The animals were rejected by several countries over fears they had bovine bluetongue virus which, although it does not affect humans, causes lameness and haemorrhaging among cattle.
A confidential report by Spanish government veterinarians has said that more than 850 cows that spent months aboard a ship wandering across the Mediterranean are not fit for transport anymore and should be killed.
The cows were kept in what an animal rights activist called “hellish” conditions on a vessel named Karim Allah, which docked in the southeastern Spanish port of Cartagena on Thursday after struggling to find a buyer for the cattle during the past two months.
The beasts were rejected by several countries over fears they had bovine bluetongue virus. The insect-borne virus causes lameness and haemorrhaging among cattle. Bluetongue does not affect humans.
The veterinarians’ report concluded that the animals had suffered from the lengthy journey. Some of them were unwell and not fit for transport outside of the European Union, nor should they be allowed in the EU. Euthanasia would be the best solution for their health and welfare, it said.
The report did not say if the cattle had bluetongue disease.
“It is not even mentioned, which is very surprising,” said Miquel Masramon, a lawyer representing the ship owner Talia Shipping Line. The ship is registered in Lebanon, according to VesselFinder.
“My impression is that they will definitely go ahead with the slaughter and destruction of the animals and it’ll be difficult for us to prevent it,” he said.
Masramon said he would push for the return of blood samples taken from the animals and impounded by authorities on Thursday to be released and tested “to prove if there is any bluetongue.”
The Agriculture Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The vessel originally left Cartagena to deliver the cattle to Turkey. But authorities there blocked the shipment and suspended live animal imports from Spain, fearing bluetongue infection.
That rejection turned the ship into an international pariah. Several countries refused it entry even to replenish animal feed, forcing the cows to go several days with just water.
The cows likely have severe health problems after their “hellish” crossing, said animal rights activist Silvia Barquero, director of the Igualdad Animal NGO.
“What has happened to the waste produced by all these animals for two months? We are sure they are in unacceptable sanitary conditions,” Barquero told.
The Agriculture Ministry’s experts counted 864 animals alive on board. Twenty-two cows died at sea, with two corpses still aboard. The remains of the others that died were chopped up and thrown overboard during the journey, the report said.
Ownership of the cattle is unclear.
The exporter, World Trade, said it is not responsible because it sold the animals, Masramon said. Reuters has been unable to reach World Trade for comment.
A second ship, the ElBeik, also set sail from Spain in December with a cargo of nearly 1,800 cows. It is currently moored off the Turkish Cypriot port of Famagusta.
Nestled amid butterscotch-scented Ponderosa pines in Idaho’s backcountry one sunny, summer day in 1991, Suzanne Stone scooped her hands around her chin and let out an “Ahwooooo.” Stone, now an expert in wolf restoration heading the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, was then an intern at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). After she sent two boisterous wolf howls rippling through nearby meadows, she listened curiously for a reply. Instead, a bullet from a distant rifle whistled just above her and her supervisor’s heads. Steve Fritts, a leading wolf scientist at USFWS, hurried Stone back to their car before reporting what happened. Hunting was legal in the area, but firing at federal employees—even unknowingly—was not. Federal investigators later traced the shot to a hunting outfitter hundreds of yards away.
“I knew then what wolves were facing in the backcountry,” she says. For nearly three decades, wolf populations in Idaho have been on the rise, pitting local communities and powerful interest groups against each other, a situation that plays out in many areas across the country where wolves exist. Hunters contend that wolves have fully recovered and now deplete elk and deer populations while some ranchers argue wolves need to be killed to keep livestock alive. Conservationists, on the other hand, say that the apex predators contribute vitally to a healthy ecosystem and are still functionally extinct in about 85 percent of their historic range.
With gray wolves set to lose their federal protection when delisting takes effect in January, individual states have resorted to patching together their own terms for management, making it easier for people to hunt them in some states. But hunting will likely stunt wolf recovery and destabilize ecosystems already hobbled by their scarcity. Wolves regulate coyote populations, preventing the latter group from hunting pronghorn antelope; wolves pick off weak, rather than healthy, prey, leading to stronger deer and elk herds; and they keep wild herbivores from overgrazing, rippling benefits down to the soil. For these reasons, biologists have been trying to convince ranchers and policymakers that nonlethal methods, both old and new, should be used to reduce livestock conflicts and keep wolf populations stable or growing.
Wolves were nearly wiped out from the lower 48 by 1960, but numbers rebounded after Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and scientists reintroduced the predators to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in 1995. Hunting ramped up between 2008 and 2012 when the USFWS delisted gray wolves in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, in part to protect livestock from attack. But that tactic may have been counterproductive. Research from the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at the University of Wisconsin Madison has shown that killing gray wolves actually leads to three times more livestock attacks, a finding supported by behavioral studies elsewhere. “The wolf pack is a family,” says Adrian Treves, who runs the lab. They cooperate to defend territory and raise pups. When one is killed, the destabilizing effect ripples through the pack. Reproductive age goes down, and naive juvenile attacks on livestock go up, according to Colleen St. Clair, a biologist at the University of Alberta.
Ranchers’ fears also run deeper than just slain cows. Even if livestock don’t die, wolves may chase or stress cattle enough that many lose weight, get trampled or injured. “I have major concerns about [wolves],” says Megan Brown, a cattle rancher in northern California who has encountered bears and wolves on her property. “I’ve noticed this happening slightly more now that the wolves are back.” (In 2011, California confirmed its first wild wolf sighting in 87 years.)
One newly proven tactic to discourage wolf-cattle conflicts is to keep an abundant population of the predators’ natural prey. Wolves prefer eating native wild animals, and depleted deer or elk populations nudge them toward abundant sheep and cattle. “Predators are always facing this cost benefit ratio,” St. Clair says. “When they choose to try to prey on livestock, it’s because they are in a situation where that’s their best option.” She suggests that planting deer or elk carcasses in wolf habitats or imposing stricter hunting limits could increase prey populations. Since doing so could also grow predator numbers, both approaches are contentious.
A tried-and-true change some ranchers have made is to keep their herds disease-free and haul dead livestock far from the rest. Wolves are exceptionally sensitive to weakened prey. “It’s like ringing the dinner bell and saying, ‘Come on in there’s a feast here’,” says Stone. Once the scent of a carcass lures them near a herd, healthy livestock become more vulnerable. Moving bone piles and carcasses far from the herd “may be the single best action” to prevent wolf predation on livestock from happening in the first place, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. This approach, while effective, adds costs to ranching and requires some to manage land differently than they have for generations.
It’s also not going to be a cure-all; ranchers can’t bury or haul thousand-pound carcasses from some remote pastures in the dead of winter, and healthy herds need protection too. Since wolves have evolved to be shy around unfamiliar things, a common strategy is to scare them away with devices called nonlethal deterrents. A centuries’ old example comes from Polish hunting practices: fladry is a perimeter of tightly spaced colorful flags. The configuration is not a physical barrier, but the narrow spacing between flags still throws wolves off. Hunters previously used fladry to funnel wolves into an ambush area, but scientists now champion the tool to spare them. In one instance, a biologist used fladry around a carcass visited by wolves. A hungry carnivore leapt over a nearby barbed wire fence “like it wasn’t even there,” but didn’t cross the fladry.
