Vegetarianism's Benefits
From Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Adapted from Good News for All Creation

Your Health

The apostle Paul taught that we should take care of our bodies, which are sacred gifts from God. He wrote to the Corinthians, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?" (1 Corinthians 6:19) Yet our bodies are ill-suited to manage the huge quantities of meat that many people consume, such as three servings a day, and modern animal agriculture produces particularly unhealthy foods. Numerous studies have shown that meat-based diets contribute to heart disease, cancer, and several other diseases.

Heart Disease

Vegetarianism substantially reduces the risk of heart disease in several ways.1 The amount of cholesterol in the blood correlates strongly with heart disease,2 and diets heavily laden with cholesterol and saturate fat elevate blood cholesterol.3 Even the leanest meat is high in cholesterol and saturated fat.4 The Framingham Study, the longest-running clinical study in medical history, found that coronary artery disease was rare among people with cholesterol less than 150 mg/dL.5

In addition, free radicals contribute to clogging of the arteries that feed the heart, brain, and other organs. Iron, which is concentrated in animal flesh, promotes free radical formation. Vegetables contain a wide range of free radical scavengers (often called antioxidants) that eliminate free radicals. There is a far greater range of free radical scavengers in natural plant foods than in multivitamins.6

The relative importance of cholesterol, free radicals, and other factors in heart disease is not clear. However, Dr. Dean Ornish found that a low-fat vegetarian diet combined with moderate exercise, stress management, smoking cessation, and group support actually reverses obstruction of arteries that serve the heart.7 Similarly, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., of the Cleveland Clinic followed 18 patients with known coronary artery disease who lowered their cholesterol to less than 150 mg/dL with a low-fat plant-based diet and, if needed, medications. None had a single heart attack during 12 years of follow-up.8 The Cornell/China Project found that rural Chinese, who eat less animal fat and protein and derive the bulk of their nutrition from plant sources, have far less heart disease mortality than Americans. In people under 65 years old, heart disease mortality is 16.7 times greater among American men than rural Chinese men, and 5.6 times greater among American women than rural Chinese women. Rural Chinese typically have cholesterol levels from 90 to 175, while nonvegetarian Americans with cholesterol levels below 180 are uncommon.9 Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a principal investigator of the Cornell/China project, has concluded that both animal protein and animal fat contribute substantially to heart disease.10

Cancer

By several mechanisms, meat and other animal products are also associated with breast, colon, and types of other cancers.11 Cooked meat contains large quantities of heterocyclic amines, which cause mutations that lead to cancer.12 Breast cancer studies have dramatically shown the impact of Western lifestyles on health. Japanese women have a much lower breast cancer rate than American women, which is likely related to the Japanese diet’s having a much lower percentage of calories from fat.13 Countries with higher fat intakes, particularly animal fat, have higher rates of breast cancer.14 In Japan, affluent women, who consume much more flesh, have an 8.5 times greater risk of breast cancer than women with low incomes.15 In fact, as Japanese lifestyles and diets have "westernized," rates of cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, breast, ovary, uterus, prostate, pancreas, and colon have continued to rise.16

Obesity and Diabetes

Similarly, vegetarians have reduced rates of obesity and diabetes.17 While fat in food is converted to fat in our bodies with about 97 percent efficiency, converting carbohydrates to fat consumes about 24 percent of the carbohydrates' energy content. Fiber in grains and fructose sugar in fruits help people feel full, which discourages overeating.18 In study after study, vegetarians are shown to weigh less and have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight than their meat-eating peers. On the other hand, the Atkins diet, which has been around since the 1970s, has never been subjected to a long-term study, perhaps because Atkins recognized that his diet would not work over the long term. Like all fad diets, and unlike healthy long-term eating strategies, people on the Atkins diet almost always regain the lost weight. In addition, the Atkins diet and other such high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets predispose those who follow them to heart and kidney disease, gout, and constipation. In addition, milk consumption has been linked to juvenile-onset diabetes,19 and pediatricians Dr. Benjamin Spock and Dr. Charles Attwood are among many physicians and nutritionists who, for several reasons, have discouraged dairy consumption among children.20

