The Vegan Solution

October 29, 2009

Fecal Matters

fecal-matters

As a result of our desire for animal products, we have the waste management problem of a population 130 times the size of what our population actually is. Here in the US, we might as well be managing the waste of 39 billion people.

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October 15, 2009

A Call to Environmentalists

vegan-evolution-environment

No matter how strong the current opposition, it will soon have to be accepted that the vegan solution is our hope for the future, as it contains the power to address, all at once, the many different yet interconnected issues – from the environmental devastation we are causing, to the global pandemic of violence. These crises are crippling our civilization and threaten not only our survival, but the survival of the many other species that populate the planet.

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May 19, 2009

The Flu Lagoon: A Disaster Waiting To Happen

pigs

“The so-called ‘swine flu’ exploded because an environmental disaster simply moved (and with it, took jobs from US workers) to Mexico where environmental and worker safety laws, if they exist, are not enforced against powerful multinational corporations.”
– The Narco News Bulletin

“In 1997 [Smithfield] was the nation’s seventh-largest pork producer; by 1999 it was the largest. Smithfield now kills one of every four pigs sold commercially in the United States.”
– Rolling Stone Magazine

Could there be a clearer sign than the advent of the Swine Flu that animal-based food production must come to an end?

I know it’s hard for people to hear, but if we continue to insist on stubbornly clinging to our addiction to the products of animal exploitation, the results will come around, and the Swine Flu is simply a tragic sign of reaping what we sow.

It is no secret anymore that animals are confined and tortured all over the world, in intensive operations. It is also no secret that these vast animal concentration camps provide ideal breeding grounds for all sorts of infectious diseases.

When animals are deprived of basic requirements such as sunlight, fresh air and space, and their ‘living’ conditions are terrifying, stressful and filthy beyond belief, the only way the outbreak of disease can be kept at bay is by pumping the animals full of antibiotics. It seems obvious that this causes mutant strains of infectious diseases to develop, diseases that will eventually, one way or another, transfer to people.

Our society has chosen to close its eyes to the horrendous conditions in animal food production operations everywhere, and as a result, we must now learn our lesson. Some might call it a matter of karma. On another level, it is a simple matter of the fact that our careless, thoughtless and heartless practices have created this situation. We can only hide from it for so long. At some stage, the results must come to the surface.

As far as I’m concerned, the best piece of journalism I have seen so far on the Swine Flu came from Rolling Stone magazine. Anyone who wants to be informed about this issue ought to read this article. It is packed with information about the likely cause of the outbreak that everyone should know about.

Ironically, this foreboding exposé was written in December 2006. What author Jeff Tietz was warning us, over two years ago, was that an outbreak of disease, originating in one of these pork production facilities, was inevitable.

In his article, Pork’s Dirty Secret, Tietz describes the conditions of the pig production units owned by Smithfield Foods here in the US:

“Smithfield’s holding ponds — the company calls them lagoons — cover as much as 120,000 square feet. The area around a single slaughterhouse can contain hundreds of lagoons, some of which run thirty feet deep. The liquid in them is not brown. The interactions between the bacteria and blood and afterbirths and stillborn piglets and urine and excrement and chemicals and drugs turn the lagoons pink.”

Over four years, from 1991 to 1995, Smithfield’s North Carolina ‘lagoons’ spilled two million gallons of pig waste into the Cape Fear River, 1.5 million gallons into its Persimmon Branch, one million gallons into the Trent River and 200,000 gallons into Turkey Creek. In Virginia, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million in 1997 for 6,900 violations of the Clean Water Act — the third-largest civil penalty ever levied under the act by the EPA.

But the production unit alleged to be the source of the outbreak isn’t in the US. It’s in Mexico, where environmental regulations are much more lax, and much less frequently enforced.

In 1994, as soon as The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, Smithfield Farms opened “Carroll Ranches” in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

From The Narco News Bulletin:

“Unlike… Smithfield Farms in the US, the new Mexican facility – processing 800,000 pigs into bacon and other products per year – does not have a sewage treatment plant.”

If the conditions in the US facilities are as bad as described in Rolling Stone, one wonders what on Earth the conditions in Mexico are like, where Smithfield Foods found a haven from the environmental laws of the US?

Amongst a wealth of information about the horrendous conditions in Smithfield’s US production units, Jeff Tietz offers the following:

“A lot of pig shit is one thing; a lot of highly toxic pig shit is another. The excrement of Smithfield hogs is hardly even pig shit: On a continuum of pollutants, it is probably closer to radioactive waste than to organic manure. The reason it is so toxic is Smithfield’s efficiency. The company produces 6 billion pounds of packaged pork each year. That’s a remarkable achievement, a prolificacy unimagined only two decades ago, and the only way to do it is to raise pigs in astonishing, unprecedented concentrations.”

“The drugs Smithfield administers to its pigs, of course, exit its hog houses in pig shit. Industrial pig waste also contains a host of other toxic substances: ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorous, nitrates and heavy metals. In addition, the waste nurses more than 100 microbial pathogens that can cause illness in humans, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptocolli and girardia. Each gram of hog shit can contain as much as 100 million fecal coliform bacteria.”