Since wolf reintroduction in 1995, scientists have gathered much evidence showing that random blasts of colorful light, noise or motion can also protect livestock enclosures by keeping wolves on edge. Stone recalls one wolf getting blasted with Van Halen. “It was one of our Wildlife Services guys’ favorite albums, and it was very hard rock,” she says. The frightened wolf fled further than any other in her experience. Ranchers also scare away wolves using strobe lights and starter pistols. Stone, who has used countless deterrents in her 30 years of experience, even reported success with inflatable tubemen—those giant grinning effigies that dance unpredictably, often around used car lots. She assembled a pair on an Oregon hobby farm in 2018 where wolves had eaten llamas, and wolves have still not returned, she says.
Nonlethal deterrent devices have limitations, though. Some require electricity and all only protect enclosed areas—two deal-breakers for herds grazing open pastures. Even in ideal scenarios, wolves eventually tease out empty threats. “Animals are incredibly smart,” says St. Clair. “Their lives depend on figuring out which of these dangers are real dangers.” Targeting multiple senses with a rotating library of deterrents staves off their pattern recognition, but habituation remains a major consideration.
Recent research suggests that tricking carnivores into thinking livestock is disgusting food, can condition, rather than scare them. The approach includes developing microcapsules with nauseating chemicals that ranchers would plant in carcasses as bait for curious carnivores. Making an animal vomit triggers an association with what they just ate, ironing a crease into a primitive subsection deep in the brain. So if a wolf eats a carcass laced with this flavorless capsule, it would start to steer clear of dead steer. This “conditioned disgust” aversion showed promising results in a 2009 study on captive wolves, but the method hasn’t been tested widely in wild wolves.
Recognizing animal cognition inevitably leads to appreciating individual differences between wolves. “We know that individuals vary in their ingenuity—their determination to get through our defenses, their tendency to repeat and cause multiple problems,” Treves says.
The environmental nonprofit Resolve and AI company CVEDIA recently announced WildEyes, a field camera that reportedly recognizes different individuals. “It’s a perfect example of how technology is catching up with the new paradigm of coexistence-type work,” says Stone. WildEyes can automatically alert ranchers of worrisome individuals in the area, or set off deterrents to scare the wolves away. The new technology has been tested on Tibetan wolves, but has not been used in the United States.
According to Stone, one rancher in Montana is testing a tool that monitors livestock heart rates to detect distress—a sort of Fitbit for ungulates. When the device senses stressed livestock, it alerts the rancher that a predator may be close. And other ranchers are also supercharging classic deterrents. Turbofladry combines fladry with electric fences, and works well for smaller enclosed herds.
While some ranchers try new methods, others have stuck with a couple of old standbys that scientists still encourage. Range riders, people paid to travel alongside free-grazing herds on horseback or ATV, can cover more area than electric fences usually surround. In addition to just supervising cattle, range riders encourage wolf-resistant behaviors: grazing as a dense cluster, keeping newborns with moms and moving injured cattle to safety. And guardian dogs, such as Great Pyrenees, can also travel with livestock beyond fence lines. A 2010 study from Central Michigan University proved their ability to dramatic reduce wolf activity, protecting sheep, goats and cattle. At several cattle farms randomly assigned guardian dogs, wolf visits dropped from about once per month to zero visits in three years. Brown says, however, that ranchers with many acres need many dogs—each costing thousands to feed and maintain.
“Every part of this is about having the right tool and using it the right way,” says Stone, pointing out that some ranches require multiple tactics at once. In 2017, Stone published findings from a seven-year case study comparing sheep killings in a lethally controlled area to one protected by range riders, turbofladry, guardian dogs and other nonlethal deterrents. The nonlethal controls led to 3.5 times fewer dead sheep—just .02 percent of the total population.
Switching from lethal to nonlethal measures widely, however, is tough without more buy-in from government and ranchers. More than half of ranchers surveyed in one study wanted to learn more about nonlethal techniques, but funding to foster that desire is lagging. Some states, such as Oregon, do provide grants to help cover costs for nonlethal controls though. When Colorado welcomes wolves back after passing a reintroduction bill in November, Stone hopes policymakers will learn from that evidence, and encourage the suite of nonlethal solutions for protecting livestock and wolves, rather than the lethal measures which endanger both.
For now, the best approach to deter gray wolves’ from attacking livestock is to combine multiple nonlethal methods, and encourage biologists and ranchers to keep innovating. “People often want a silver bullet: they buy this technique, they install it, it works forever,” says St. Clair. “It’ll never be like that. Animals will always be testing, especially animals as smart as wolves.”
Wild horse herd, Red Desert, BLM lands, Wyoming. Photo: Erik Molvar.
The Washington Post Magazine recently ran a misleading story on wild horses, focusing attention on anti-federalist ranchers in Nevada and the big money behind them. By failing to look beyond the superficial personality conflicts, and missing the real and important public lands issues, this article does its readers a disservice.
In the article, the writer characterizes the wild horse issue as an “emotional battle,” and correctly observes, “Many ranchers see the mustangs as an overpopulated invasive species that competes for the public land their livestock grazes.”
However, the reality is that wild horses are only bit players in a very real, West-wide ecological battle in which the livestock industry is the principle antagonist. Domestic cattle and sheep (not horses) are the most significant overpopulated invasive species, competing for the public land that our wildlife – elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep – need to survive.
Pancake Herd, BLM lands, Nevada. Photo: Erik Molvar.
The scope of livestock destruction on western public land dwarfs the impact of wild horses. Wild horses are completely absent on almost 90% of western public lands, and on that small subset where they roam, free-ranging equids pose a measurable impact only in places where aggressive federal roundups aren’t already holding their populations at low levels. In the 1700s, there were an estimated two to seven million wild horses in North America, and native wildlife were abundant. Since the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act of 1971, many herds have been entirely eliminated. Meanwhile, domestic livestock are found almost everywhere on federal public lands and are authorized to graze at densities that create long-term ecological destruction, with minimal oversight and management.
In fact, the livestock industry in the West plays a pivotal role in the two great environmental issues of our time: climate change and the biodiversity crisis. With their wholesale destruction of native grasses, cattle and domestic sheep today are converting native ecosystems to cheatgrass wastelands at a rate that hasn’t been seen since the Dust Bowl. Cheatgrass burns with unnatural frequency, eliminating sagebrush and other deep-rooted plants. An annual weed, it dies each year, surrendering its carbon and bankrupting the soil of its carbon stores. If left undisturbed, high deserts provide carbon sequestration that scientific studies have found to immobilize more carbon even than forests. Thus, the cattle grazing on western public lands are exacerbating the climate crisis. Public lands ranching also decimates native wildlife, degrading wildlife habitats and targeting native species from wolves to prairie dogs to beavers for elimination. The role of wild horses in all this has never been found to be anything other than negligible on either of these fronts.
The article also neglects to mention that Kevin Borba – one of the two livestock industry spokespeople featured in its story – is damaging the public lands where he runs his livestock. His Fish Creek Ranch grazing allotment covers almost 300,000 acres of leased public lands, lands that are failing the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) basic rangeland health standards. According to the BLM, the cause of the land health problem is cattle, not horses. Borba has a history of involvement with anti-public-land insurrections, including the 2014 “Grass March,” where anti-government ranchers drove across the country with horse trailers, ceremonially riding their horses through the towns along the way to protest federal management of livestock grazing on public lands.
Pancake Herd, BLM lands, Nevada. Photo: Erik Molvar.
Similarly, the article fails to identify the other livestock industry spokesman, David Duquette, as a supporter of the Hammonds, notorious ranchers and convicted arsonists who had set fire to Oregon’s public lands in order to create more grass for their cows. It was the Hammonds’ imprisonment that touched off the armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2015 by Cliven Bundy’s sons and their ragtag gang of domestic terrorists. These spokespeople aren’t outliers, they are just some of the more prominent voices in a movement that seeks to give control of public lands and resources to profit-driven interest groups.
Wild horses can absolutely damage the vegetation, as can any large herbivore, but this is rarely the case. In Wyoming, for example, the BLM is currently in a planning process to zero out three major wild horse Herd Management Areas in the fabled Red Desert, an area currently home to 2,065 wild horses, according to BLM estimates. The agency’s own analysis shows that all of these Herd Management Areas are able to maintain a “thriving natural ecological balance” under current management, without the massive reductions or elimination of wild horses proposed in the proposed plan.
The Washington Post article glosses over a deep and complicated controversy over land management in northeastern Nevada, in which a Bureau of Land Management field manager was targeted for bullying, not just by the livestock industry but by his own State Director, for trying to address chronic violations of domestic livestock leases on federal lands. These types of violations have been repeated over and over again throughout the West, and are symptomatic of systematic (and too often officially authorized) overgrazing of public lands by cattle and sheep that are the real problem here. A more penetrating article on the subject – featuring the same cast of characters – was written several years ago by a more thorough and insightful journalist. It’s too bad that the Washington Post couldn’t offer its readers an article living up to this higher standard of journalism.
By parroting the fake-news hysteria of the livestock industry, the Washington Post has given a nationwide megaphone to half-baked myths about wild horses first voiced by William Perry Pendley, the illegitimate and now-discredited interim director of the Bureau. This narrative distracts public attention from the very real and major ecological problems posed by domestic livestock. In doing so, it helps the livestock industry escape accountability for business practices that have long been abusive and destructive to America’s public lands.
Known for its seaside bluffs and dense summer fog, Point Reyes National Seashore is a landscape of rolling coastal prairie blending into forests and marshlands, a sanctuary for hundreds of plants and animals and a destination for migrating birds and marine life.
Just a one-hour drive from San Francisco, the 71,000-acre peninsula serves as a haven for native California species like snowy plovers, red-legged frogs, coho salmon and tule elk.
The tule elk are one of the primary attractions of the park, which sees over 2 million visitors annually, and they can be easy to spot in the zones where they’re preserved.
The elks’ beauty and majesty is hard to miss; one frequent visitor to the park described their strange, high-pitched bugle as “otherworldly.” Once on the brink of extinction, tule elk were reintroduced into Point Reyes in 1978. Now, hundreds of elk live in three herds throughout the park.
But Point Reyes is also home to about 20 ranches that have operated in the park since the mid-1800s. And the tule elk are at the center of a major battle between ranchers, who say the elk are overpopulated and disruptive to their operations, and animal and environmental activists, who think that ranching has degraded the land, leaving it to resemble a “lunar landscape,” as one activist said. The park, the activists argue, should prohibit ranching and preserve the land entirely as wilderness to protect the elk and other species.
Conflict between ranchers and environmentalists is not uncommon in the West, where wildlife and agriculture often collide. Wild horses in Utah compete with cattle for resources; black-tailed prairie dogs in Wyoming are shot and poisoned by ranchers who consider them “pests”; and wolves, reintroduced in western states in the 1980s, are often blamed by ranchers for killing livestock.
The tule elk in Point Reyes have virtually no natural predators, so management of their population is left up to the National Park Service, which is in the process of implementing a wildlife management plan that includes killing elk in one of the three herds to control their numbers, a process known as culling.
One of the prime considerations for how to manage the tule elk is how their numbers affect the ranchers, who sold their land to the government when the park was established in 1962. Many stayed on the land and continued ranching under renewable five-year permits.
Environmental groups sued the National Park Service in 2016 for planning to extend leases for the ranchers from five to 20 years without analyzing the environmental impact, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The groups reached a settlement agreement in 2017 that required the park service to solicit public input and amend its 1980 general management plan with an Environmental Impact Statement before issuing any 20-year leases.
The park service considered six alternatives for its amended plan, ranging from eliminating ranching in the park altogether—an option favored in over 90 percent of the 7,600 public comments submitted to the agency—to the plan the park service says it prefers, which includes extending ranchers’ leases and limiting the population of the Drakes Beach herd of elk to 120 animals to prevent them from eating cattle feed, bothering cows and causing other disturbances. If the population were to exceed 120, the park service would begin culling. At the end of 2019, there were 138 tule elk in the Drakes Beach population.
On Sept. 18, 2020, the park service released its final Environmental Impact Statement, officially announcing its decision to go with its preferred option. That initiated a 30-day waiting period for the park service to conduct its final consultations with other agencies. That period ends on Sunday, after which a “Record of Decision” can be issued, finalizing the amended management plan and allowing leases to be extended and culling to begin.
A Serengeti of Wildlife
Wildlife biologist and California Director at Western Watersheds Project Laura Cunningham likes to picture what the Point Reyes peninsula might have been like 500 years ago: filled with huge herds of tule elk grazing on lush green coastal prairies while coho salmon swam in the creeks and pods of whales passed by off the coast.
“I imagine it as a place of just riches of biodiversity,” she said. “It must have been just a Serengeti of wildlife.”
In the late 1800s, tule elk were thought to no longer exist, hunted into extinction by settlers. But in 1874, a rancher discovered a herd of fewer than 30 tule elk on his land near Bakersfield, California. The herd was preserved, and now 5,700 tule elk live in about 22 herds around the state.
In 1978, 10 tule elk were introduced into Point Reyes National Seashore, fenced in at Tomales Point on the northernmost end of the peninsula to keep them off ranches. Twenty years later, 28 elk from the Tomales Point herd were relocated to Limantour Beach, about 20 miles south of Tomales Point on the east side of Drakes Estero, a large estuary in the center of the peninsula, establishing a second, free-ranging herd. From there, several of the elk migrated to Drakes Beach, on the west side of Drakes Estero, where a third herd of tule elk in Point Reyes now live.
The 2020 Environmental Impact Statement addresses how to manage the Limantour Beach and Drakes Beach herds, including the Drakes Beach culling plan.
