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Agenda for a New America
a-usa2.gif (3271 bytes)a-usa2.gif (3271 bytes)Part One
The Politics of Vegetarianism

By: Vasu Murti
Chapter 14 - Environmental Extinction

Significant environmental damage results from livestock agriculture, often driving many other species into extinction.  The existence of dodo birds was first recorded in the early 1500s by Portuguese Sailors.  The dodo, which weighed about 50 pounds, was incapable of defending itself and could not flee from its enemies, since it lacked the ability to fly.  Large numbers of these birds were killed by human beings for food.  Additionally, pigs that were brought to the islands destroyed a significant portion of the dodos' eggs, creating a severe decline in the dode population.  The species became extinct by the 18th century.

The Steller's sea cow once inhabited the coastal waters of the Commander Islands in the Bering Sea.  Russian Sealers, who were the first to record the existence of these creatures in 1741, estimated the entire population to be about 5,000.  Their meat was considered a delicacy by Russian sealers, who decimated the entire species by 1768 .

The Labrador duck has been extinct since 1875.  This species formerly inhabited the coastal regions of northeastern Canada.  The extinction of the passenger pigeon was caused by the American westward expansion in the second half of the 19th century.  As passenger pigeons became a popular food item, the numbers of this species rapidly diminished.  Millions were slaughtered each year and shipped by railway cars to be sold in city markets.  Another bird to become extinct because of its use as food was the heath her, which became extinct about 1932.

The pacific sardine lives along the coasts of North America from Alaska to southern California.  Sardines, once a major part of the California fishing industry, are now considered to be "commercially extinct."  Another species classified as "commercially extinct" is the New England haddock.   Ecologists have also been concerned about the significant reduction in finfish, the Atlantic bluefin tuna, Lake Erie cisco, and blackfins that inhabit Lakes Huron and Michigan. 

More than 200,000 porpoises are killed every year by fishermen seeking tuna in the Pacific.  Sea turtles are similarly killed in Caribbean shrimp operations.  Some animals are killed because, as carnivores, they compete with the human predator for the right to kill other animals for food, including wild game and domesticated species raised by livestock ranchers.  Alaskan hunters are eager to reduce the wolf population in their state because this animal is a predator of moose.

Cougars, coyotes and wolves are considered a menace to the cattle and sheep industries, and livestock ranchers have engaged in a large-scale campaign to exterminate them.  Two species of wolves are now endangered, and very few wolves can be found in the United States except in Alaska and northeastern Minnesota.  The relatively small number of eagles in the U.S. is largely due to the destruction of this species by livestock ranchers, particularly those in the sheep business.

Herbivorous animals that inhabit rangeland areas are also killed by the livestock industry because they compete with cattle arid sheep for food.  Large numbers of kangaroos are being exterminated in Australia, while in the United States livestock ranchers seek to destroy wild horses, wild burros, deer, elk, antelope and prairie dogs.

An ever-increasing amount of beef eaten in the United States is imported from Central and South America.  To provide pasture for cattle, these countries have been clearing their priceless tropical rainforests.  In 1960, when the U. S. first began to import beef, Central America was blessed with 130,000 square miles of rainforest.   But now, less than 80,000 square miles remain.  At this rate, the entire tropical rainforests of Central America will be gone in another forty years.

These tropical rainforests are among the world's most precious natural resources.   Amounting to only 30 percent of the world's forests, the rainforests contain 80 percent of the earth's land vegetation, and account for a substantial percentage of the earth's oxygen supplies.  These forests are the oldest ecosystems on earth and have developed extreme ecological richness.  Half of all species on earth live in the moist tropical rainforests.  But these jewels of nature are being rapidly destroyed to provide land on which cattle can be grazed for the American fast-food market.

The current rate of species extinction is 1,000 species a year, and most of that is due to the destruction of rainforests and related habitats in the tropics.

Go on to Chapter 15 - Not Enough Land for Meat
Return to The Politics of Vegetarianism Table of Contents

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