Osteoporosis

Animal protein intake strongly correlates with bone loss and risk of hip fracture, while nonanimal foods protect the bones.21 Animal proteins are heavily laden with sulfur-containing amino acids, which metabolize to sulfuric acid and acidify the blood. The body leaches calcium from bones to neutralize the acid, weakening the bones. In addition, acidic blood directly stimulates cells that break down bone and inhibits cells that make bone.22 In contrast, vegetables and fruits contain base precursors, not found in animal foods, that neutralize acids and protect bones.23 Numerous studies have shown that reduced animal protein and increased vegetable protein help protect bones.24 Harvard Medical School’s Nurse's Health Study of 77,761 women, who were followed for 12 years, found that milk consumption does not reduce the risk of bone fractures; in fact, the data suggested that milk consumption may increase fracture risk.25 An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition review of every study on the issue since 1985 found conflicting evidence regarding dairy’s effects on bone health and concluded, “without more well-controlled studies, the body of scientific evidence appears inadequate to support a recommendation for daily intake of dairy foods to promote bone health in the general US population.”26

Other Health Concerns

The food industry laces animals' feed and water with antibiotics, including penicillin, inorganic arsenic (the most toxic form of arsenic), and erythromycin. The antibiotics promote growth by reducing the amount of bacteria in animals' intestines and by preventing infection, to which crowded, stressed animals are predisposed. In addition to other effects (e.g., arsenic is carcinogenic), routine antibiotic use leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, thereby reducing antibiotics’ effectiveness when treating people suffering from food poisoning or other infectious diseases.27 Thoroughly cooking meat kills bacteria, but also raises the concentration of cancer-causing heterocyclic amines.28

The animal agriculture industry also feeds animals ground-up carcasses–a practice that appears to be responsible for new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human equivalent of "mad cow disease." This devastating condition has killed more than 140 people in Europe and also threatens Americans.29 The U.S. and Canada have ignored the principal World Health Organization recommendations to prevent Mad Cow disease, all of which are legally required in Japan and throughout Europe, with the result that at least one infected cow’s flesh has entered the American food supply.30 Even today, farmers feed cow intestines, brains, and other parts humans won't eat to chickens and then feed chicken parts back to cows.31 Intensive animal agriculture has also promoted the spread of deadly E. coli 0157:H7.32 Overall, approximately 5000 people die of food borne diseases in the United States each year;33 more than two-thirds of food poisoning have animal sources.34 In addition, many food poisoning cases traced to plant consumption actually involve plants contaminated by animal feces or flesh.

To increase growth and productivity, farmers give hormones to animals. Widely used in the United States, these hormones are known to cause several types of cancer and reproductive dysfunction in humans. While U.S. farmers claim that using hormones to promote growth is safe, the European Union has prohibited this practice since 1995.35

Many people have turned to fish, which have health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids. However, pollution of the waterways has increased the dangers of eating fish. For example, much of the salmon consumed today is from fish farms, which harbor high levels of organochlorides, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Researchers have linked these compounds to cancer, developmental defects, and stunted intelligence.36 As discussed in Appendix C, there are healthy plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Overall, vegetarianism correlates with longevity. A vegetarian diet, exercise, lower body mass index, abstinence from smoking, and hormone replacement therapy (among postmenopausal women), taken together, account for up to ten years’ greater life expectancy.37

Is Vegetarianism Natural?

While humans can digest flesh, and it is likely that our early ancestors did consume some meat, our anatomy much more strongly resembles that of plant-eating creatures. For example, like herbivores (but unlike carnivores), our colons are long and complex (not simple and short) and our intestines are ten to eleven times longer than our bodies (not three to six times longer).38 With long gastrointestinal systems, meat decays as it moves slowly through the gut, exposing people to meat's harmful by-products. Also, those who consume larger quantities of meat tend to consume less fiber, because meat contains no fiber. Fiber is vital to intestinal health, and people in meat-eating cultures have high rates of colon diseases, including cancer and diverticulitis. In addition, lack of fiber leads to hard stools and straining during bowel movements. This damages the valves in veins that drain blood from the body's lower half, predisposing in hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and deep vein thromboses.39

Human anatomy and physiology resemble herbivores in many other ways. Our saliva contains digestive enzymes (unlike carnivores); our dental incisors are broad, flattened, and spade-shaped (not short and pointed); our canine teeth are short and blunted (not long, sharp, and curved); our molars are flattened with nodular cusps (not sharp blades like many carnivores); and our nails are flattened (not sharp claws). Of course, only humans must cook flesh to make it tender enough to chew and to kill the bacteria that might otherwise kill us.

