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Agenda for a New America
The Politics of Vegetarianism
By: Vasu Murti
Chapter 10 - Meat and Water
Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are also experiencing serious problems related to meat production. In Poland, prior to the worker's riots in 1979 over rising meat prices, the per capita meat consumption was nearly as high as it was in the United States. In 1979 the government allowed the price of meat to rise, and the workers expressed their intense dissatisfaction.
Meat consumption has placed a severe strain on the Polish economy; the Polish economy simply cannot sustain the level of meat consumption which approaches the "American" level. The Commonwealth of Independent States' well-publicized agricultural difficulties only arise because it tries to feed its citizens a Western-type diet high in meat and animal products. The former Soviet Union would not have the slightest difficulty in feeding itself from its own resources, but grain has to be imported for their cattle.
Most news reports on shortages and hunger in the former Soviet Union emphasize the lack of meat, which is really an unnecessary luxury and not a necessity. Meat consumption has severely aggravated the country's problems. In 1991, Worldwatch noted: "Since 1950, meat consumption has tripled and feed consumption quadrupled. Use of grain for feed surpassed direct human consumption in 1964 and has been rising ever since. Soviet livestock now eat three times as much grain as Soviet Citizens. Grain imports have soared, going from near zero in 1970 to twenty-four million tons in 1990, and the USSR is now the world's second largest grain importer."
Development funds have irrigated the desert in Senegal so that multinational firms can grow eggplant and mangos for air-freighting to Europe's best tables. In Haiti, the majority of peasants struggle for survival by trying to grow food on mountain slopes of a 45 degree incline or more. They say they are exiles from their birthright--some of the world's richest agricultural land. These lands now belong to a handful of elite; cattle are flown in by U.S. firms for grazing and re-exported to franchised hamburger restaurants.
And what about the United States? Half the water consumed in the U. S. goes to irrigate land growing feed and fodder for livestock. Huge amounts of water are also used to wash away their excrement. In fact, U. S. livestock produce twenty times as much excrement as does the entire human population, creating sewage which is ten to several hundred times more concentrated than raw domestic sewage. Animal wastes cause ten times more water pollution than does the U. S. human population; the meat industry causes three times more harmful organic water pollution than the rest of the nation's industries combined.
Meat producers are the number one industrial polluters in our nation, contributing to half the water pollution in the United States. The water that goes into a thousand-pound steer could float a destroyer. It takes twenty-five gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, but twenty-five hundred gallons to produce a pound of meat. If these costs weren't subsidized by the American taxpayers, hamburger meat would be $35 per pound!
The burden of subsidizing the California meat industry costs taxpayers $24 billion. Livestock producers are California's biggest consumers of water. Every tax dollar the state doles out to livestock producers costs taxpayers over seven dollars in lost wages, higher living costs and reduced business income. Seventeen western states have enough water supplies to support economies and populations twice as large as the present.
Overgrazing of cattle leads to topsoil erosion, turning once-arable land into desert. We lose four million acres of topsoil each year and eighty-five percent of this loss is directly caused by raising livestock. To replace the soil we've lost, we're destroying our forests. Since 1967, the rate of deforestation in the U. S. has been one acre every five seconds. For each acre cleared in urbanization, seven are cleared for grazing or growing livestock feed.
One-third of all raw materials in the U. S. are consumed by the livestock industry and it takes one hundred times more fossil fuel energy to produce meat than it does to produce plant foods. A report on the energy crisis in Scientific American warned: "The trends in meat consumption and energy consumption are on a collision course."
"Food shortages will be to the 1990s what energy shortages have been to the 1970s and 1980s."
Chairman, Occidental Petroleum
Just in the last twenty years alone, Texas has used up one-quarter of its entire supply of ground water. Most of that water was used to grow sorghum to feed cattle. Half the nations grain-fed beef is produced in the High Plains regions of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico.
The enormous amount of water needed for this share of meat production comes from the Ogallala Aquifer. Fifty years ago, the great Ogallala Aquifer remained virtually inviolate, hardly touched by the amount of water being pumped out of her enormous reservoirs. But with the advent of factory farming and feedlot beef, the amount of water drawn from the Ogallala has risen dramatically. At present, over 13 trillion gallons of water are taken from this aquifer every year, and the vast majority of that is used to produce meat.
It took nature millions of years to form the great Ogallala Aquifer. And she still contains as much water as any of the Great Lakes. But the American meat habit is taking its toll on this priceless wonder of nature. Water tables are dropping precipitously. Wells are going dry. And water resource experts are estimating that at the current rate of water consumption, the Ogallala Aquifer may be exhausted in 35 years. If this happens, the High Plains of the United States will be completely uninhabitable to human beings.
Go on to Chapter 11 - Violence
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