These ‘lagoons’ are far from a safe way to store such highly toxic waste. As for the name, I can’t help but wonder how the pork industry managed to come up with a name that is the veritable epitome of euphemism. The word conjures up images of submerging oneself in a tropical pool of water in the heat of summer… But at the end of the day, these lagoons, by any other name, would smell…like… Well, you get the idea.

“Even light rains can cause lagoons to overflow; major floods have transformed entire counties into pig-shit bayous. To alleviate swelling lagoons, workers sometimes pump the [waste] out of them and spray that waste on surrounding fields, which results in what the industry daintily refers to as ‘overapplication.’ This can turn hundreds of acres — thousands of football fields — into shallow mud puddles of pig shit. Tree branches drip with pig shit.”

“Some pig-farm lagoons have polyethylene liners, which can be punctured by rocks in the ground, allowing [waste] to seep beneath the liners and spread and ferment. Gases from the fermentation can inflate the liner like a hot-air balloon and rise in an expanding, accelerating bubble, forcing thousands of tons of feces out of the lagoon in all directions.”

“According to the EPA, Smithfield’s largest farm-slaughterhouse operation — in Tar Heel, North Carolina — dumps more toxic waste into the nation’s water each year than all but three other industrial facilities in America.”

What does this pollution actually mean for the rivers themselves? Basically put, the waste from an industrial hog farm can kill the life in a river… Fast.

“Toxins and microbes can kill plants and animals outright; the waste itself consumes available oxygen and suffocates fish and aquatic animals; and the nutrients in the pig [waste] produce algal blooms that also deoxygenate the water.”

“In North Carolina, much of the pig waste from Smithfield’s operations makes its way into the Neuse River; in a five-day span in 2003 alone, more than 4 million fish died. Pig-waste runoff has damaged the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound, which is almost as big as the Chesapeake Bay and which provides half the nursery grounds used by fish in the eastern Atlantic.”

In 1995, a 120,000-square-foot lagoon (owned by a competitor of Smithfield) ruptured, causing the biggest spill in the history of corporate hog farming. This spill released 25.8 million gallons of waste into the headwaters of the New River in North Carolina.

“It was the biggest environmental spill in United States history, more than twice as big as the Exxon Valdez oil spill six years earlier. The sludge was so toxic it burned your skin if you touched it, and so dense it took almost two months to make its way sixteen miles downstream to the ocean. From the headwaters to the sea, every creature living in the river was killed. Fish died by the millions.”

“Corporate hog farming contributes to another form of environmental havoc: Pfiesteria piscicida, a microbe that, in its toxic form, has killed a billion fish… Nutrient-rich waste like pig [feces] creates the ideal environment for Pfiesteria to bloom… Pfiesteria is invisible and odorless — you know it by the trail of dead. The microbe degrades a fish’s skin, laying bare tissue and blood cells; it then eats its way into the fish’s body. After the 1995 spill, millions of fish developed large bleeding sores on their sides and quickly died.”

“Fishermen found that at least one of Pfiesteria’s toxins could take flight: Breathing the air above the bloom caused severe respiratory difficulty, headaches, blurry vision and logical impairment. Some fishermen forgot how to get home; laboratory workers exposed to Pfiesteria lost the ability to solve simple math problems and dial phones; they forgot their own names. It could take weeks or months for the brain and lungs to recover.”

The question remains: Is it possible to raise pigs for pork without these kinds of atrocities occurring? The answer… Not in the quantity that our ravenous human population requires. Without a major reduction in global meat consumption, these massive operations will remain necessary to feed our growing population.

The Smithfield conditions are not the exception; they are an example of the rule. What is the rule? It’s simple. In order to feed our vast human population animal products, we must raise animals in horrifically intensive operations. And in order to turn a profit, these companies will continue to act irresponsibly. To do otherwise would not just mean less profit, it would actually mean no profit at all.

“Smithfield estimates that its total sales will reach $11.4 billion this year. So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do — even if it came marginally close to that standard — it would lose money.”

“There simply is no regulatory solution to the millions of tons of searingly fetid, toxic effluvium that industrial hog farms discharge and aerosolize on a daily basis. Smithfield alone has sixteen operations in twelve states. Fixing the problem completely would bankrupt the company… From the moment that Smithfield attained its current size, its waste-disposal problem became conventionally insoluble.”

The article written by Jeff Tietz in Rolling Stone describes food production conditions that the average person would be horrified by. The brief excerpts that I have quoted represent only a small portion of the sickening picture that he paints of modern pork production.

The revelations in Tietz’ article appear to provide overwhelming evidence of the irresponsible practices of the pork industry. In the meantime, on the Smithfield website, one of their press releases declares, “Based on available recent information, Smithfield has no reason to believe that the virus is in any way connected to its operations in Mexico.”

This strangely Orwellian attitude is appropriately reflected in their motto, which seems, in light of this information, ridiculously ironic, and at the same time, terribly sad:

Smithfield Foods – Good Food. Responsibly.