Is Meat Necessary for Health?

Misinformation from the animal agricultural industry and their friends in government has convinced many people that animal products are necessary for human health. One problem is that the USDA is charged with the conflicting responsibilities of promoting American agricultural products and making dietary recommendations. The USDA is further compromised by industry influence. U.S. Circuit Judge James Robertson ruled that the USDA violated federal law by withholding documents revealing bias among its committee charged with drafting Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2000. The committee was supposed to be unbiased, but six of the eleven committee members actually had links to the meat, egg, or dairy industries.40

Despite its biases, the USDA has recognized that vegetarian diets can be not only healthful, but better for human health than diets that include meat.41 The American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the Dieticians of Canada have endorsed vegetarian diets even more emphatically.42 They found, "Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians, as well as lower rates of death of ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.” They concluded, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”43 Indeed, millions of healthy, lifetime vegetarians demonstrate that humans can thrive on vegetarian diets.

World's Poor and Hungry

Jesus preached, "For I was hungry and you gave me food ... as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:35, 40). While approximately 1.1 billion of the world's people are considered overweight, an equal number are underfed and malnourished.44 Tens of millions die annually from starvation or disease related to malnutrition, mostly children. Yet worldwide in 1998, 37 percent of all harvested grain was fed to animals being raised for slaughter; 66 percent in the United States.45 Meat wastes between 66-92 percent of grains’ proteins and calories.46 While political and social factors significantly impact world hunger, meat-based diets contribute to the problem.47

Some people despair that the problem of world hunger is so great that our efforts seem pointless. Yet Jesus looked favorably upon the Good Samaritan, who rescued one victim in a world filled with other victims of violence and injustice. When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). This accords with 1 John 4:8, which says, "God is love." Love includes addressing the desperate needs of our neighbors, as best we can. Many people, usually through no fault of their own, struggle to feed themselves and their families. Even if eating meat had no effect on world hunger, there would remain something obscene about eating meat when so many people are chronically hungry and malnourished. A plant-based diet, similar to that consumed by our less fortunate brothers and sisters, helps put us in sympathy with hungry people and helps remind us to work for ways to relieve their plight. Saying grace before a simple vegetarian meal acknowledges that we are grateful for having food to eat.

It is ironic that vegetarians are often accused of caring more about animals than humans, even though they encourage a diet that feeds humans, not animals. Those who assert "Humans come first" should choose to eat lower on the food chain. The environmental think tank, the Worldwatch Institute, explains, “grain is used much more efficiently when consumed directly by humans. Meat production depends on feeding nearly 40 percent of the world’s grains to animals, creating competition for grain between affluent meat eaters and the world’s poor.”48

God’s Animals

The Bible states “The righteous man has regard for the life of his beast” (Proverbs 12:10), and Jesus’ central message was one of mercy and compassion. At one point Jesus compared his love for humanity to a hen’s love for her brood (Luke 13:34). Most Christians will agree that cruelty to animals is not just immoral but also unchristian, yet many people go to great lengths to deny the suffering of farmed animals, who are also God’s creatures.

Indeed, even though a Gallup poll in 2003 found that 96 percent of U.S. citizens, most of whom are Christian, oppose cruelty to animals, the U.S. meat industry treats animals with complete disregard for their God-given needs and desires. Animals on farms are exempted from even the very little protections granted other animals by the Animal Welfare Act, and most states exempt "standard agricultural practices" from animal cruelty statutes.49

God created every animal with needs, wants, and desires. God designed pigs to root around in the soil, play with each other, and take mud baths. God designed chickens to make nests, lay eggs, and raise their chicks. God designed all animals with a desire for sunlight, fresh air, fresh water, and so on, and he designed all animals to grow at a rate that doesn’t tax their limbs and organs.

But all of these things are denied to animals who are turned into food by the meat industries. Scientists are playing God by manipulating animals to grow so quickly that their hearts, lungs, and limbs can’t keep up. Farmers deny animals everything natural as they pack them into excrement-laden sheds. Basically, God’s will is denied completely by the industries that have decided that they know better than God how God’s creatures should live and grow.

