Reason To Go Vegan #2


It’s an environmentally responsible choice. Meat production accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than transportation. In the United States, the livestock industry swallows 70 percent of the water in the American west. More than half of all antibiotics produced are fed to healthy cattle. The vast majority of the synthetic fertilizer run-off causing the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico is used to grow corn and soy to feed to cows. It requires 2500 gallons of water to generate one pound of beef; it takes 13 to grow a pound of tomatoes.

Alternative systems–free range, grass fed, etc.–come with their own environmental issues. Grass-fed cows emit three times more methane than confined cows. Demand for grass-fed beef is leading to the destruction of rain forests in South America. A prominent study has shown that grass-fed beef has, pound for pound, a higher rate of GHG emission than confined cows. Grazing livestock leads to soil erosion. The land requirements are enormous.

Defenders of the alternatives will inevitably argue that cattle, if properly managed, can improve degraded landscape with their nutrient rich manure. This argument–the agro-ecological argument–has two faults: a) it sounds great on paper but is rarely executed in reality; and b) even if it was effectively carries out in reality, it would only be able to produce a very small amount of meat, thus raising the price of meat and leaving the poorest to eat cake. This would certainly be an environmental improvement; but do we want to seek environmental improvement by limiting access to all to a just diet?

One more point, perhaps the ultimate one, environmentally: no matter how an animal is raised, only 40 percent of it is turned into edible meat. The rest is carcass. And eliminating a carcass–as I will explore in a future post–is an inherently energy intensive process.

All of which is yet another reason to go vegan. Make the leap–it’s not a hard one to make–and you will find it hard to believe that you ever ate the way you once did.


About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

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