Environmentalists and animal welfare folks have known it for years, raising beef for human consumption is a major contributor to pollution and global warming. A new study published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences found that raising cattle produced five times more greenhouse gases per calorie, generated six times as much water-polluting nitrogen, took 11 times more water for irrigation, and used 28 times the land that other animals raised for human consumption require.
Commenting on the study, Ken Caldeira, an environmental scientist with the Carnegie Institution for Science, stated: “It really looks like beef is a lot worse environmentally than these other meats.” Lead author Gidon Eshel estimates that by switching from beef to pork the average American would reduce the equivalent of 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, or about nine days’ worth of the U.S. per capita greenhouse gas emissions. But before you reach for the bacon, every animal on a factory farm suffers and there is no avoiding environmental damage, even though the damage may be less.
Of course the people who raise cattle are up in arms. Kim Stackhouse, who is the sustainability director for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association claims that U.S. raised beef produces the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any country, which makes you wonder how bad it is elsewhere. And just because you’re the “lowest,” does that make it right?
Eating animals is simply a bad choice any way you look at it. It causes tremendous suffering to the animals themselves, it creates health problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, and it pollutes our air, land and water. By eating animals we are literally killing ourselves in the long run, and making life miserable for the animals in the short run.