The trade magazine Hog Farm Management sums up the industry's attitude: "Forget the pig is an animal. Treat him just like a machine in a factory.”50 Indeed, Oregon State University Professor of Animal Agriculture Peter Cheeke has acknowledged:

Most people who eat meat don't think too deeply about all the processes involved in converting a living animal to meat on their plate ... In my opinion, if most urban meat eaters were to visit an industrial broiler house, to see how the birds are raised, ... they would not be impressed and some, perhaps many of them would swear off eating chicken and perhaps all meat. For modern animal agriculture, the less the consumer knows about what's happening before the meat hits the plate, the better. If true, is this an ethical situation? Should we [in animal agriculture] be reluctant to let people know what really goes on, because we're not really proud of it and concerned that it might turn them to vegetarianism?51

Although animal agriculture industry representatives routinely assure the public that farmers must maintain humane standards or else lose money to death and disease, in fact, modern veterinary medicine, particularly routine use of antibiotics, helps prevent losses that would otherwise result from the highly abusive environments that typify modern farms. Furthermore, farmers find disease and mortality rates acceptable as long as productivity increases sufficiently to outweigh death losses. As Dr. Bernard Rollin from Colorado State University has pointed out, “chickens are cheap, cages are expensive.”52 Finally, since the USDA will certify meat for human consumption even if the animal arrives at the slaughterhouse with broken wings and bones or if the carcass has oozing, pus-filled wounds, the industry only has to keep the animals alive, not healthy, until slaughter.

Let’s talk specifics. All of the issues discussed below come from industry sources. Everything described is the industry standard. Although the industry claims that it “cares” about animal welfare, it will not dispute any of the facts and figures mentioned below, because they are all completely documented and based on the industry itself. It’s an odd sort of care you’ll read about below, far from the care offered by the Good Shepherd, who will lay down his life for his sheep. And of course, all of this is abuse beyond simply denying to God’s creatures everything that God designed them to be and to do.

Even though most U.S. citizens strongly oppose cruelty to animals, Americans cause more animals to suffer and die than ever before. Annually, the U.S. food industry slaughters approximately 10 billion farmed animals–each one with desires, feelings, and, we believe, a spark of life coming from God. Before they die, the vast majority live in misery—approximately 98 percent of them in severely cramped confinement on "factory farms.”53 Examples of animal suffering include:

1. The roughly 300 million egg-laying hens currently living in the United States spend their lives in cages so small that they can't spread even one wing. The wire mesh damages their feet. The filthy air is saturated with ammonia from the hens' feces, and the ammonia hurts their lungs and eyes. Farmers sear off the end of each bird's beak–without pain relief–because otherwise the stressed and crowded birds would injure and kill each other. When the hens’ bodies stop making enough eggs, producers subject the hens to a forced molt to shock the animals’ bodies into one more laying cycle. For up to 14 days, they are denied all food. The starvation and stress kill 5-10 percent of them. Despite this high mortality, the forced molting boosts profits. Farmers slaughter the hens when the hens' egg-laying permanently declines.

Egg-laying hens in battery cages.
Inset: chick beak-searing.

2. Turkeys and chickens raised for meat also suffer from severe crowding, and turkeys are subjected to painful procedures such as partial beak and toe amputation without pain relief.54 Farmers receive many chicks via the U.S. Postal Service, and up to 30 percent (millions annually) die in transport. Since chicks are cheap and their suffering has no economic cost, mail service is less costly than more humane alternatives.55 Farmers crowd up to 30,000 chickens in enclosed sheds with automatic feeders and waterers. Chickens and turkeys, who are selectively bred for excessive muscle growth, develop painful lameness and suffer from lung collapse, heart failure, and crippling leg conditions. Even though chickens are sent to slaughter at six to seven weeks of life, about 5 percent die during this period, primarily because their bodies grow too quickly for their limbs and organs. Turkeys are so obese that they are often unable to stand and are forced to sit in their own waste, which predisposes them to diseases. Typically, there is little ventilation, and the droppings result in an air thick with ammonia, dust, and bacteria.

