Animal Writes
From 1 May 2005 Issue

Eating for Biodiversity
Mark Crimaudo - [email protected]

If you are reading this newsletter, or website, you are, like myself, concerned about what we are doing to our planet, and are probably wondering what you can do to make a positive difference in our troubled world.

You probably support local and national environmental organizations that are working to save endangered species and save pieces of land from the clutches of developers. Like me, you probably reduce, reuse and recycle, and you may even be aware of environmentally friendly cleaning products. But are there other ways to help the planet? I am about to illustrate that our food choices do have a significant effect, either positive or negative, on the environment.

Where you choose to eat on the food chain will determine the amount of energy, and therefore, resources, that are necessary to sustain your diet. There is a natural law, which says that the lower you are on the food chain, the less energy is wasted, and more energy is available. Conversely, the higher you are on the food chain, the more energy is wasted, and the less energy is available. This means that less energy is available with each step up the food chain. Thus more plants and animals at the bottom are required to support those at the top of the chain. Since the average American diet consists of about 85% animal products, most Americans eat primarily at the top of the food chain. To support this diet, between 6 and 9 billion animals are killed for food every year in the U.S. The following is a partial list of the devastating affects that this animal based diet has on the planet:

In 300 years, over half the trees in the U.S. have been cut down to grow corn, soybeans, oats, grass and hay, 90% of which is used to feed livestock (cows, chickens, pigs, etc.)

Livestock grazing has been the major cause of soil erosion and desertification.

More plant species have been eliminated due to overgrazing by cows and sheep than from any other cause.

As a result of 400 years of abuse, the layer of topsoil, the most fertile part of the soil, is almost gone in the western part of the U. S. When the topsoil is gone, the desertification process will be complete.

Farm animals belch millions of tons of methane gas into the air each year.

Three acres are needed to feed 1 person the standard American diet, but only a fraction of an acre is needed to feed a person whose diet is plant based. The land use benefit ratio is about 10:1

About 16 pounds of corn and soybeans are needed to produce 1 pound of beef.

Billions of gallons of oil (gasoline and diesel) are used to run the equipment that sustains animal agriculture.

Large amounts of water are irrigated to dry areas to grow crops, so they can be fed to farm animals. The following list illustrates this point:

Water needed to produce the same amount of food
25 gallons/wheat or potatoes
65 gallons/oranges
130 gallons/cows milk
544 gallons/eggs
815 gallons/chickens
1630 gallons/pigs
5214 gallons/cows

Very toxic chemicals, such as fertilizers, pesticide, herbicides, and livestock waste, are all major sources of water pollution. They are dumped, untreated, directly into rivers, and they also seep into the groundwater.

A program, funded with our tax dollars, known as predator damage control, is responsible for the death of many wild species native to North America. The ranchers say that these species are eating their livestock, thereby cutting into their profits.

The demand for cheap beef in the U.S. has resulted in the destruction of much of the rainforests in Central and South America. Forests are cut down at staggering rates (20 acres/minute, 24 hours/day), to create cropland to feed livestock (rainforest soil is the most nutrient poor soil in the world), and for grazing land for livestock, who will eventually be turned into hamburgers, and will be sold at fast food chains throughout the U.S. Although located thousands of miles north of the tropics, we are dependent on this ecosystem in a number of ways. These forests are one of the largest sources of oxygen, and by destroying these forests, we lose this supply of oxygen. These forests are not able to take our carbon dioxide and give animals back the oxygen that we need. This carbon dioxide, instead, rises into the atmosphere, trapping more heat, and consequently increases the temperature of the planet.

There are cultures in other parts of the world whose diets are primarily plant based, and therefore do not have the problems that western cultures, like ours, have. Only when these cultures start to "westernize" their diets, do they start to experience the consequences to environment, and to the people. We can support national organizations that are trying to regulate and temper animal agribusiness, by political and other means. We can vote for politicians who say that they are fighting the degradation of the environment. We can buy products that sustain the tropical rainforests. But in addition to these methods and other methods, there is something that you can do that maybe the most far reaching, and that is to choose to eat lower on the food chain. By adopting a diet that is plant based, we will to a large extent eliminate the cause of all the problems previously mentioned. There is nothing that is more powerful than going to the supermarket, or natural foods store, and choosing food that is life sustaining, and boycotting food that is destroying our planet. Think of all the food that would be available to feed starving people, if it went directly to these people, instead of being wasted through animal agriculture. Our water would be cleaner, and so much land would be available for reforestation, which would bring so many species back to repopulate these forests. Our ground water and rivers would start to come back due to the absence of toxins from agribusiness. Even our taxes would go down, because government subsidies wouldn't go to animal agribusiness, not to mention fuel prices due to the decrease in demand.

This article was inspired by John Robbins and Frances Moore Lappe. For further information, you can contact the following websites: 

If you have comments or questions, or would like more information and sources on this and other related topics, please contact me at [email protected] 

Whether you are an environmentalist, an animal rights activist, human rights activist, whatever your cause, we are all connected. There is strength in unity.

Go on to Managing Your Stress and Your Pets
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