Soaring Meat Production Threatens Global Environment, Warns Report

By August 27, 2014

The world is eating too much meat, and that’s bad news for the earth’s forests, arable land, and scarce water. That’s the conclusion of a report released yesterday by the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.

Global production of meat hit a new high of 308.5 million tons last year, up 1.4 percent, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the report notes. “In response to growing purchasing power, urbanization, and changing diets, meat production has expanded more than fourfold over just the last five decades. Even more startlingly, meat production has grown 25-fold since 1800,” says a news release accompanying the report, entitled “Peak Meat Production Strains Land and Water Resources.”

While average consumption of meat in 2013 reached 42.9 kilograms per capita, many people still consume far less, which means production growth is unlikely to stall soon. People in developing countries are eating less than half the quantity of meat consumed by those in developed nations—33.7 kg. as compared to 75.9 kg., the report points out.

Not surprisingly, Asia, home to the fast-growing, populous countries of China and India, has already become the world’s largest meat-producing region. In 2013, it produced 131.5 million tons of meat, about 43 percent of world output. Europe, by contrast, accounted for 58.5 million tons, North America, 47.2 million, and South America, 39.9 million. “China single-handedly accounted for nearly half of global pig meat production,” the report says.

Raising all that livestock requires lots of land and water. More than two-thirds of all agricultural land is used for animal pasture, with an additional 10 percent used to grow feed grains consumed by meat- and dairy-producing animals. Agriculture overall consumes about 70 percent of the world’s fresh water; a third of it goes to grow feed grain. Particularly resource-intensive is beef production: Raising cattle requires up to five times as much land as that needing to produce pigs or chickens—for the same amount of protein.

“Industrial methods in the livestock sector cut down forests to expand grazing lands and use large quantities of water. Production uses grains (such as corn or soybeans) for animal feed and relies on heavy doses of antibiotics in animals,” writes Worldwatch Institute Senior Researcher Michael Renner. “Limiting these environmental and health impacts requires not only a look at how much meat people eat, but also at the kind of meat that they consume worldwide.”


We’re Eating Pangolins Off the Face of the Earth

We’re Eating Pangolins Off the Face of the Earth

While we’ve been focused on the poaching crisis that’s threatening the future for charismatic animals like elephants, rhinos and tigers, another species now faces the threat of extinction thanks to human appetites and could disappear before most people even hear of it.

The pangolin, which includes eight species who live in Africa and Asia, are unique little creatures in a number of ways. They’ve been described as walking artichokes and because they’re insectivores they’ve been dubbed “scaly anteaters.” These toothless animals are also the only mammal covered in true scales, which are made of keratin, and the the fact that they walk like a miniature T. rex only adds to their charm.

Unfortunately, these curious creatures are being hunted to the brink for both their meat, which is considered a delicacy by the affluent, and for their scales, which are believed to have medicinal properties.

Even with protection and international trade bans in place, pangolins are still widely traded illegally on the black market. Just days ago, 1.4 tons of pangolin scales were seized by officials in Vietnam and are believed by customs officials to have come from as many as 10,000 animals.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group, more than one million pangolins are estimated to have been taken from the wild over the past decade alone, which has made them the most illegally traded wild mammal in the world.

Until this week, only two species had been listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as endangered, while the remaining four were listed as threatened and species of least concern. Now they’ve all been upgraded over concerns that their populations are plummeting. Chinese and Sunda pangolins are now listed as “Critically Endangered,” while the Indian and Philippine pangolins are “Endangered” and all four species in Africa are listed as “Vulnerable.”

In an effort to get immediate conservation work going, the Pangolin Specialist Group also published a new action plan this week, ‘Scaling Up Pangolin Conservation,’ that outlines steps that need to be taken now to to stop the illegal trade and keep pangolins from disappearing forever.

Among many measures it hopes to see completed, the group has recommended stronger tracking of pangolin parts, more studies to get a better understanding of pangolins and their movements in the wild and working with local communities to ensure they don’t have to turn to poaching to survive.