3. Farmers castrate calves, pigs, and lambs without pain relief. Typically, farmers cut open the pigs' scrotums and cut or pull out the testicles. Branding steers, also done without pain relief, inflicts a third-degree burn. In addition, farmers scoop out or cut off the horns of calves without applying painkillers.56

4. Pigs react to the stress of severe crowding with pathological behaviors such as tail biting. Rather than alleviate the conditions that prompt destructive behaviors, farmers simply cut off pigs' tails, again without pain relief. For easy identification, farmers also cut off parts of pigs’ ears. Farmers impregnate sows repeatedly to maximize the number of piglets born. Sows are confined for years in narrow and barren stalls that don’t allow them to even turn around, and the hard floors hurt their feet and joints. A similar crate keeps them completely immobile for weeks while nursing.57

Factory-farmed pigs confined to metal and concrete pens (left), gestation crates (top right), and farrowing stalls (bottom right).

5. Cows farmed for milk suffer from any array of diseases and problems, including hoof rot, udder infections, and more. Because they are hooked up to machines two or three times per day and pumped dry, while in nature cows would nurse their young throughout the day, about one-third of dairy cows have udder infections. Bovine growth hormone, which stimulates milk production, worsens these problems. The cows are only permitted to nurse their young for less than one day–just long enough to get the mother’s colostrum–and mother and calf both bellow after the farmers separate them. Most male calves are either slaughtered immediately or raised for "special-fed veal."

Crated calves raised for veal.
Inset: Cows in a milking parlor.

6. Farmers feed calves raised for veal an iron-deficient diet so that the calves' flesh will stay pale and white–the color consumers expect. The calves become anemic, weak, and prone to infection. To prevent muscle development (that is, to keep the calves' flesh tender), producers also confine the calves to crates less than two feet wide–so narrow that the calves can't turn around or even lie down comfortably. Denied their natural desires to suckle and play, they often engage in neurotic behaviors such as sucking the boards of crates and tongue-rolling.58

7. Many animals suffer and die en route to slaughter. According to the industry, 400,000 pigs arrive at slaughter unable to walk off the trucks, and 100,000 arrive dead.59 One study found that 29 percent of "spent" hens had freshly broken bones prior to preslaughter stunning.60 This is not a problem for producers, because spent hens yield poor quality meat, which is chopped up into fine pieces and used primarily for chicken soup or animal feed. Transporters severely crowd animals, deny them all food and water, and expose them to extremes of weather.

Turkeys being transported to slaughter.

8. Slaughterhouse workers "process" animals with maximum speed, resulting in rough, careless treatment. Slaughterhouse workers use whips and electric prods to move the killing line forward, because the animals are terrified by the sights and smells of slaughter.61 Gail Eisnitz has reported widespread cruelty such as skinning live cows and drowning conscious pigs in scalding hot water (for hair removal).62 Chickens have the worst experience of all: They are snapped into metal shackles by their often-broken legs, their throats are slit open, and they’re immersed in scalding hot water (for feather removal), often enduring all of this while they are fully conscious.

Left: Inside a "broiler house," where chickens are raised for meat.
Right: Turkeys entering a slaughterhouse.

The number of animals who suffer and die on farms is staggering, and the number of fish consumed worldwide appears to be far greater. Each year, fishers remove 86 million tons (172 billion pounds) of fish from the oceans alone,63 and this does not include "by-catch”–discarded, commercially undesirable fish and other marine creatures. In the oceans, nets catch most fish. After struggling for hours or days, often suffering severe flesh damage, fish usually die from rapid decompression that ruptures their air bladders or from suffocation on ships’ decks.64 Fish surely suffer when caught by anglers, because their mouths and lips are richly endowed with pain receptors. A hooked fish typically pulls against the hook and line, damaging sensitive tissues. Gradually, the fish suffers oxygen deprivation as the angler "plays" the doomed creature. Fish farms, like those confining birds and mammals, intensely crowd the fish, causing oxygen deprivation and parasitic, bacterial, and viral infections.65

Author Carol Adams has noted that every time you make a purchase, you make a statement. You are telling producers, "I approve. Do it again.”66 Since the average American consumes about four thousand animals from farms in a lifetime, a decision to abstain from animal flesh is good news for God's creatures. 

