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Where does meat fit in to your diet?

by pkline — last modified Sep 23, 2013 05:16 PM
Many of us consider meat an essential and non-negotiable part of our diet. The production and consumption of meat has become both an environmental and health concern. Learn More!
When Jun 11, 2013 to Jun 13, 2013 (EST / UTC-400)
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How does the raising and processing of a meat based diet effect the wider environment? To what extent am I concerned about animal welfare when it comes to food production? How does a meat-based diet contribute to habitat loss, water pollution, and green house gases? What do I understand regarding the role of protein in my diet? Is meat the only or best way to meet that need? Am I willing to adjust my diet and meat consumption to encourage the right sharing of food resources for all?


Factory farm or free range?

Unfortunately at this point neither option is ideal for the animals, people or the planet.  Factory farms are often sources of tremendous pollution, animal cruelty and have been found to violate health and safety standards.

For a clever look at factory farming, watch the Meatrix.

While free range sounds right in theory, overgrazing and the conversion of forest to grazing land carries with it serious environmental consequences. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization "[r]anching-induced deforestation is one of the main causes of loss of some unique plant and animal species in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America as well as carbon release in the atmosphere."

Water and waste

Meat production uses enormous amounts of limited fresh water. The production of feed crops is a significant part of this use.

Irrigation accounts for about 37 percent of US withdrawn water use, and groundwater provides about 42 percent of US irrigation water. Animal waste has a negative impact on water systems and riparian zones – there is often an increase in nitrates, phosphates, turbidity, temperature and eutrophication. Pork farms became infamous in recent years for large-scale eutrophication in rivers and even the Atlantic Ocean. Unless well managed, manure and other substances from livestock operations may cause water contamination.

What is a CAFO?
CAFO stands for concentrated animal feeding operations. “In the US, a permit for a CAFO requires implementation of a plan for management of manure nutrients, contaminants, wastewater, etc., as applicable, to meet requirements under the Clean Water Act. There are over 12,000 regulated CAFOs in the US. Regulatory enforcement for CAFOs is a priority of the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and EPA enforcement in fiscal 2010 included 21 actions against CAFOs for such violations as failure to obtain a permit, failure to operate according to the terms of a permit, and contamination of water.

Meat production and greenhouse gases

One estimate shows that “livestock (including poultry) contribute, directly and indirectly, to about 9% of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, 37% of anthropogenic methane emissions and 65% of anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions, which together amount to about 18% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions estimated as 100-year CO2 equivalents. ” In New Zealand, for example, livestock represents up to half of their greenhouse gas emissions.

Health and disease: Do you eat too much meat for your own good?

The overconsumption of meat is known to have a negative impact on human health. For a helpful over view of current research watch Forks Over Knives. Trailer:


Also watch: Is Your Meat Safe?


And visit the Environmental Working Group’s guide on meat and antibiotics:


Take action

The Sustainable Table has many action suggestions:

For advocacy of this issue visit:

Food and Water Watch

Foster alternatives

Consider joining the national campaign known as Meatless Mondays with featured weekly recipes.

If you eat meat, find out how and where it is produced. Does your producer share your values about ethical treatment of animals and health and safety? Sample questions could include:

  • How was the beef raised and how was it treated?
  • For the majority of its life, could the cow stand up and walk about freely?
  • What did it eat? Did it feed out of a bunk? Or did it graze on grass every day?
  • Who raised the meat? Do you know the rancher? (About 94% of all cattle are owned by three corporations.)

Seek out local producers that use best practices. Consult EatWild to find locally produced meat and

Buy Fresh Buy Local

and the Environmental Working Group’s better meat locator list

Reduce harm

  • Learn more about vegetarianism.

Huffington Post article

In Vegetarian Times

In addition to Forks over Knives, watch Vegucated on veganism

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