What the group believes is the single most important step to conserving these species is reducing the demand for their meat and scales in China and Vietnam, which it hopes to do through awareness campaigns and by engaging the conservation community to help spread the word and change opinions.

“In the 21st Century we really should not be eating species to extinction – there is simply no excuse for allowing this illegal trade to continue,” Professor Jonathan Baillie, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group and Conservation Programmes Director at ZSL, said in a statement.

For more info on how to help pangolins, visit

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The Economic Case for Taxing Meat


By Charles Kenny March 31, 2014

As tax season ramps up, we’re bound to hear proposals aimed at making the revenue system simpler and more efficient. A perennial is the “sin tax.” Rather than tax earnings—when we really want people to earn money—why not tax things we don’t want people to do? Add duties to cigarettes, alcohol, and carbon dioxide to slow people’s smoking, drinking, and polluting, and you’ll do them and the world a favor while raising revenue for schools, hospitals, and roads. But why stop there? It’s time to add one more sin to the list of habits that should be taxed: excessive meat consumption.

Meat has always been part of the human diet. Few dishes are as wonderful as a bolognese sauce made with a combination of pork, lamb, and beef. But taxing pigs, sheep, and cows is essential to contain the spiraling costs associated with massive meat eating.

When it comes to gorging on meat, Americans remain at the top of the global league tables. U.S. consumption of beef per person has actually declined over the past few decades, from 52 kilograms a year in 1970 to 41 kilograms in 2008. But chicken consumption approximately tripled over that period, to 44 kilograms per person, and overall meat consumption climbed from 105 to 122 kilograms a year—considerably more than the average personal weight (although some of that meat is thrown away or eaten by pets). By comparison, Indians consume less than 5 kilograms of meat per person.

Story: Keeping the Mystery Out of China’s Meat

But as the rest of the world gets richer, it’s closing the gap with the U.S. The Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that in 2012, 966 million pigs, 1.5 billion cattle, and 22 billion chickens were roaming (actually, mostly not roaming) the world’s farms. For cattle, that’s five times the number in 1890 and for pigs about a tenfold increase, according to Clive Ponting’s Green History of the World. That’s one factor behind the growing global obesity epidemic: a British study comparing meat eaters and vegetarians found average differences in weight between meat eaters and vegans of 5.9 kilograms in men and 4.7 kilograms in women—and a recent U.S. study also suggested that meat consumption was positively linked to obesity.

At the other end of the consumption scale, all that meat production also makes for more expensive staple foods for the world’s undernourished. About one-third of the world’s cropland is given over to growing feed for animals. Including pastureland, livestock production occupies 30 percent of the land surface of the planet. Some of that land could be used instead to cultivate crops for human consumption. If you are concerned that growing corn for ethanol is raising food prices, you should be even more concerned by the larger impact of factory livestock farming.

Beyond meat’s impact on malnutrition, the livestock industry presents a growing global threat in its relationship with infectious disease. Domesticated animals have been the incubators of many of the world’s greatest killer diseases, from smallpox through measles to tuberculosis. The recent emergence of swine and bird flu suggests an increasing risk of pathogens jumping from the planet’s burgeoning domestic animal population to humans. We’ve added to that risk by regularly feeding factory animals antibiotics. Eighty percent of all antibiotics consumed in the U.S. are used on animals. This widespread use has been linked to the rapid emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which kills 18,000 people a year in the U.S.

Story: Farm Bill Stinks for the Meat Industry, and That’s Not Entirely Bad

Greater meat production also has negative environmental effects. Livestock accounts for about 8 percent of global human water use (the proportion is a little higher in the U.S.) Wheat takes about 1,000 to 2,000 cubic meters of water per ton of crop; rice takes approximately double that. Taking into account the water demands of feedstock, cattle take between 13,000 and 20,000 cubic meters per ton of beef (although chicken does considerably better at around 4,000 cubic meters per ton). Land-based meat production is also a big factor behind declining fisheries worldwide. Millions of tons of fish each year are crushed into fish oil and dry feed to be fed to farmed fish as well as to pigs and chickens. And the effluence those animals produce creates “dead zones” in rivers and coastal areas.