God’s Earth

Genesis describes God reviewing the entire Creation and declaring it "very good" (1:31). Then, God instructed Adam to "till and keep" the garden (2:15), not to exploit it. According to the Bible, God laid out a plan for keeping the earth and its resources fruitful and bounteous by ordaining a host of protective laws. Chief among these laws were the stipulations for the Sabbath and the Jubilee years, which are set aside as times of regeneration for animals and the earth (Leviticus 25). In the book of Leviticus, God’s commands are made even clearer when we are told that all Creation belongs to God and that we are simply caretakers of Creation, saying explicitly that humans are travelers in borrowed bodies and on a borrowed planet (Leviticus 25:23). We are to treat our bodies and the earth with respect and care.

Similarly, Paul wrote, "All things were created through him [Christ/God] and for him" (Colossians 1:16). This accords with the Psalmist, who wrote, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” (Psalms 24:1) However, modern animal agriculture has proven harmful to the environment. Simply put, raising crops to feed animals is an inefficient and vastly polluting way of feeding ourselves, and it seems to us to violate humankind's sacred task to care for God's Creation.

Rainforests

Animal agriculture is a major force behind projects to clear forests and drain wetlands. These activities dramatically change ecosystems, resulting in ecological imbalances and a high rate of species extinctions. Before humans existed, an estimated one to three plant and animal species became extinct each year. Scientists estimate that now at least one thousand species become extinct annually.67

Between 1960 and 1990, one-fifth of the world's tropical forest cover was lost, largely to clear land for cattle grazing in order to export beef to the United States and Europe.68 From 1985 to 1990 alone, an estimated 210 million acres of tropical forests were cut or cleared69–an area nearly the size of Texas and Oklahoma combined. Farming tropical rainforests quickly depletes the nutrient-weak soil, rendering it essentially infertile. When farmers remove the trees to clear the land, they deprive the soil of deep roots that prevent deadly mudslides. Since trees regulate water storage and release, deforestation increases rainfall, furthering topsoil depletion, flooding, and mudslides.70 Denuding tropical rainforests also hastens global warming71 and alters weather patterns so that destructive storms occur more frequently.72 While wealthy nations plunder the rainforests, regional poverty remains widespread. 

Soil Erosion

Intensive agriculture, in large part to satisfy the international market for meat, degrades soils throughout the world. Worldwide, topsoil erosion greatly exceeds soil reconstitution, and this renders 15 million acres infertile annually.73 A leading cause of topsoil erosion in the United States is monoculture of corn and soybeans for pig and chicken feed.74 The Bible calls for Sabbath years for the land, which is good ecological advice, but farmers never allow the land to rejuvenate. Crop rotation would help prevent soil erosion, help replenish nutrients naturally, and help resist destruction by insects and infectious organisms, but intensive monoculture often provides greater short-term yields. As crops become increasingly vulnerable, many farmers seek genetically modified strains, but these new entities pose significant risks to the environment and human populations.75

Many people argue that we need intensive agriculture to feed the world's hungry. Yet as discussed above, hunger does not reflect the world's agricultural production, which is more than sufficient to feed all people. The problem is food distribution, including the fact that farmed animals consume much of the world's harvest.

Resource Depletion

Animals, like humans, expend the vast majority of the calories they consume simply existing, which is why raising animals for food in North America requires 70 percent of all the crops that we grow. That alone would justify a vegetarian diet, from the perspective of someone who felt that good stewardship includes conservation, rather than wastefulness. But things are actually even worse: It takes resources to grow the massive amounts of crops needed to feed animals, of course, and in addition meat production requires the massive amounts of fossil fuels necessary to run slaughterhouses, factory farms, and processing facilities; to move all the trucks that get grains to farms, animals to slaughter, and meat to grocery stores; and to refrigerate the meat. Growing worldwide demand for meat has contributed to rapidly declining world energy supplies, and severe worldwide oil shortages are likely by 2050.76

Similarly, growing all those crops to feed animals, as well as operating those factory farms and slaughterhouses, squanders water, a dwindling resource and often the limiting factor in soil productivity.77 Intensive irrigation depletes water reserves, including aquifers that require thousands of years to replenish. In the United States, the huge Ogallala aquifer's water table has fallen dramatically because farmers drain about three cubic miles per year. Kansas has pumped 40 percent of its share of this aquifer, and many wells in north Texas have run dry. Overall, roughly one-third of the Ogallala aquifer's volume was pumped between 1960 and 1990,78 and the average rate of Ogallala depletion is equivalent to roughly two-thirds the flow of the Colorado River.79 Because intensive farming and irrigation have depleted topsoil, and topsoil is needed to retain rainwater, the Midwest's fertility increasingly depends on diminishing aquifer reserves. At current Ogallala aquifer usage, the "world's breadbasket" in the Midwest will become largely a dust bowl by the mid-21st century.80 Worldwide, the annual groundwater net deficit is about ten times the Colorado River's annual flow.81