Originally published on Care2

May 11, 2009

A Change of Heart

“We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well—for we will not fight to save what we do not love.”
—Stephen Jay Gould

change-of-heart

The idea of the Earth at the center of the universe seems ludicrous to us today, but the fundamentally self-centered belief system that created that theory still exists. We still believe that all life revolves around human life, and that everything else should bend to our will.

Few people would argue against the assertion that humankind is critically separated from the natural world. It is becoming increasingly apparent that our way of living is at odds with nature, and is a severe threat to the natural systems that support us and the rest of life on this planet. In addition to this, many people are becoming aware that this separateness is causing us to feel an emotional and spiritual distance from nature, and from life itself.

How did we come to this point? How did humans, who are, in many ways, Nature’s most advanced species, come to be so very isolated, so completely cut off from our origins?

Out of a natural desire to protect our fragile selves from the dangerous and hostile elements of untamed nature, we have spent our time on the planet developing knowledge, skills and technology that have enabled us to escape the terrifying world of the predatory paradigm. By creating a safe distance between ourselves and the natural world, we have, for the most part, successfully removed from our reality the fears that wild animals live with constantly.

It is undeniable that this has served an important purpose – that of creating a sanctuary for humans where we have been able to further our evolution. The great accomplishments of human history, as well as the basic conveniences of living in our society are made possible by the fact that we have transcended the requirements of basic survival that the rest of the animal population must live according to – finding food and shelter, avoiding predators, and everything else that makes life in the wild so very tenuous.

But, as I said in an earlier article, rather than using our position of advantage to help our fellow animals, we, who claim to be creatures of moral conscience, have used it to exploit them, by forcing them into lives of even more fear, more pain, and more suffering.. It is for this reason that we feel guilty when we look at animals, because something inside us knows that we have betrayed them, and we continue to betray them, on a grand scale. What do we do in response to the guilt that nags at our conscience? We keep killing them, keep hurting them, keep terrorizing them, and keep oppressing them.

Caught up in this cycle of oppression, we forget that we are animals ourselves, who also rely on the mercy of those who have the power to harm us. It is the guilt we feel as a result of withholding our compassion from those who are at our mercy that makes it impossible for us to look more deeply into the true nature of animals, and the rest of the natural world that they rely on for survival.

For some time now we have been at war with the world of nature and animals, and increasingly, it seems that we are beginning to be on the losing side. We are beginning to learn that we are not, in fact, above the laws of nature. Thus, we now find ourselves on the receiving end of the violence we have inflicted, in our self-appointed role as the dictators of the future of all life on our planet.

The only way we will be able to change this perilous course, is to be willing to change the actions that created it. The choices of each individual, on every level from procreation to dietary practice, have to be examined, but not through the filter of one’s personal desires, rather through the filter of their impact on the rest of the planet. If we continue to stubbornly cling to the lifestyle that has led us to this point, we will find that we too are destroyed.

The global environmental crisis offers us a wealth of opportunities. They are opportunities for change, for conscious evolution of ourselves, which is something we humans collectively resist as much as anything. Changing oneself requires an admission that something in us needs to change, and that is a challenge for anyone.

All of us would like to see change occur on a global level, but first, we need to accept the fact that global change has to begin with personal change. We need to begin acknowledging that our personal actions affect the rest of the planet, and we must take into account this wider impact in all our choices.

For too long, we have luxuriated in the pleasures of an unsustainable self-indulgence, using the resources of the planet, as well as its other inhabitants, however we please. The outdated mindset that man is at the center of the universe and everything exists to feed, clothe, house, entertain and please us has got to be overthrown, and this has to occur in people’s own hearts and minds.

It seems that our grand experiment is coming to a climax. We can no longer continue to worship a lifestyle that promotes the hedonistic desires of a human population that is convinced that the entire planet exists to serve our pleasures. We must take responsibility for our mistakes, make peace with the rest of the world, and come to understand and embrace our place in the natural order of things. This change of consciousness will not occur without the change of heart that we desperately need.

Originally published on Care2

May 6, 2009

Sarah Palin: What is it about killing that you enjoy?

wolves

“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
– Immanuel Kant, German philosopher

When last year’s presidential election campaign ended, I would have been happy if I had never heard the name ‘Sarah Palin’ again. What scares me the most about her is the attitude she holds toward animals. Unfortunately, despite her defeat in the presidential election, as governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin still has the power to kill wild animals on a massive scale. Now, she and her friends are gearing up for an escalation in their slaughter of wolves.

According to the Care2 campaign team,

“…defenseless wolf pups and their families will soon face death from deadly snares and poison gas in and around their dens in Alaska. It is part of an escalating attempt by the Palin Administration to slaughter wolves at record numbers via helicopter, spotter planes, aerial gunners… and the unprecedented and extreme method of gassing wolf pups to death in their dens in the weeks ahead.”

The e-mail circulated by Care2 announced that during Alaska’s recent spring Board of Game meeting, the board approved a proposal to allow the use of gas bombs to kill wolves and wolf pups in their dens.

“The Board has consistently voted for unprecedented and increasingly extreme methods of killing wolves, and many in Alaska now question the make up of the board and the magnitude of their vendetta against wolves.”