Meat-eaters versus carnivores: Is your diet killing wolves?

Most most large land carnivore populations are in decline. A report from Oregon State University suggests that livestock production is partly to blame.

By             , Staff writer / January 10, 2014

A gray wolf poses for a photo at  the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minn., in 2004. Twenty-three wolves were killed in the Upper Peninsula during Michigan’s first wolf hunt in four decades, the state reported on Jan. 1, 2013.  Dawn Villella/AP/File

The world’s fanged animals are rapidly losing ground to humans, reports a study in the journal Science, thanks in part to the spread of livestock farming.

Of the 31 largest species of land carnivore (including the Giant panda, a rare herbivore in the Carnivora order), 23 are in population decline, the authors report. One, the red wolf, is critically endangered, and eight more are considered likely to go extinct throughout all or most of their natural range.

“Globally, we are losing our large carnivores,” says William Ripple, an Oregon State University ecologist who was the paper’s lead author.

Human infringements on these animals are numerous – including the fur industry and many forms of traditional medicine – but the report gives a special nod to “human carnivory.” To support a global rise in per-capita meat-eating, livestock farming continues to expand, shrinking and fragmenting natural habitats in the process. And when cramped predators adapt by preying upon livestock, some ranchers go to extreme measures to keep them away, such as strapping pouches of neurotoxins to the necks of grazing lambs, or calling upon the United States Department of Agriculture to shoot down predators from government helicopters.

“Global livestock production continues to encroach on land needed by large carnivores, particularly in the developing world, where livestock production tripled between 1980 and 2002,” reports the study.

But if our very food production brings us to blows with other meat-eaters, surely we need the land at least as much as they do. Why should we privilege wolf and puma habitat over farmland?

“Human tolerance of these species is a major issue for conservation,” says Mr. Ripple. “We say these animals have an intrinsic right to exist, but they are also providing economic and ecological services that people value.”

According to these scientists, there is every reason to protect carnivores – and not only the species, but the individuals themselves. For one thing, animals’ intrinsic value may dwell in individuals’ capacities for pain, pleasure, learning, and social relationships, all qualities which these megafauna have in spades.

“Because we’re aware and self-aware, we have a well-being that can be helped and harmed by our actions,” explains Bill Lynn, a research scientist at Clark University‘s George T. Marsh Institute, who is an expert on ethics and predator management.  “With respect to carnivores, they too are aware and self-aware. They, too, have a well-being that can be helped or harmed by our actions.”

“Thus,” adds Mr. Lynn, “how human beings relate to wildlife and the environment, are of direct moral concern.”

Many large carnivores are also considered to be keystone predators, who play crucial roles within their ecosystems – roles that are shaped by the size, metabolic demands, sociality, and hunting tactics, of each individuals.

“Each one of them becomes more important because there’s fewer of them,” explains Ripple.

The gray wolf, for example, whose fate has become the subject of ongoing policy debates after its extirpation from much of Western Europe, the US, and Mexico, is the top US predator of deer, after humans. In North America‘s now-wolfless areas, deer populations are nearly six times higher than elsewhere, which has led to drastic changes in plant communities, as well as increases in automobile collisions. And sea otters have been shown to keep North American kelp populations healthy and well distributed, by limiting the growth of sea urchin colonies.

Both of these ecological functions – protecting woodland foliage and aquatic kelp – are vital for keeping the earth’s carbon sequestered safely in plant tissues (and out of the atmosphere), notes the study, suggesting that charismatic carnivores actually play a vital role in keeping global warming at bay.

In view of this and other important “ecosystem services,” the authors have called for the creation of a Global Large Carnivore Initiative modeled after an existing European initiative which aims “to maintain and restore, in coexistence with people, viable populations of large carnivores as an integral part of ecosystems and landscapes.”

Such a body could establish carnivore reserves, suggests Ripple, and improve the enforcement of international wildlife laws.

“Ideally, discussions regarding potential decreases in both human fertility rates and per-capita meat consumption would be part of a long-term strategy for overcoming these concurrent challenges,” suggests the report. “It will probably take a change in both human attitudes and actions to avoid imminent large-carnivore extinctions.”

