a dozen countries:

Even before this crisis, food experts said the world could not feed itself in coming decades if growing populations in developing countries insisted on a meat-rich western diet. That time may already have arrived — and largely without climate-change induced agricultural disruption. Add droughts and years of failing harvests, and things get seriously scary.

So maybe it’s time for taste to take a back seat to conscience. I know that sacrificing meat for veggies won’t solve the problem on its own, but it’s certainly just as meaningful as using compact fluorescent bulbs or cloth shopping bags, and I do that without hesitation.

I dig. Fauxsage for dinner it is.

Ok, so cut back on the meat, check. And when we do get meat, organic free range meat is neat! Right? No. The BBC makes a case that organically raised beef and poultry might produce more greenhouse gases, consume more food, and produce more waste that’s harder to clean up than livestock sequestered indoors.

Housing animals gives humans control. The diet can be precisely manipulated to maximise growth and minimise polluting gases.

Animals do not waste food energy on running about and keeping warm. Their manure can be collected and burned as a fuel, avoiding damaging evaporation and seepage into rivers.

In the future, it is hoped that sealed barns would have exhaust vents where the harmful gases could be captured before they entered the atmosphere.

This combination of precision husbandry and species advantage is what puts commercial indoor poultry sheds at the top of the climate chart.

Peter Bradnock of the British Poultry Council says: “Organic poultry meat has about 45% more global warming potential than indoor-reared poultry meat.

My first reaction: Well, *expletive*.

We have to keep the animals indoors and still for us to reduce emissions? But that makes them sick, and unhappy, and unhealthy, and and and. The way they raise non-organic pre-meats today, they inject them full of hormones and feed them weird stuff to fatten them up. Plus, do poultry farms really feed their birds to maximise growth AND minimize emissions already? Or are they just focused on maximizing growth? Most farms don’t have biomass heaters or other waste collection/conservation systems in place to actually get rid of the emissions: the article points out that they might, later. So for now, they’re just pumping the animals full of chemicals, and keeping them immobile in a barn so the greenhouse gases probably aren’t reduced, but they are all emitted from the same general area.

Do any of these environmentally friendly barns exist? And are the animals in them treated humanely?

With none of those questions really answered for now, I’ll have to pick my poison: emit more gases (maybe?), or eat healthier food. I’m sure the meat-makers, if they are interested in their carbon impact, will find a way to raise healthier meat in a less greenhouse-gas intensive way. Maybe that will be indoors. Maybe it will be humane. I’m not holding my fork.

Conclusion: I’ll keep buying hormone-free chicken, and free-range if I can find it. Same with beef. Until I find one animals from one of these wonderful indoor gas collection barns.

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6 Responses to “More On Meat”


  1. 1 walkingwater May 10, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    As a meat producer I can assure you that there are farms that produce naturally raised meat without letting them free range and destroy land. We have a rotational grazing system so our sheep eat what we want them to eat when we want them to eat it. The trick is the ratio of the number of animals to the size of the paddock. Put a few animals in a large paddock and they will only eat the ‘candy’. Put too many animals in a small paddock and they will graze it to dirt before you know it. Our farm consists of forest, grass lands and sage lands. We have a conservation plan that sets aside the forest and some of the sage lands for wild life and native plantings. One would hope that these large areas of undisturbed trees and plants would make up for the impact from our farm. On top of all that we live in a very small off the grid house with solar panels and propane appliances. No we are not hippies, nor back woods weirdos. Farmers with a conscience are not novelties. We make our livelihoods from the land – of course we take care of it.

  2. 2 dcf May 12, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Check out polyface farms near charlottesville. They have a buying club in the DC Metro Area. It’s a closed-loop waste system where the animals are all eating what they were designed to be eating. Cows eat grass, chickens eat bugs, pigs forage in the woods. Restaurant Eve gets its meat from them (as do i, when i can). You can really taste the difference. (Okay, I’ll admit that nothing comes close to the deliciousness of the best Nebraska corn-fed beef, but I can’t take the mental cost of it anymore and frankly, Polyface’s products are pretty close on the beef side and the best on the chicken side).

    As for human management of cows…take a look at EPA’s Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations (CAFO) settlement. http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/agreements/caa/cafo-agr-qa.html
    As you’ll see, farms with air emissions controls (especially cow farms, where the animals are not in enclosed barns) are basically nonexistent. I mean, in theory, sure you COULD put them all in a barn and then try to capture the methane and send it somewhere to be burned for fuel. Although one has to wonder whether the animals might not get sick from being in such an environment (mental well-being aside), which gets back to more antibiotics, etc. to keep them alive. Ask anyone who lives downwind from a CAFO how it smells. Further, many of the species raised in CAFOs are not designed to be eating grain and so produce more gases than they would naturally. Then there’s the waste aspect. Right now, farmers just pile it up somewhere and let mother nature disperse of it (largely). This is how we got pfisteria in the Potomac and kids died of e. coli in North Carolina (from pig manure and then massive flooding). There is carbon that would go in treating that waste, if one were to actually do so in a responsible manner. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (the sustainable eating book of 2007) paints a very lovely picture of the scene, and he and the owner of Polyface make a pretty compelling case about the energy value of naturally-raised animals vs. being vegetarian. Plus, the final carbon footprint of a CAFO-raised animal needs to take into account the resources and greenhouse gases that went into raising the grain used to feed those animals.

    I don’t know the answer. In the end, it’s that we all need to eat less meat.

    Cool blog. Hope you enjoyed the summit. The City/EPC/VA Tech worked very hard to make it happen and are so excited to know that folks like you decided to drag yourselves out of bed to get involved. Keep it coming – we’ll need you going forward!

    cheers,
    danielle

  3. 3 virescent May 12, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Walkingwater- sounds like a great operation you all have there. What’s it called? Where do you all distribute your meats?

    dcf- Thanks for the ideas, I’ll check out the farm, and the restaurant. The summit was very enjoyable! More on that after I get through my exam this evening.

  4. 4 walkingwater May 21, 2008 at 12:46 am

    We are Walking Water Ranch (have a blog site if you are interested – search for under the ranch name) in Tonasket, Washington. Currently we have only sold our meat on the local market, however we will soon be selling in the Seattle area as well as possibly in an Organic Market. We are small as of yet, but have found that the demand is quite high. We are working on trying to build our flock to be large enough to supply our market without becoming so big we loose sight of why we are here in the first place.
    I have always lived in the country except for a brief stint in the city during my collage days. It is exciting seeing so many people suddenly take account of where their food comes from. I have been quite disheartened by reports of highschoolers that don’t know what bread is made of nor where milk and eggs come from. One would think this is common knowledge – I’ve actually met people who honestly did not know. Maybe those days are ending.

  5. 5 Cameron May 21, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    “Eat less meat”….that’s what it basically comes down to. No hippie rhetoric. No crazy sci-fi future apocalyptic mad cow! Just the realistic nature of raising 100’s of millions of inbreed livestock to feed the world. The spread of novel diseases such as bird-flue and the recent E.coli contamination in the Spinach supplies, are only going to become more frequent as demand for meat increases.

    And sorry to stab that fork further into our backs, but dairy (milk, cheese and eggs) adds just as much to the problem you gotta raise cows to milk them and chickens to…….egg them…????!

    Moderation has to go for every aspect of our lives if we are going to continue to conserve our resources for future generations!

  6. 6 virescent May 22, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Rock on, Cameron. Eating less meat is working out pretty well for me, actually. And I’m getting to the point where, while I am eating cheese, I think about how I probably shouldn’t eat it so much, so that’s a pretty big step for me personally.


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