The National Park Service looked into moving the elk somewhere else before settling on a lethal solution for reducing the population, said Melanie Gunn, park service outreach coordinator for Point Reyes National Seashore. The park service considered relocating individuals from the Drakes Beach herd to somewhere outside of Point Reyes, but tule elk within the park are known to have Johne’s Disease—a highly contagious and fatal bacterial infection that occurs among ruminant animals. The symptoms of the disease often do not appear until several months after an animal is infected. The elk could not be relocated without risking the spread of the disease to herds outside the park. Tule elk may have caught the disease from cattle in Point Reyes, and they can only be effectively tested for it after death.
When culling does begin—and it will, unless the Record of Decision does not come through—it will be conducted by the National Park Service and other conservation officials to ensure that genetic diversity and sex ratio are taken into account when selecting which indivudal elk to kill, especially considering the entire population descended from fewer than 30 individuals.
“It will be specific, not random,” Gunn said.
Driving through the ranching district—22,000 acres designated as a national historic district on the National Register of Historic Places—the smell of cow feces is distinctive. In some parts of the park during mid-October, scrub grass coats the landscape in a golden brown color; in other parts, hundreds of cattle stand on muddy land devoid of much vegetation.
Ranchers operate in the park under one of two types of leasing agreements: a special permit that limits their tenancy to five years, or a so-called reservation of use and occupancy, which gives ranchers use of the land for up to 25 years or, in some cases, for as long as the rancher is alive.
Bill Niman, who operates a beef ranch with about 300 cattle at the southern end of Point Reyes, has a lease that extends for the rest of his life. The deal is similar to ownership, in that he pays property taxes and maintains his facilities, but has some restrictions; for example, he can’t sell the property.
Niman and his wife Nicolette Hahn Niman, a former environmental lawyer and the author of a book defending small-scale, grass-fed beef farms, practice rotational grazing on their land. The couple move their cattle from one patch of land to another to allow time for the land to rest between grazing periods. This keeps the landscape full of diverse plants and helps the soil sequester carbon, they said.
“What we’re trying to do is mirror nature and manage the land in the way that nature would if humans were not interfering,” Niman said.
Located just north of Bolinas on the south end of the park, far from any tule elk herd, Hahn Niman said they don’t have an issue with elk on their ranch, thanks to park management.
But on some ranches, elk consume grass and supplemental cattle feed, like hay and alfalfa. Some ranchers have reported elk eating this supplemental food, but “it has not yet been identified as a significant or widespread problem,” the final Environmental Impact Statement said.
And Hahn Niman said she has heard about cases of elk creating more serious disturbance, with dozens of the animals entering barns and eating cattle feed, or acting aggressively toward cows. She spoke publicly on behalf of ranchers during the 2016 lawsuit.
“[Ranchers] have had a number of their heifers that have been injured or even had to be put down because they were mounted by large male tule elk,” Hahn Niman said. “It’s weird stuff like this that I didn’t understand until I talked directly with ranchers involved.”
She emphasized that ranchers love seeing tule elk and other wildlife in the park. Ranchers, she said, wanted the park to be established, and without the ranchers, the land, so near the Bay Area, would have instead been developed into prime real estate. But without wolves and bears and hardly any mountain lions, she said, the elk have to be managed and their population needs to be controlled.
“You don’t have the robust population of natural predators that once existed here; they’re almost entirely gone,” she said. “The only remaining predator really is the human.”
A Banned Volunteer
Diana Oppenheim volunteered for three years in Point Reyes National Seashore—a place she calls “literal magic.” She guided a monthly group that would start the day removing invasive species from the park’s sandy coastal dunes, and then led the group in a yoga class on the beach.
Oppenheim said she was shocked when she started to hear rumors that the National Park Service was planning to cull the Drakes Beach herd.
“I was a very heavily involved volunteer; I was there all the time and I didn’t know this was happening,” Oppenheim said. “There was a big lack of public awareness around this issue, and I felt like if people knew, we could change the course of what was going to happen.”
She started ForElk.org to increase awareness of the park service’s management plan, putting up tables at grocery stores and farmers’ markets and approaching visitors at the park. Soon, Oppenheim was organizing protests. In August 2019, the park service opened its 45-day public comment period.
As the momentum of the movement accelerated, Oppenheim also made her views clear on her social media accounts. The National Park Service, she said, asked her to remove all references to her working as a volunteer in Point Reyes, in order to protect the agency’s neutrality on the issue. When she refused, Oppenheim—once named the park’s “volunteer of the year”—was banned from volunteering in Point Reyes National Seashore, she said.
“That only fueled my fire,” Oppenheim added.
In late September, she and other activists in the Bay Area banded together to organize a demonstration. Nearly 300 people showed up to protest the culling plan and call for the ranches to be removed from the park.
“They’re going to actually kill these elk that have been brought back from extinction in order to appease these ranchers,” Oppenheim said.
A Crucial Role
The purpose of Point Reyes National Seashore—stated at the top of the legislation that created it—is to “save and preserve, for purposes of public recreation, benefit and inspiration” the undeveloped seashore.
Nowhere, activists say, does it mention the preservation of ranching. In fact, said Jack Gescheidt, an activist with the TreeSpirit Project, ranching is contradictory to the park’s purpose.
“You can either have large scale dairy and cattle operations in an area, or a national park,” he said, “you can’t have both.”
Gunn, however, disagreed. She said the park and the ranches have coexisted since the park’s establishment in 1962, and they will continue to do so.
In 2019, a congressional statement said multi-generational ranching is important economically and ecologically in Point Reyes and is “fully consistent with Congress’s intent for the management of Point Reyes National Seashore.”
Ranching, Gunn said, has been recognized by Congress as being “part of the fabric of Point Reyes National Seashore. It’s part of our responsibility to maintain.”
Hahn Niman said ranching can and should coexist with all wildlife in Point Reyes through regenerative practices.
“Ranching should be minimizing the use of chemicals and should be always attentive to mirroring natural systems,” she said, adding that ranchers should be “creating a vibrant space here for countless wild animals that are in fact living here.”
Elk biologist Julie Phillips said that tule elk are a vital part of the Point Reyes ecosystem, and can be considered a keystone species, because plants in the ecosystem rely on them to disperse seeds and maintain the native environment.
Phillips—who is opposed to ranching in Point Reyes—said she has observed native grasses return and landscapes restored after tule elk have been reintroduced in other areas around California.
If cattle are removed from Point Reyes, Phillips said, tule elk “will help restore that degraded land, and the elk will play a critical role in bringing back native habitat.”
Unlike so many species that went extinct after European settlement, tule elk got a second chance at survival. In an era where climate change is threatening to demolish Earth’s ecosystems, Oppenheim said, a biological hotspot like Point Reyes should be easy to protect.
“We’re facing a severe loss of biodiversity on the planet,” Oppenheim said, and preservation “should be a no brainer in some of the most protected lands of the world.”
She added: “Point Reyes is a gem and should absolutely be protected and restored.”
One of the most overlooked factors of accelerated climate change is animal agriculture. Could changes to the human diet help us slow down the climate crisis?Reading Time: 6 minutes
Animal agriculture has long left its mark upon the earth. Forests have fallen and grasslands trampled in favor of crops and pastureland. Now, however, this sector’s impacts are being felt in the atmosphere – carrying troubling implications for every living thing on the planet.
The agriculture sector is one of the biggest drivers of anthropogenic – meaning human-caused – climate change. Animal agriculture, which sees the raising and processing of ruminants, poultry, and marine life, accounts for some of the biggest sources of greenhouse gasses. Global temperatures rise as forest cover decreases, and oceans warm as they absorb ever-more carbon dioxide.
Yet there are solutions to these problems – among which is the adoption of plant-based diets. It is not too late for the world to take action against the perils of a changing climate, but time for action is now.
How Does Animal Agriculture Affect The Environment
Practicing agriculture does not necessarily come naturally to us as a species. For much of human prehistory, people lived in societies oriented around hunting and gathering. The earliest signs of agriculture can be dated at around 12,000 years ago, yet since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, agriculture has taken on an entirely new face, adopting intensive practices such as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) which foster truly heartbreaking conditions for farmworkers, animals, and surrounding communities alike.
Called humanity’s greatest mistake by some due to the resulting hard labor, diminished nutrition, and social inequality brought by agriculture, this system of food production now presents the world with a new quandary: environmental destruction on scales that can no longer be ignored.
CAFOs produce enormous amounts of waste, which collect in vast open-air lagoons that can be breached by extreme weather events or gradually seep into groundwater. Water pollution from CAFOs can cause algal blooms which can devastate entire marine ecosystems. Air pollution is generated from CAFOs as manure is vaporized, sending toxic wafts through the air to surrounding communities.
Vast fields of monocrops also cause a host of environmental effects, including air pollution. Pesticides and herbicides are sprayed in liberal amounts, which can cause a host of debilitating illnesses, including cancers, for farmworkers and surrounding communities. Soil depletion is also a serious looming issue. Monocropping, along with the overuse of agrochemicals including synthetic fertilizers like nitrogen and phosphorus, are denying fields a fallow period or crop rotation has the effect of leeching soils of their nutrients. These practices render soils far less productive over time. It takes hundreds, if not thousands, of years for soils to become abundantly fertile again.
Impact Of Animal Agriculture On Climate Change
Out of all the human activities that cause climate change, agriculture is one of the biggest contributors. Estimates as of 2020 put the sector’s global contributions at 37 percent. Below are a few key factors accounting for climate change emissions resulting from human-cased agriculture.
A full 50 percent of the world’s livable land – meaning land that is ice-free and fertile – is being used for agriculture. No other human activity takes up more space. In contrast, all urban areas account for around one percent of livable land use. A whopping 77 percent of agricultural land is dedicated to raising animals, including grazing and the land used to grow their feed, including vast monocrops of species like corn and soy. Surprisingly, this huge expenditure of resources and land use provides only 18 percent of the world’s calories.
Land used for any type of agriculture – be it livestock or crops meant for people or animals – is brought under cultivation by clearing forests and grasslands, which are carbon sinks due to their abilities to absorb carbon. Currently, forests consume roughly a quarter of all anthropogenic CO2, yet the more forests are slashed and burned to make way for pastureland or monocrops, the less carbon will be absorbed, resulting in accelerated climate change.
Farmed animals – referred to as livestock – generate over 14 percent of all anthropogenic emissions, with estimated totals hovering around seven gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emitted every year. The bulk of these emissions are due to raising cattle for meat and dairy, contributing 60 percent of total livestock emissions. These emissions are thanks to the vast amounts of resources cows consume, the land they require for pasture (in the case of beef cattle), and other manure they produce. Cow manure contains nitrous oxide and methane, the latter being one of the most potent greenhouse gasses due to its outsized ability to absorb heat.
Marine life, including fish, shellfish, shrimp, and other animals are taken from the seas in astronomical numbers. Nets, some of which are large enough to contain 12 jumbo jet airplanes, are dragged through the water or across the bottom of the seafloor, capturing everything in their path. Direct fishing activity, plus the energy expended to transport, process, and refrigerate carcasses amounted to an estimated total of 179 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses in 2011 – and this number likely will continue to grow as demand for seafood increases.
How Do Greenhouse Gases Affect the Climate?
In greenhouses designed to grow plants, the transparent glass structure allows sunlight into the greenhouse while preventing heat from escaping. The earth’s atmosphere functions in a similar way, with gas molecules acting like the glass. Certain gases are more effective at absorbing heat than others; these include methane, nitrous oxide, and perhaps the most infamous, carbon dioxide. These three gasses are among the main culprits of climatic warming and change caused by human activities.
One of the biggest drivers of global warming has been the release of carbon into the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and coal, which power many aspects of modern life. Even electric cars, which run on batteries and do not themselves generate carbon emissions, draw electricity from grids still run on fossil fuels (although the goal of using 100% renewable energy for electric grids is more achievable than ever). When carbon released from fossil fuel burning is released into the atmosphere, it binds with oxygen and forms carbon dioxide and begins trapping heat in the atmosphere. Because carbon emissions make up the vast majority (81 percent, as of 2018) of total greenhouse gases, they pose one of the gravest threats to climate stability.
Although carbon is the greatest emitted by volume, other greenhouse gases can be much more potent. For example, one ton of nitrous oxide – emitted by agricultural processes including the use of nitrogen fertilizers in crop production – is equivalent to nearly 300 tons of carbon dioxide.
Methane is approximately 30 times more potent in its ability to absorb and trap heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
Can Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Animal Agriculture Be Reduced?
By far, the most effective way to reduce the animal agriculture sector’s greenhouse gas footprint is to significantly reduce, and eventually eliminate animal agriculture. While this might sound “extreme”, it is the state of industrial animal agriculture – characterized by inhumane CAFOs, waste lagoons teeming with pathogens and antibiotics, and requiring enormous land and feed inputs – which is even more extreme.
This is not to say that eliminating animal agriculture is something easily accomplished. Demand will have to decrease, thanks to people turning to plant-based diets. The ease of adopting these diets is not the same for everyone, however. Many lower-income neighborhoods in the United States are classified as food deserts, where a lack of grocery stores forces people to endure extremely limited options, such as gas stations or fast-food restaurants.
People in nations like the United States who do not live in food deserts bear much of the responsibility for reducing demand for animal products. Fortunately, plant-based options abound to replace animals in a wide range of products, from cheese to milk to burgers and sausages. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are two of the leading companies in the plant-based meat sector, helping the idea of plant-based meats go mainstream and helping people understand that it’s possible to achieve the BBQ-worthy tastes without the climate side-effects. Plant-based meats use up to 99 percent less land and emit up to 90 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Animal Agriculture And Global Warming
Flying in planes or driving SUVs have long been understood as having negative impacts on the global climate. While these are certainly deserving of critique and change, the agriculture sector deserves time in the spotlight. If industrial agriculture continues to grow unchecked, global warming will increase – with potentially disastrous impacts, the beginnings of which are being felt today. Methane, produced by livestock including sheep, goats, and cows, is a greenhouse gas with a terrific ability to trap heat in the atmosphere. The agriculture industry is responsible for fully 40 percent of the total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
In order to curb global warming, and keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that global emissions will need to be reduced by around 40 to 50 percent. According to the U.N., the only way to achieve these reductions is to drastically increase forested land – which means reclaiming land currently under cultivation and to stop intrusions into existing forests.