“These are some of the world’s most revered and iconic species. Ironically, they are also some of the most threatened,” says Ripple. “I think in the end, to preserve these large carnivore species, it comes down to humans having tolerance to live with them.”

Time to Reinvent the Species Again

by Jim Robertson

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s one thing about Homo sapiens that can’t be denied: the species has come a long way from its primate origins—but that’s not necessarily a good thing. From a peaceful plant-eating past, hominids have clawed their way to the top of the food chain, and now the planet’s atmosphere, climate and web of life are all suffering for it.

We’ve evolved so far from the common ancestor we share with chimpanzees and gorillas, that now they’re just a curiosity—side show freaks—to be gawked at between bars or in tiny “habitats” at the neighborhood zoo.

They’re just animals, why should we respect them as our kin? Did they rise from their simple roots, eating from the bottom of the food chain, to become the most successful big-game hunter of all time? Do they carry out wars on a global scale that threaten the very existence of life on Earth? Have they changed the climate for the worse and caused the current extinction spasm? No, only humankind can claim all those achievements.

HumanWeapons_170And we owe it all to eating meat. The transformation from peaceful plant eater to weapon-wielding predator may have made us top dog, but, as they say, it’s lonely at the top. Not only is meat-eating hard on human health, but the carnivorous ways of such a rapidly growing population of conscious-less killers are taking the planet down with them.

We re-invented ourselves once as a species when we climbed down out of the trees and set out across the savannas, spear in hand, in search of “game.” Now it’s time to re-invent ourselves again, for the good of all. It’s not written in stone that humans have to destroy the Earth and all its inhabitants. Reinvention is aspota1 simple laying down our weapons and returning to a more sustainable place lower on the food chain. Trading in our collective ego trip and symbolically returning to the trees may go against human nature, but it’s preferable to self-imposed extinction.


Nothing to Be Proud Of

Being born human is nothing to be automatically proud of. For all you knew, you could just as easily have been born a poodle or pit bull, a parrot, or a penguin, a pig, a platypus or a polar bear. If you ever saw your undeveloped embryo, you’d swear it was a chicken or fish, or a pollywog for that matter—but certainly not the crown of creation.

Call it luck or chance, or even fate (depending on how you feel about who or what you turned out to be), but don’t think it a miracle. Surely God has better things to do than personally see to it that you joined the billions of other humans on the planet on a one-way journey to find a meaningful life.

For most of us, the world would be better off if we hatched out prematurely, at say, the gilled or amphibian stage. If all a person does with their oversized brain is eat hot dogs and memorize baseball statistics, they might as well have been born a carp or a newt—some species evolutionarily locked into a repetitious and relatively mundane way of life.

The only thing that makes human beings any better than some sort of a lowly (but not necessarily loathsome) scavenger is the ability to improve their behavior and evolve beyond their destructive urges. For example, I used to eat meat and enjoy fishing. More on that in an upcoming post…


Backyard Butchering: Loving Animals to Death

Yesterday I received the following comment to my post, All Meat is the Product of Cruelty and Exploitation… “How can you argue with those whose response is: ‘In the natural world animals kill other animals for food and in a most painful and cruel way and if I choose to raise my animals on my own property allowing them to live in a free and natural manner just as they would live in the wild that only differs in that they have shelter from the elements should they choose to use it and they are not kept in pens or tied but in large open barns and that at some point they will be killed as quickly and humanely as possible to be eaten by my family and the excess sold to others. I love animals but choose to eat them as well. I believe that how I treat them and kill them is better than they would live in the wild and their deaths much less horrible than being ripped apart alive as is the case in the wild’. What can you say to that?”

…to which I replied: First of all, it sounds like someone has been watching too many “nature” programs that revel in prolonged scenes of wildlife predation. Most cases of natural predation happen much faster; in many cases the prey are killed instantly.