At the end of March, 66 wolves were slaughtered in one week, shot down from helicopters, spotter planes and aerial gunners. Even wolf packs that live near a National Park Service preserve were targeted, despite the risk to wolves in the preserve that have been studied for nearly two decades of research.

“Governor Sarah Palin and her allies have worked to expand the aerial killing program by removing the few remaining scientific requirements from the program.”

There is something terrifying to me about someone who is so completely heartless when it comes to animals. I think it is a sign of something deeply disturbing, not just on a personal level, but on a societal level as well. To me, the hatred of animals that Sarah Palin demonstrates is not a simple matter of an individual being unwilling to feel compassion for members of another species. I believe it represents something much bigger. She is a public symbol of the part of us that has shut off the essential human qualities of kindness, empathy and compassion.

Indifference toward the suffering of other creatures is an accepted societal norm that is alarming to contemplate, but I’m starting to recognize something that is even more troubling. I’m beginning to believe that there is a part of the collective human consciousness that actually hates animals. If this sounds hard to believe, readers should make an investment in the small amount of time it takes to watch some of the more controversial footage of animal exploitation, where people have been filmed treating animals with abhorrent callousness, and seem to actually take sadistic pleasure in it. If that seems extreme, consider the famous picture of Sarah Palin smiling proudly beside the blood-soaked body of a moose that she had slain and was preparing to disembowel.

Why would this be, when so many of us feel such a strong bond and love for animals? Animals remind us of our own connection with (and separation from) the natural world, a world we once shared with them, where we constantly struggled to survive. Out of our intense desire to leave behind a way of life where daily survival had to be fought for, we managed to climb out of the world of nature, and thereby transcend the food chain, leaving behind the animal world and the terror of being preyed upon.

Rather than using our position of advantage to help our fellow animals, we have used it to further oppress them, and to push them into lives of even more fear, more pain, and more suffering, this time at the hands of those who claim to be creatures of moral conscience. It is for this reason that we feel guilty when we look at animals, because something inside us knows that we have betrayed them, and we continue to betray them, on a grand scale. What do we do in response to the guilt that nags at our conscience? We keep killing them, keep hurting them, keep terrorizing them, and keep oppressing them, perhaps in the hope that we will convince ourselves that it is simply what they deserve, what they were made for.

As long as we keep treating animals as insentient objects that were put on this planet to serve our desires, we will continue to oppress them, continue to hurt them, and continue to torture them. This causes us to be plagued by the guilt that lies like a blanket of anguish over the collective conscience of humanity. All over the world, animals are imprisoned, enslaved, tortured and killed violently, and all over the world, people go on as if this is just fine with them. Everyone is complicit in this crime, except for those who reject the products of the animal holocaust, embrace the vegan ideal, and choose a life where harming others is not an option.

Eating Our Planet to Death?

eating1

I recently discovered a fantastic article called Vegetarian Is The New Prius, written by Kathy Freston, author of Quantum Wellness. Some may remember Kathy Freston from her appearances on Oprah and Ellen, where she made a substantial impact on the lives of both of these women. After interviewing Kathy on her Soul Series, Oprah was so moved by what she read in Quantum Wellness that she embarked on a 21-day cleanse diet, cutting out all animal products, alcohol, caffeine, refined sugars and gluten.

What moved Oprah to make such a radical shift in diet (albeit temporarily) was Freston’s way of explaining what it means to eat “consciously.” In her blog, Oprah described how deeply affected she was by Kathy’s descriptions of the harm we do to animals used for food. But the article I just read is not about animal welfare or the conditions under which farmed animals suffer at the hands of humans. It focuses instead on the 2007 UN report about the environmental impact of animal farming, and her short article makes a powerful case for the ecological imperative of transitioning towards a plant-based diet:

In 2007, the United Nations published a report on livestock and the environment with a stunning conclusion: ‘The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.’ It turns out that raising animals for food is a primary cause of land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and not least of all, global warming.

According to the UN report, almost a fifth of global warming emissions come from livestock, which equals more emissions than come from all of the world’s transportation combined.

To someone who hasn’t heard these statistics before, it could be hard to imagine how this is true, until you become aware of the vast scale of the animal industry.

The United States alone slaughters more than 10 billion land animals every year… . Land animals raised for food make up a staggering 20% of the entire land animal biomass of the earth. We are eating our planet to death.

Then there is the fact that feeding animals for meat, dairy, and eggs requires around ten times as much grain as we’d need to feed the population a plant-based diet. When you add the environmental cost of transportation and refrigeration, it turns out that a calorie of meat protein requires ten times as much in the way of fossil fuels as a calorie of plant protein. On top of that, the production of that same calorie of protein releases more than ten times as much carbon dioxide.

The researchers found that, when it’s all added up, the average American does more to reduce global warming emissions by going vegetarian than by switching to a Prius.

Kathy Freston goes on to discuss the vast quantities of land required for animal farming.

Animal agriculture takes up an incredible 70% of all agricultural land, and 30% of the total land surface of the planet. As a result, farmed animals are probably the biggest cause of slashing and burning the world’s forests. Today, 70% of former Amazon rainforest is used for pastureland, and feed crops cover much of the remainder.