Due to its profound impacts on the climate and environment around the world, agriculture may well be humanity’s gravest mistake – because it may be our undoing. Unless greenhouse gas emissions are seriously curbed, the world is going to be a far more difficult place to endure. Reducing demand for animal agriculture and adopting a plant-based diet is among the most important actions any individual can make.
The meat industry is under intense scrutiny for its climate impact, with beef singled out as the biggest culprit. But if you want to save the planet, opt for the salad. It’s that simple.Reading Time: 5 minutes
July is over and with it Burger King’s short-lived but much-touted experiment with low-methane burgers. Two weeks ago, an ad for burgers made from cows fed with lemongrass to reduce the climate impact of their burps went viral, garnering the company free advertising by virtually all major media networks as well as some well-deserved criticism. Now the ad, like all things viral, is on its way to being forgotten, and the allegedly low-methane burger will fade off menus. But the whole episode can tell us a lot about how meat producers are greenwashing their products.
Burger King, like other companies that sell beef, is beginning to feel the heat from global climate change, and they are responding to the climate crisis by presenting unsustainable products as environmentally friendly. Don’t be fooled. Any way you slice it, beef’s climate cost can’t be reduced with marginal fixes like lemongrass.
The viral ad announcing Burger King’s new “low emissions” burger is a joke—and a fart joke at that. It opens with a boy styled in a white cowboy suit with a guitar in hand. He kicks open a saloon door embedded in a gassy bovine rectum (yes, really!) and, backed by a chorus of two-stepping tykes, he honky-tonks his way through psychedelic pastures and rolling hills among farting woodcut cows. The kids dance past melting icebergs and above billowing methane clouds, before donning hats decorated with lemongrass tufts. “Since we are part of the problem, we’re working to be part of the solution,” Burger King concludes. But they’re only half right!
The scene sure is something, but the science is dubious. Cows mostly burp, not fart methane. That Burger King is sniffing the wrong end of the cow is, at best, a joke and, regardless, a reminder that the company is in the burger business and not science business. The 33 percent methane reduction the company promises by switching to “low emissions” beef is also misleading. The claim is not based on peer-reviewed science, and the alleged reduction only accounts for emissions in the final “fattening” stage of production—as opposed to a cow’s entire life—meaning its total contribution to reducing greenhouse gasses (GHGs) is probably closer to 3-4 percent. Tellingly, Burger King released the ad on the same day that scientists announced that global methane emissions have grown dramatically in the past two decades.
Burger King’s ad is just the latest example of a growing trend of greenwashing in beef marketing. Beef industry organizations such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Beef Checkoff Program regularly issuepress releasesandfactsheetstouting the “sustainability” of beef, while major beef producers publicly swear they’re cutting GHG emissions. And it seems to be working, with some major media organizations lapping up the message that “Low-methane meat is a thing now.”
It’s easy to see why Big Beef is working hard to cast their product as climate-friendly. Over the past two decades, the meat industry has come under intense scrutiny for its climate impact, with beef singled out as the biggest culprit. Livestock—between methane emissions, the production of feed, and other production costs—contribute about 15 percent of total global GHGs and, since cattle make up 40 percent of that, cattle alone make up about 6 percent of humanity’s GHG footprint. In the U.S., cattle represent 3.7 percent, or about 240,500,000 metric tons, of GHGs per year.
Beef advocates are mustering a defense of their climate impact under the slogan, “It’s not the Cow. It’s the How.” Some acknowledge the impact of large-scale, feedlot-fed beef, but encourage smaller-scale “regenerative” agriculture. These advocates contend that cattle grazing stimulates carbon sequestration in soils and that cows’ manure can substitute for carbon-intensive synthetic fertilizers, thereby offsetting methane emissions and making cattle GHG-neutral. Evangelists of regenerative agriculture argue that it could become the dominant form of cattle production. This is unlikely. Not only is the scientific community not sold on its climate benefits, but the system cannot be scaled up to supply low-cost beef to low-cost retailers and restaurants like Burger King. According to Matthew Hayek, Ph.D., who studies the environmental impacts of our food system at New York University, there simply isn’t enough land in the U.S. to graze all those cows.
For the commodity beef producers, meanwhile, their only option is to find ways of cutting emissions within existing production chains. Increasingly, they have resorted to changing cows’ diets to try and reduce their carbon footprint. Studies have shown, for instance, that feeding cows seaweed can potentially reduce methane emissions by upwards of 60 percent. The industry has been quick to use these studies to boast that they are part of the solution to global climate change.
But these methane reductions are theoretical, marginal, and impractical. Globally, most cows eat a standard diet. It is unclear that feed additives can be produced affordably at scale. Enormous monocultures of algae required for cattle feed may also have serious ecological costs. And, like Burger King’s sustainability claims, these solutions focus primarily on the “finishing” stage of production. To put it simply, there’s no such thing as a zero-emissions cow, and even a reduced-emissions cow produces far more GHGs than other protein sources. And none of this addresses the cattle industry’s other ecological impacts, like deforestation and contamination of waterways. This solution is also incompatible with regenerative agriculture: feed additives require standardization and scaled mass confinement, exactly the thing regenerative grazing is supposed to eliminate.
Big Beef is trying to put lipstick on the, er, cow. The emerging scientific consensus is that beef production needs to be massively reduced globally, and diets need to adapt if we’re to keep food production within planetary limits.
This moment of crisis should be a moment of transformation, not greenwashing. Whatever consumers choose to order at Burger King (we recommend the meat-free, actually low-impact Impossible Burger), we should not applaud solutions that trivialize the scale and nature of the problem. Big Beef must be regulated to ensure that its workers are safe and that the price of its product reflects its true cost to the public, workers, future generations, and animals. It should be taxed, and those monies should be invested in public projects aimed at environmental sustainability, GHG reduction, and the development of cellular agriculture that would allow consumers to eat beef without the cows and their burps. And, ultimately, industrial animal agriculture should be eliminated.
In the meantime, being a conscientious consumer is hard. We all make compromises. But if you think that eating Burger King’s “low emissions” burger is a real solution, you’re the sucker. Want to save the planet? Opt for the salad. It’s that simple.
Global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, have soared over the past decade, according to two new studies that tracked growing sources of the odorless, colorless gas.
Environmentalists say that agriculture and transportation activities have boosted the amount of Methane in Earth’s atmosphere.Dago Galdieri / Bloomberg via Getty ImagesJuly 14, 2020, 4:17 PM PDTBy Denise Chow
Earth’s climate crisis is starting to look even worse than scientists had feared — in part because of just how much meat we eat and how we get around.
Global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, have soared over the past decade, according to two new studies that tracked growing sources of the odorless, colorless gas. The increased methane, combined with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, could warm Earth’s atmosphere by 3 to 4 degrees Celsius before the end of this century — significantly above the levels that scientists have warned could be catastrophic for millions of people around the world.
Poulter and his colleagues found that since 2000, the biggest increases in methane emissions came from agricultural activities — particularly from livestock, such as cattle and sheep — and the fossil fuel industry, which includes coal mining as well as oil and gas production.
Human activities account for about 60 percent of global methane emissions, according to the researchers. Agriculture makes up roughly two-thirds of that, with fossil fuel production and use contributing most of the rest.
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In the new studies, researchers analyzed methane emissions from 2000 through 2017 — the latest year for which complete global methane figures are available — and found that a record 600 million tons of methane were released into the atmosphere in 2017. Annual emissions of methane have also increased by 9 percent since the early 2000s, a pace that could contribute to more than 2 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100.
A report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October 2018 highlighted that the planet has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius since the 19th century; it used 1.5 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels as a threshold beyond which the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and sea-level rise, become life-threatening for tens of millions of people around the world.
Another author on both studies, Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, said the amount of methane released into the atmosphere since 2000 is roughly equivalent to adding 350 million more cars on the road.
In 2017, methane emissions from agriculture rose by nearly 11 percent from the 2000-06 average, while methane from fossil fuels jumped by nearly 15 percent compared to the early 2000s.
Methane is released into the atmosphere when coal, oil and natural gas are mined and transported, but microbes also emit it in low-oxygen environments.
“Any place where there is little to no oxygen — wetlands, rice paddies, landfills, the gut of a cow — are all sources of methane,” Jackson said.
Overall, methane makes up a much smaller percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions than carbon dioxide does, but it’s of particular concern to scientists because methane’s molecular structure makes it more readily able to absorb thermal radiation.
“Methane doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but it’s much more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide,” Poulter said, which makes the gas a key factor in global warming.
To curb methane emissions, countries need to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, in addition to reducing the number of harmful leaks from pipelines and wells, Jackson said.
Scientists are also studying how to minimize methane emissions in agricultural practices, such as altering water levels in rice paddies and experimenting with changes in the diets of cattle and sheep to reduce the amount of methane belched from their digestive systems. Burger King recently announced that it is adding lemongrass to the diet of its cows to reduce methane emissions with a lower-carb feeding regimen.
But slowing greenhouse gas emissions will also require bigger changes in human behavior, Jackson said.
“Diet matters,” Jackson said. “Here in the U.S., we have one of the highest rates of red meat consumption in the world. We don’t have to stop eating red meat necessarily, but eating less meat or eating more fish and chicken instead of beef will reduce emissions, too.”
“Our farmers are still producing food, oil and gas production hasn’t fallen much yet, and methane plays only a tiny part in the transportation sector,” Jackson said. “So while we may see a small decrease this year because of the coronavirus, methane emissions over the last decade are marching upward. And at this rate, we won’t see peak methane emissions any time soon.”
A 12-year-old asked, after his mother told him animals don’t have feelings.
Posted Jun 24, 2020
Names and labels used for “food animals” are psychological ploys to distance people from their meals and reduce cognitive dissonance.
A few weeks ago I received an email from a 12-year-old boy (Erwin) who was concerned and confused about the names and labels that are used to refer to so-called “food animals.” He asked, “Why are cows meat, pigs pork, turkeys turkey, and tunas tuna?” The COVID-19 pandemic is calling attention to the lives and plight of a wide variety of nonhuman animals. He had read about the horrific conditions at pork-producing meatpacking plants and, while he knew that what we call pork had previously been a sentient pig, he hadn’t really thought much about it.1 I reminded him that the meat and pork industries are more appropriately called the cow and pig industries, that a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich is really a pig, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, and that the real question at hand is “Who’s for dinner?” rather than “What’s for dinner”? A few other email exchanges showed me he clearly understood what I was writing.
Erwin also mentioned that when he asked his mother this same question, she casually told him that animals don’t really have emotions or feelings, and “These words are used are for marketing and people don’t want to come to terms with the fact they are eating a cow or a pig.” Erwin wondered, rightfully, why birds, fish, and invertebrates who are eaten usually called by name, for who they are—chicken, turkey, goose, tuna, halibut, lobster—and wanted to know more about the names and labels that are used to refer to nonhumans who are regular features on countless humans’ meal plans. He also wondered why lamb chops are a popular food item, and I couldn’t say much about it given that it’s well known that sheep are fully sentient beings just like cows, pigs, and other mammalian “food animals,” but I was pleased he asked. I once asked a hunter why deer meat is called venison, but people freely talk about elk steaks. He said something like, “Many people don’t want to face the fact they’re eating a cute deer like Bambi.”
Why are cows meat, pigs pork, sausage or bacon, chimpanzees bushmeat, turkeys turkey, chickens chicken, tunas tuna, and lobsters lobster?
Of course, there are many other examples of misleading speciesist names and labels used to refer to “food animals.” Indeed, they have become global memes. In my emails to Erwin I mentioned a few things that are easy to summarize. I began by writing that his mother was right on the mark—most people don’t want to know they’re eating cows or pigs, but don’t really think about who they’re eating when birds, fish, or some invertebrates are on the menu. Numerous people think that animals whose species’ identities aren’t hidden or disguised aren’t really sentient or emotional and they’re all the same. This couldn’t be further from the truth, given what solid science has shown us about birds, fish, and numerous invertebrates.2,3 We also know that mammals, birds, and fish don’t like being caged and brutally abused in ways that defy any compassion or empathy at all, that birds and fish don’t necessarily suffer less than mammals, and that they have unique personalities. Animal sentience isn’t science fiction and animal suffering isn’t an enigma.
Walter, a rescued turkey, at Luvin’ Arms Animal SanctuarySource: Tito White, with permission
I also mentioned that the words and labels that are used are very effective psychological ploys that distance people from their meals and reduce cognitive dissonance for those who fully know—or should know—who they’re consuming, but want to forget about it. He fully understood what I meant. Also, some people know the animals suffer and still can’t stop themselves from eating them—eating misery—and can’t resolve the “meat paradox” by not doing what they well know causes pain, suffering, and death.
The 3 Ds that influence meal plans: How denying and distancing work to reduce dissonance.
I went on to tell Erwin that his mother was incorrect in saying that nonhumans don’t have emotions or feelings. I wondered if she really meant this or if it was her way of denying and distancing herself from who she was eating. As incredible as it sounds, there still are people who deny that nonhumans are sentient and emotional beings. They’re clearly stuck in the darkest of dark ages and maintain that we don’t really know if other animals have emotions. These denialists go on to falsely and inanely claim that there’s no science to support the idea that other animals are sentient and emotional beings, so therefore they’re not. I won’t belabor the crude logic here, but it really does exist. For example, recently, The Ontario Federation of Agriculture made this absurd claim, despite clear scientific evidence that numerous nonhumans have rich and deep emotional lives.4 I told Erwin that the real question at hand is why emotions have evolved, not if they have evolved, and that they matter very much to the individuals experiencing them. article continues after advertisement
I also explained to Erwin that the vast majority of “food animals” produced by massive industries are numbered, rather than named. This is another way for people to distance themselves from who the animals—each and every individual—truly are. Animals on sanctuaries, such as turkey Walter (above), are invariably named, and this helps to establish close and enduring relationships and recognize every single one as the unique individual they are. Of course, unnamed animals aren’t less sentient than named individuals. All should be referred to as “who,” rather than “it,” “which,” or “that.”
Finally, I mentioned to Erwin that many people who choose to unmind “food animals” and falsely rob them of their emotional lives don’t hesitate to attribute rich and active minds and a wide variety of emotions to companion animals with whom they share their homes. Uminding is a ruse by which some people claim certain animals such as cows, pigs, sheep, and others who wind up on humans’ plates are dumb and don’t have feelings, and this ploy allows them to eat and otherwise use and abuse them without a care in the world. While many people don’t like to admit it, in terms of harms, pain, suffering, and death, dogs and cats don’t really suffer more than individuals who find themselves on humans’ meal plans. When people ask me how can I work in China helping to rescue moon bears from the bear bile industry knowing that people there eat dogs and cats, I usually respond by politely saying something like, “Well, I live in the United States where people eat cows, pigs, sheep, and other fully sentient animals, and I dislike both practices. What’s the difference?”
While it may sound strange or heartless, there really isn’t a difference between eating traditional “food animals” and companion animals, because they’re all sentient and deeply suffer on the long and pain-filled journey on their way to peoples’ plates.5 Along these lines, in her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, Melanie Joy “explores the many ways we numb ourselves and disconnect from our natural empathy for farmed animals.” She came up with the term carnism “to describe the belief system that has conditioned us to eat certain animals and not others.”
Youngsters offer hope and we must listen carefully to them.
I’m pleased that Erwin wrote to me. He raised a lot of issues, many of which he was unaware were so salient, current, and on the minds of numerous people. I’m also happy that he understood what I wrote to him, or came to understand it after a few exchanges. Along the way, his mother thanked me and said she was revising her ways of thinking about animal sentience and animal emotions. I was pleased that she and Erwin could have further conversations about who we eat, how they’re labeled, and why. I thanked her and noted it was a win-win for all.article continues after advertisementhttps://4a194d60cc7be2e2f602ef76b092b970.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
I’ve written a number of other essays motivated by great questions from curious youngsters.6 These discussions give me hope. We really need to listen carefully to what they’re are saying and asking. We must do the very best we can to leave future generations a more compassionate and friendlier world in which humane education and peaceful coexistence are high on the agenda.
If dairy cows were a country, they would have the same climate impact as the entire United Kingdom. That’s according to a new analysis from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), which considered the combined annual emissions from the world’s 13 largest dairy operations in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available.
The institute’s report follows up on a similar analysis the organization undertook for 2015. That year, the IATP found that the five largest meat and dairy companies combined had emissions portfolios greater than those of some of the world’s largest oil companies, like ExxonMobil and Shell. Most of the emissions were from meat, but this latest report finds that dairy remains a significant and growing source of emissions: In the two years between reports, the 13 top dairy companies’ emissions grew 11 percent — a 32.3 million metric ton increase in greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions that would be released by adding an extra 6.9 million cars to the road for a year.
Shefali Sharma, director of IATP Europe and author of the new study, said it was staggering to see dairy’s increase in emissions, especially since it occurred in the two years after the Paris Agreement was negotiated. “We’re supposed to be going in the opposite direction,” she told Grist.
The report points to consolidation and rising production as the main culprits for the increased emissions. From 2015 to 2017, the 13 companies used mergers and acquisitions to expand geographically and subsume smaller farms. As the companies got bigger, their production increased by 8 percent, which led to the emissions hike.
The dairy industry takes issue with the report’s framing, chalking the emissions increase up to an “accounting change.” As smaller farms were absorbed by the big companies, the industry argued, their production and greenhouse gas emissions got wrapped into the 13 largest producers’ emissions numbers.
At the same time, the companies haven’t done much to help researchers figure out their net greenhouse gas output; none are required to disclose their climate impacts, and only five of the 13 publicly report their emissions. Zero of them have committed to reducing the overall emissions footprint of their dairy supply chains.
“There’s no transparency, not even basic production numbers,” Sharma told Grist. To calculate the companies’ emissions for the IATP report, Sharma used production estimates calculated by the IFCN, a dairy research network, and calculated each firm’s associated carbon emissions using an accounting method established by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Instead of focusing on total emissions, the biggest dairy producers have tried to paint a different picture of their climate impact. The IATP report says companies like Danone have drawn attention to something they call “emissions intensity”: the greenhouse gas emissions associated with each liter of milk.
According to Sharma, focusing on emissions intensity allows dairy producers to make more milk, more efficiently, and then say they’re reducing their climate impacts. Even if the total number of cows increases (which it has), and even if cumulative emissions go up (which they have), the industry can mask these planet-warming effects by emphasizing greater greenhouse gas efficiency per unit of milk produced. For example, a 2019 report from the FAO — which was co-authored by the Global Dairy Platform — says the dairy industry’s emissions intensity, measured in greenhouse gas per kilogram of milk, declined by nearly 11 percent from 2005 to 2015.
However, the same section of the report also says that “increased production efficiency is typically associated with a higher level of absolute emissions (unless animal numbers are decreasing).” The Global Dairy Platform acknowledged this in its statement responding to the IATP report, saying that as the industry increased its production by 30 percent globally between 2005 and 2015, it could have increased its absolute emissions by 38 percent. But because of “improvements” to increase efficiency, absolute emissions only rose by 18 percent.
Sharma says it’s a distraction to focus on emissions intensity. “You’ve got to reduce your overall emissions, it doesn’t matter about your ‘per unit,’” she told Grist. To her, that means producing less milk — with fewer cows.
On top of the climate change impacts, the IATP report also highlights the impacts of big dairy operations on small- and medium-sized farms. In each of the world’s four main dairy-producing regions — North America, Europe, India, and New Zealand — bankruptcy and farm losses increased between 2015 and 2017.
In the United States, 94 percent of family farms in dairy have closed since the 1970s. Between 2014 and 2019, Wisconsin — America’s self-proclaimed “Dairyland” — lost more than a quarter of its 10,000 dairy farms.
To remediate the situation, Sharma doesn’t think people need to give up milk; she just wants the dairy industry to radically change its business model. “You could totally still have farms with livestock on them,” she told Grist. “It just wouldn’t be the vast quantity of livestock that we see today.”
According to the IATP report, a comprehensive set of government regulations to decrease dairy production would come with all sorts of co-benefits — for farmers and the climate. A supply management system to lower dairy output could allow companies to pay farmers better wages and allow the government to reinvest in less emissions-intensive systems of small-scale farming. These reforms could help strengthen rural economies and protect ecological systems. And ending subsidies to the largest dairy operations could free up funds that could go toward support and job training for out-of-work dairy workers.
To enact these policies, Sharma suggests consumers think beyond switching to locally produced dairy or almond milk. “In terms of individual demand, that’s just not going to move the needle,” she said. But calling federal elected officials about agriculture policy might. Holding global dairy corporations accountable is a political challenge, but Sharma is hopeful: “Political change is possible, it’s achievable,” she said. “We just have to create it.”