In my book, Exposing the Big Game, I wrote about a wolf kill I witnessed in Yellowstone: “Suddenly they tore out after a young mule deer who had risked leaving the cover of the forest for the lure of an open meadow. The inexperienced doe didn’t stand a chance against the incredible, greyhound-like speed of the determined wolves. One quickly caught her by the hind leg, bringing her down, and a split second later the other had her by the throat. In less than a heartbeat, a living, breathing deer was reduced to a lifeless carcass.” Not a pretty sight, but much more the norm than the horrible scenarios depicted for entertainment on cable T.V. shows.

The hypothetical argument you spelled out (above) begins by raising the naturalist fallacy, which I covered in the post, Top Ten Retorts to Hunters’ Fallacies (just substitute hunter for animal farmer/rancher):

# 9) Animals kill other animals, so we can too.
That’s an example of what’s known as the naturalistic fallacy—the notion that any behavior that can be found in nature is morally justifiable. But wolves and other natural predators need to hunt to survive, humans don’t—for them it’s nothing more than a thrill kill. Human beings have moved beyond countless other behaviors such as cannibalism or infanticide, so why can’t some people tear themselves away from hunting?

A quote from author Robert Franklin Leslie adds to this:
“It is not important that a hawk takes a robin, that a bear robs a grouse nest. That is Nature’s own salient way even if we don’t understand it…Wilderness life has gone on that way since the beginning, and the prey has withstood the predation. But when man steps in…the very soul of Nature cringes for having endowed one of her creatures with intelligence disproportionate to responsibility.”

Backyard animal farming is nothing but the revival of Old World animal husbandry, from which modern-day factory farming is an unfortunate upshot. Both the factory farmer and the backyard butcher breed animals for the sole purpose of killing them when the time is ripe. They don’t raise the animals just because they love them and want to give them a good life, and raising them does nothing to eliminate any suffering that might go on in the wild between natural predator and prey (unless a person’s intent is to eliminate all natural relationships between wild animals, and there would be a lot of suffering on the predator’s part as the human strives to eliminate them).

Killing farmed animals “quickly and humanely” is easier said than done. At some point the animal knows that the human they trusted intends to hurt or kill them, as they probably would have seen it happen to one or more of their herd-mates. And the act of ending a healthy animal’s life so you can eat their flesh is cruel no matter how you slice it, especially since people do not have to eat meat to live a long, healthy life. And in fact, a lifetime of meat-eating is unhealthy for the human primate. Also from the Top Ten list mentioned above:

8) Humans are carnivores, look at our canine teeth.
Human teeth are designed primarily for chewing plant-based foods, like our primate cousins do. Humans “fangs” are teensy compared to those of gorillas, who are strict vegetarians and only show them to appear fierce. Also, our intestinal tract is long to allow for the slow digestion of high-fiber foods, while true carnivores have short intestines as needed to process meat and dispose of the resulting toxic wastes quickly.

7) Wild game (or free-range) meat is health food.
All animal flesh is rife with cholesterol throughout, and the protein in animal flesh is acidic, causing bone calcium losses as it is metabolized. According to the American Dietetic Association, a diet high in animal products has been linked to obesity, diabetes, colon and other cancers, osteoporosis, kidney stones, gallstones, diverticular disease, hypertension and coronary artery disease. New studies have found that another culprit in causing heart disease may be a little-studied chemical that is burped out by bacteria in the intestines after people eat meat.

Again, wolves and other predators need to eat meat to survive—modern humans do not. Natural predators don’t hate their prey, but they don’t pretend to love them either.

Forget the 4-H Club—you can’t really claim to “love” an animal you plan to someday kill, butcher and consume.


All Meat Is the Product of Cruelty and Exploitation

A German serial killer, Fritz Haarmann, known as the “Butcher of Hanover,” cut his victims’ bodies into strips of flesh and sold them as pork. Here in North America, third-generation Canadian pig farmer and serial killer of 49 women, Robert Pickton, ground the bodies of his victims into sausage and sold it in packages or gave it out to friends.

While it’s appalling that folks who acquired meat from Pickton may have ingested human flesh, it is equally unsettling that they didn’t notice. To the taste buds it seems meat is meat. This tragedy was just one of many recent incidents that should make people rethink their carnivorous ways.