Pollution

Animal agriculture also contributes heavily to pollution. In the United States, according to a U.S. Senate report, animals raised for food produce 130 times as much excrement as humans,82 and unlike human waste, its disposal is largely unregulated.83 Much of this waste ends up in wells and waterways, contaminating drinking water and killing aquatic life. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and pesticides also contaminate water through runoff from fields.

Animal agriculture also adds to global warming by adding carbon dioxide and methane gas to the atmosphere.84 Deforestation increases carbon dioxide levels, as does burning fossil fuels to satisfy animal agriculture's energy requirements.

Fishing

Fishing is also environmentally destructive. Huge trawlers damage fragile ecosystems on the ocean floor. Giant fishnets, sometimes miles long, reduce fish populations and indiscriminately catch and kill huge numbers of "by-catch," including dolphins and turtles, whom fishermen discard overboard. Today, drift nets are often made of monofilament nylon, which is very strong and is not biodegradable. Frequently, whales run into the nets and drag them far from their original positions. The whales often die of starvation or infection, and the dislocated nets continue to catch and kill fish and other marine life indefinitely, perhaps for hundreds or even thousands of years.85

The widespread, self-serving view that the world was made for humans has encouraged people to despoil the earth. Ironically, ecological devastation now constitutes the greatest long-term threat to human civilization.


References

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18. Neal D. Barnard, Turn Off the Fat Genes (New York: Harmony Books, 2001), 47-49; Judith Rodin, "Comparative Effects of Fructose, Aspartame, Glucose, and Water Preloads on Calorie and Macronutrient Intake," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 51 (1990): 428-435.

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31. Rampton and Stauber, Mad Cow USA, 215.

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39. Harris, The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism.

40. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, "PCRM Wins USDA Lawsuit," Good Medicine 10 (1): 14 (2001).

41. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 4th ed. (Washington, DC: USDA, 1995).

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43. Ibid., p. 748.

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48. Worldwatch Institute, The Worldwatch Institute position paper opposing meat consumption. www.purefood.org/Toxic/meatEthics.htm.

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54. Farm Sanctuary, "Battery Cages," see www.freefarmanimals.org/bc_intro.htm; USDA-NASS, Agricultural Statistics 2001, see www.usda.gov/nass/pubs/agr01/01_ch8.pdf.

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57. Farm Sanctuary, "Gestation Crates," see www.freefarmanimals.org/gc_intro.htm.

58. Coats, Old MacDonald's Factory Farm, 61-68.

59. National Hog Farmer, February 15, 2002.

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61. Joby Warrick, "Modern Meat: A Brutal Harvest–They Die Piece by Piece," Washington Post, 10 April 2001, A01.

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63. Lester R. Brown, "Fish Farming May Soon Overtake Cattle Ranching as a Food Source," see www.worldwatch.org/chairman/issue/001003.html.

64. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, "Bulldozers of the Sea: How Fish Get from the High Seas to Your Supermarket," see www.fishinghurts.com/bulldozer.html.

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66. Carol J. Adams, personal communication, 15 May 2001.

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68. Lester R. Brown et al. State of the World 1998: A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1998), 22.

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74. Cheeke, Contemporary Issues in Animal Agriculture.

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76. Colin J. Campbell and Jean H. Laherrere, "The End of Cheap Oil," Scientific American, March 1998, 78-83.

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79. Sandra Postel, Pillar of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last? (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1999), 77.

80. Paul Simon, Tapped Out: The Coming World Crisis in Water and What We Can Do about It (Washington, DC: National Press Books, 1998).

81. Postel, Pillar of Sand, 80.

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85. Earthtrust, "Sufficient Data Exists to Support a Ban on Driftnet Fishing," see www.earthtrust.org/dnpaper/suffic.html.