As the forests of the planet are designed to absorb carbon dioxide from the air, burning them not only destroys the very systems that are designed to process all the gases we are producing, but it also releases all the stored carbon dioxide, “in quantities that exceed by far the fossil fuel emission of animal agriculture.”

And of course, most people are aware now that as well as carbon dioxide, there are other greenhouse gases that are produced in large quantities by huge herds of farmed animals. According to Freston’s article, methane and nitrous oxide have “23 and 296 times the warming power of carbon dioxide, respectively… while animal agriculture accounts for 9% of our carbon dioxide emissions, it emits 37% of our methane, and a whopping 65% of our nitrous oxide.”

She goes on to explain how farming food animals is also one of the biggest causes of some of our other global environmental problems:

Animal agriculture accounts for most of the water consumed in this country, emits two-thirds of the world’s acid-rain-causing ammonia, and is the world’s largest source of water pollution–killing entire river and marine ecosystems, destroying coral reefs, and of course, making people sick.

All of these statistics seem to add up to one profound conclusion: We simply cannot go on like this. The ethical question of vegetarianism in regard to the animals who are the innocent victims of our eating habits has been debated for centuries, leading to a growing population of ethical vegetarians and vegans. Now there are other issues to be considered, issues which are extremely time-sensitive when it comes to the future of our planet and the human population.

It seems that we have created a situation for ourselves where, if we want to turn this global catastrophe around, we simply must re-examine our old ways of thinking, and the biggest thing we need to address is the way we eat. Fortunately, in today’s society, the options are plentiful, information is readily accessible and the choice is easier than it has ever been.

Originally published on Care2

As We Soy, So Shall We Reap

soy

I’m beginning to notice a recurring theme in the discussion thread of my last two posts. It appears that some readers are under the impression that plant-based diets are less environmentally-friendly because of the perceived vegetarian/vegan reliance on soy products.

There seems to be a growing movement, promoted by environmentalists themselves, that is against vegan diets, for reasons of environmental sustainability. This trend is encouraged by the strange idea being promoted that vast quantities of soy are required to produce foods for the vegetarian population. In other words, the impression is being created that it is tofu, soy milk and fake meats that are destroying the planet, not animal foods. This scenario paints vegans as being perpetrators of the massive environmental devastation that is, indeed, occurring worldwide as a result of the growing demand for soy.

When examined just a little more closely, it becomes clear that this theory is quite ludicrous. There is no way that the current population of vegetarians and vegans could possibly create such demand for soy. In fact, the disturbing reality that is being revealed about the ecological destruction caused by commercial soy sounds more like something one would associate with… well… the animal industry. The emergence of vast monocultures that are destroying huge tracts of Amazon forest, catastrophic depletion of water and other resources, colossal pesticide usage, enormous reliance on genetic engineering… It sounds like yet another illustration of the callous disregard for the future of our planet for which the animal industry has become infamous.

Feeding cattle and other livestock is the number one use of soy worldwide, and it outweighs the other uses of soy by a long shot.

According to http://www.soyatech.com:

“About 85 percent of the world’s soybean crop is processed into meal and vegetable oil, and virtually all of that meal is used in animal feed.  Some two percent of the soybean meal is further processed into soy flours and proteins for food use… Approximately six percent of soybeans are used directly as human food, mostly in Asia.”

Of the small percentage of soy being used to feed people, don’t be fooled into believing that the majority of it is used to make meat or milk substitutes to feed vegans and vegetarians. As pointed out by Mary Vance, in The Dark Side of Soy,

“Soy is everywhere in our food supply, as the star in cereals and health-promoting foods and hidden in processed foods. Even if you read every label and avoid cardboard boxes, you are likely to find soy in your supplements and vitamins (look out for vitamin E derived from soy oil), in foods such as canned tuna, soups, sauces, breads, meats (injected under poultry skin), and chocolate, and in pet food and body-care products.”

According to Vance, the reason for the ubiquitous presence of soy is simple:

“These days the industry has discovered ways to use every part of the bean for profit. Soy oil has become the base for most vegetable oils; soy lecithin, the waste product left over after the soybean is processed, is used as an emulsifier; soy flour appears in baked and packaged goods; different forms of processed soy protein are added to everything from animal feed to muscle-building protein powders.”

Soy is grown in vast monocultures, causing massive environmental degradation, wasting huge quantities of water, and destroying wild lands.

From a 2009 article, More Soy, Less Forest – and No Water:

“According to the National Directorate of Forests, Argentina is experiencing the most intense deforestation in its history due to the replacement of forests with soy plantations, and Córdoba is the province where the most devastating environmental damage has occurred.

“Over the past decade, as the output of soy rose steadily, the province lost an average of three percent of its native forests annually. Of the 10 million hectares of forests found in Córdoba a century ago, only 12 percent are left.

“The worst destruction has been seen in the hills and mountains in the region, where only two percent of the native forest cover has survived.”

Naturally, as the forest cover is destroyed in these areas, the rain water, once absorbed by the forested mountains and released throughout the year, now simply pours down the sides of the mountains.

“In the mountainous region known as the Sierras Chicas, where several large towns and small cities are located, water shortages have led to water cuts in the last few months. The La Quebrada dam, which supplies the entire area, is at present only able to meet half of the current level of demand.”

“But Córdoba, Salta and Santiago del Estero are just three of the seven Argentine provinces where the destruction of native forests ‘is most intense’, says a report by the National Directorate of Forests, which warns that around 200,000 hectares of forests are being irrevocably lost every year.”

As if this wasn’t bad enough, soy is also one of the crops most commonly produced using genetic modification, which is of serious concern in regards to both health and environmental issues.

According to Grist.org:

“As of 2004, 85 percent of the U.S. soy crop was genetically modified, accounting for some 63.6 million acres of soybeans. Statistics for 2003 indicate that at least 55 percent of soy worldwide is now genetically modified.”

According to another source,

“In 1997, about 8% of all soybeans cultivated for the commercial market in the United States were genetically modified. In 2006, the figure was 89%”

Grist.org goes on to state:

“Some would like us to believe that … ‘herbicide-tolerant’ soy has led to less need for the herbicide. This is not the case. The use of Roundup and other pesticides and herbicides on genetically modified crops in the U.S. from 2001 through 2003 increased by tens of millions of pounds compared to non-GM conventional agriculture.”

This is bad enough on an environmental level, but what about the health effects of eating foods that are contaminated with genetically modified organisms? For those who are concerned about consuming genetically engineered foods, it would be worth giving some thought to the fact that when these GM soybeans are fed to animals, they end up being eaten by humans, through the animals’ flesh, eggs and milk. What’s even worse, is that once the beans are eaten by animals, there is no way to test for the presence of the GMOs.

According to www.gmo-compass.org:

“Despite methods that are becoming more and more sensitive, tests have not yet been able to establish a difference in the meat, milk, or eggs of animals depending on the type of feed they are fed. It is impossible to tell if an animal was fed GM soy just by looking at the resulting meat, dairy, or egg products.”

Genetic engineering is a common concern for those who are considering giving up animal products in favor of vegetarian options. With the prevalent misconception that vegetarian diets are necessarily high in soy products, many concerned consumers question whether a vegetarian diet leaves the individual more exposed to genetically engineered ingredients. But companies that make products aimed at consumers who are concerned about food issues (like vegans and vegetarians) tend to market their products accordingly. Vegetarian and vegan products are frequently labeled as being produced using non-GMO soybeans. For that reason, it is far easier to avoid GM soy in products such as soy milk, tofu, and meat analogs, than it is to avoid GM soy in the flesh, eggs or milk of an animal.

As a final point, for those who are under the impression that the answer is to avoid beef, and switch instead to poultry products, consider this from the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association:

“Over half of the soybeans processed for livestock feed are fed to poultry, about one-quarter is fed to swine, and the rest is used for beef cattle, dairy cattle and petfood.”

Once again, examined from yet another angle, vegan options win out as being more environmentally sustainable. One way or another, the information about the environmental impacts of animal ‘agriculture’ will have to become known. The world stands at a turning point, where we simply can not go on as if our old ways can continue to sustain us. As environmentalist John Grant states in The Green Marketing Manifesto, “our lifestyles need to change beyond recognition.” (Emphasis in original).

The vegan ideal is so clearly an evolution from where we are today. There is no way that its benefits can be reasonably refuted from any angle, because vegan represents a step forward, a step into a way of living that is more suited to the nature of people who care about the suffering of others, and who can empathize with another’s pain.

For those of us who want to secure a future for our species, and perhaps for the planet itself, it is time that we joined together and put our efforts behind the changes that will make the difference we need. Vegan stands at the forefront of this movement for change.

If we want to move forward into a new society, a culture of sustainability that leaves behind the destruction that humanity has wrought on the planet, we must be willing to change ourselves, our ways of thinking, and the ways in which we live, including our eating habits.

This quantum leap may seem unlikely from the perspective we hold today, but it is within this very change that our hope for the future lies. There is nothing hopeful about looking ahead to a future where we are not vastly different from whom we are today. The evolution of our species hangs in the balance. If we are to have a future, the people who inhabit it will not be addicted to the products of exploitation, suffering and environmental destruction. They will not source their food from feedlots, factory farms or slaughterhouses. The people of this future will be kind, compassionate, gentle and just. And yes, however controversial it may be to say so, there is no doubt in my mind that the people of the future will be vegan.

Originally published on Care2

Free-Range Is Not the Answer

grass

After my last post, The Vegan Solution, there were several comments by readers indicating that ‘grass-fed’ or ‘pasture-raised’ beef was considered a viable solution to the problems of intensive animal farming. For various reasons, it seemed to me that free-range farming couldn’t provide a realistic solution to the many issues associated with the animal-based diet, including the well-documented environmental devastation that is beginning to be brought into the view of the general public.

There is significant evidence that the environmental destruction which occurs as a result of the wide-spread grazing of cattle, is much worse than the free-range PR leads us to believe. Grazing cattle pollutes water, erodes topsoil, kills fish, displaces wildlife, and destroys vegetation, more so than any other land use.1

In recent years, grazing animals have all but disappeared from sight on the landscape. This has occurred as a result of modern ‘agricultural’ practices that include intensive confinement of animals in factory farms that have become the focus of much criticism from advocates of animal welfare. But a return to widespread free-range grazing, especially as the human population continues to increase, would mean a return to the widespread damage that this grazing wrought on the land not so long ago. Following is an excerpt from a speech given in 1985, almost twenty-five years ago. The speaker is Edward Abbey, conservationist and author, addressing cattlemen at the University of Montana.

“Most of the public lands in the West, and especially the Southwest, are what you might call ‘cow burnt.’ Almost anywhere and everywhere you go in the American West you find hordes of cows. . . . They are a pest and a plague. They pollute our springs and streams and rivers. They infest our canyons, valleys, meadows and forests. They graze off the native bluestems and grama and bunch grasses, leaving behind jungles of prickly pear. They trample down the native forbs and shrubs and cacti. They spread the exotic cheatgrass, the Russian thistle, and the crested wheat grass. Even when the cattle are not physically present, you see the dung and the flies and the mud and the dust and the general destruction. If you don’t see it, you’ll smell it. The whole American West stinks of cattle.”

John Robbins is the author of the international bestseller Diet for a New America, The Food Revolution, and Healthy at 100. He is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on the dietary link with the environment and health. He is also the Founder of EarthSave International.

According to Robbins:

“The price that western lands and wildlife are paying for grazing cattle is hard to exaggerate… widespread production of grass-fed beef would only multiply this already devastating toll.”

One of the problems is the sheer scale of the animal industry. The issue that leads me to question the benefits of free-range farming isn’t only the matter of more humane treatment, (which is grossly overstated, as explained below), but the matter of space. In order to farm enough animals to feed the collective appetite for flesh and other products of animal exploitation, we are already destroying our wild lands at a rate that is boggling to the mind. Since we have so many food animals intensely confined, it would be impossible to allocate sufficient land to pasture-raise them all. Without a significant reduction in the overall consumption of animal products, animal farming (free-range or not) is not an ecologically viable method of food production.

Robbins explains:

“It takes a long time and a lot of grassland to raise a grass-fed steer. Western rangelands are vast, but not nearly vast enough to sustain America’s 100 million head of cattle. There is no way that grass-fed beef can begin to feed the meat appetites of people in the United States, much less play a role in addressing world hunger.”

Most environmentally-aware people are now familiar with the correlation between intensive animal farming and greenhouse gases. But that problem wouldn’t be solved by pasture-raising cows either:

“Next to carbon dioxide, the most destabilizing gas to the planet’s climate is methane. Methane is actually 24 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and its concentration in the atmosphere is rising even faster. The primary reason that concentrations of atmospheric methane are now triple what they were when they began rising a century ago is beef production. Cattle raised on pasture actually produce more methane than feedlot animals, on a per-cow basis.”2

According to an article on ScienceNews.org, Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia says:

“We do see significant differences in the greenhouse gas intensities [of grass vs grain]. It’s roughly on the order of 50 percent higher in grass-finished systems.”3

Another serious concern, of which many people aren’t aware, is that commercial free-range grazing involves the eradication of wildlife, including threatened and endangered species.

“The USDA’s Animal Damage Control (ADC) program was established in 1931 for a single purpose—to eradicate, suppress, and control wildlife considered to be detrimental to the western livestock industry… In 1997, following the advice of public relations and image consultants, the federal government gave a new name to the ADC—“Wildlife Services.” And they came up with a new motto—“Living with Wildlife.”4

According to a USDA website, Wildlife Services “provides Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts and create a balance that allows people and wildlife to coexist peacefully.”

According to John Robbins:

“What ‘Wildlife Services’ actually does is kill any creature that might compete with or threaten livestock. Its methods include poisoning, trapping, snaring, denning, shooting, and aerial gunning. In ‘denning’ wildlife, government agents pour kerosene into the den and then set it on fire, burning the young alive in their nests.

“Among the animals Wildlife Services agents intentionally kill are badgers, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, gray fox, red fox, mountain lions, opossum, raccoons, striped skunks, beavers, nutrias, porcupines, prairie dogs, black birds, cattle egrets, and starlings. Animals unintentionally killed by Wildlife Services agents include domestic dogs and cats, and several threatened and endangered species.

“All told, Wildlife Services, the federal agency whose motto is ‘Living with Wildlife,’ intentionally kills more than 1.5 million wild animals annually. This is done, of course, at public expense, to protect the private financial interests of ranchers who wish to use public lands to graze their livestock.”

Dr. Mike Hudak is an environmental advocate who is a leading expert on the harm to wildlife and the environment caused by public-lands ranching. He is the founder and director of Public Lands Without Livestock, and the author of Western Turf Wars: The Politics of Public Lands Ranching (2007). Since July 2008 he has been chair of the Sierra Club’s National Grazing Committee.
In his article, Public Lands Ranching: The Scourge of Wildlife, Hudak elaborates:

“How extensive is the carnage that ranching inflicts on wildlife? One reasonable measure is the number of affected species that are either (1) federally listed as threatened or endangered, (2) candidates for federal listing, or (3) the subject of petitions for federal listing. By that criterion, ranching’s victims number 151 species in all: 26 species of mammals, 25 species of birds, 66 species of fish, 14 species of reptiles and amphibians, 15 species of mollusks, and 5 species of insects.”

As we can see, the growing popularity of ‘grass-fed’, ‘pasture-raised’ or ‘free-range’ beef, far from being the solution to the damage caused by animal farming, represents just another side of the devastation caused by the animal industry.

Those who profit from the promotion of free-range animal products exploit the ethical motivation of conscious consumers, caring people who rightfully abhor the horrific practices that occur on factory farms. The free-range PR creates the false impression that consuming free-range products is an effective way of boycotting animal cruelty and environmental destruction.

The desire to avoid participating in acts of cruelty is the other (perhaps more common) reason that many choose free-range over factory-farmed animal products. But are grass-fed cows really treated more humanely than their factory-farmed counterparts?

As John Robbins concludes:

“The lives of grass-fed livestock are more humane and natural than the lives of animals confined in factory farms and feedlots, but their deaths are often just as terrifying and cruel. If they are taken to a conventional slaughterhouse, they are just as likely as a feedlot animal to be skinned while alive and fully conscious, and just as apt to be butchered and have their feet cut off while they are still breathing — distressing realities that tragically occur every hour in meat-packing plants nationwide. Confronting the brutal realities of modern slaughterhouses can be a harsh reminder that those who contemplate only the pastoral image of cattle patiently foraging do not see the whole picture.”

In light of this information, and the questions that arise as a result, I am very curious to hear from advocates of environmental conservation or animal welfare who believe that ‘free-range’ or ‘pasture-fed’ is indeed an ethical or sustainable alternative to factory farming. Is it really ‘grass-fed’ that is going to make the difference that we need? At a time when the human population is approaching seven billion, is it realistic to expect to continue feeding ourselves on animal flesh, milk and eggs? Or do we need to make preparations for a future where there simply aren’t sufficient resources to support the inefficient methods of animal-based food production?

For those who seek a way to avoid exploitation and cruelty, the choice doesn’t have to be between factory-farmed and free-range. There is another option, a truly ethical alternative that does not require us to sacrifice our moral standards for the satisfaction of our appetites and our taste buds.

As can be seen by the growing number of people, from all walks of life world-wide, who abstain from animal foods, it’s really a lot easier than many people think. The essential first step toward the vegan alternative is a change in perception. Once that is achieved, with the wealth of information and the ever-increasing number of products that are now available, making vegan choices is easier, and more rewarding than it has ever been.

(For more information about how to make vegan choices, feel free to contact the author.)

1 Robbins, John What About Grass-fed Beef?
2 Robbins
3 Raloff, Janet The carbon footprints of raising livestock for food
4 Robbins

Originally published on Care2

Food For Thought: Grow Your Own and Re-Connect With Nature

growing-food

Going to the garden in the morning is an adventure in the magical realm of transformation. Although I love to grow flowering plants, I’ve never actually tried my hand at growing food. I suspect that I am missing out on one of life’s most exciting pleasures. It amazes me enough to think that plants can turn soil, water, air and sunlight into flowers. But when I allow my mind to ponder the fact that some plants turn those sources of energy into food in abundance, it appears to me to be one of the great miracles of life.

It’s easy to take it for granted, especially when the food we eat is so far removed from its original source, as it is when we buy it in supermarkets and grocery stores. Growing our own food provides us with a powerful opportunity to tune in to our relationship with nature.

Food plants simply go about their business, bathing in the light of the sun and absorbing its energy, taking in rainwater to hydrate themselves, and using their roots to seek the nutrition that is present in the soil. It seems like a simple procedure, certainly when it is taught to children in school, yet I know there’s more fascinating detail to it than that.

But the amazing part of it to me is not the science, exactly. It’s more the incredible brilliance of a system that works so harmoniously. It seems so right to me, that food can be generated in this way, and so appropriate for humans, who do not get excited by the idea of preying on other creatures.

Sooner or later, people everywhere are going to be growing their own food. The current system of food production is simply unsustainable, and in a new economy and a new society, changes must be made. People are already beginning to be nourished, body and soul, by community and rooftop gardens, farmers’ markets, and backyard veggie plots, where they have never been before.

Change is essential, and I believe it’s inevitable. This evolution will bring with it multiple benefits, not the least of which will be better personal and environmental health. But hidden in amongst the other positive effects will be a very special opportunity for those who seek it: The promise of re-kindling one’s fascination with the natural world.

Helping plants to grow has the potential of leading us to a gentle but profound spiritual awakening, an enlightening experience which can help us find a sense of peace and belonging. In this life, where we are so far removed from many of the miracles of life, re-connecting with nature is something we all need, and it’s re-assuring to know that we can achieve it in a way as simple as growing our own food.

originally published on Care2

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