On a related note, according to an article by Cindi Avila with NBC News, Whole Foods admitted to accidentally reversing labels on two salads sold at its stores, a curried chicken salad and a vegan version called curried “chick’n” salad, last Tuesday and Wednesday at some 15 of its locations in the Northeast (including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York). “The switched labels means it is highly likely someone who made a conscious choice not to eat animal products wound up doing so, through no fault of their own.”

To the ethical vegetarians who inadvertently ingested chicken flesh, the stomach-churning physical response of revulsion was on par with those of the pork-eaters who learned they’d cannibalized. Now, you might be asking yourself, “How can anyone compare eating chicken or pork to cannibalizing human flesh?”

The NBC article makes the clarifying point, “It may be hard for meat-eaters to understand, but this is a way of life that simply doesn’t involve compromise or mistakes. That’s especially the case for those of us who are vegetarian or vegan because of animal-welfare reasons or those who choose this for religious reasons.”

Pigs, like humans, cows and chickens, are capable of experiencing joy, affection, and pleasure. However, on hog farms, they are treated like unfeeling machines, confined in tiny stalls and fed growth-accelerating drugs that often cause lameness. Their teeth are cut with pliers, and their tails are cut off-without anesthetic. At the slaughterhouse, they are hung upside down and bled to death-often while they are fully conscious. Whether flesh comes from the victim of a serial killer or from a pig, a cow, or a chicken, it is the product of cruelty toward a thinking, feeling being who experiences pain and fear and wants to live free of exploitation.

In light of all this, why are people still eating meat? One common answer goes something like this: “I’m a human—superior to other beings—I’m entitled.” But a sense of entitlement is one of the trademark rationalizations that serial killers use to justify their wrongdoings, and grandiosity is also symptomatic of psychopathy, according to Canadian psychologist and author of Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, Robert D. Hare, Ph.D. Other symptoms outlined on Dr. Hare’s “psychopathy checklist,” such as shallow emotions and a lack of empathy or remorse, aid the killer—or meat-eater—in disregarding the suffering of his or her victims.

Psychopathic serial killers objectify their victims and consider their victims’ self-interests insignificant. The same rationale is called into play when one thinks of pigs only as “pork,” cows as “beef,” or chickens as “poultry,” without thought of the individuals or their suffering.

Both Canada and the U.S. have had recent cases of mad cow disease. As a result, we saw news footage of downer cows, too sick to walk, being dragged by chains into slaughterhouses. Press coverage of avian flu outbreaks reveal the intensely overcrowded conditions of chickens on factory farms-tens of thousands of animals cooped up in their own filth, each with less space than a standard sheet of typing paper. Besides being warned of health risks, consumers are finally learning about some of the cruelties endured by the animals they know only as “roasts” or “drumsticks.”

It is never too late to examine our actions and re-evaluate our food choices accordingly. By respecting the interests of all sentient beings, we are not akin to the conscienceless killers that plague our society. The only way to ensure that you are not supporting grotesque violence and cruelty against animals, or benefiting from their suffering, is to adopt a plant-based diet.


Misery-Makers Love Company

The old saying, “misery loves company” has gotten so shopworn it’s become a cliché. But there’s a new saying (I know it’s new because just I thought it up today), a variation on that old one, which goes: “Misery-makers love company.” The point being, those who cause suffering don’t like to think they’re the only ones doing it.

Hunters, for example, are emboldened and find affirmation by recruiting others to take up their “sport.” It’s the same thing motivating trappers to form associations or duck hunters to form clubs. It’s why bowhunters spend so much time in chat rooms, and it’s part of the reason coyote and/or wolf haters hold social events called “contest hunts.”

Meanwhile, meat eaters feel a stronger sense of entitlement when they see so many others blindly munching on corpses. The same holds true for rodeo fans who get confirmation every time ESPN airs yet another calf-tormenting event.

The list could go on and on. As good people everywhere start citing their own examples, the saying, “Misery-makers love company,” is destined to become an overused cliché itself.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson