The Fruits of Civilization (84) Livestock


But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh, we deprive a soul of the sun, and light, and of that proportion of life and time they had been born into the world to enjoy. ~ 1st-century Greek historian Plutarch

People are much bigger meat eaters than the apes they descended from. The modern age has brought industrial production techniques to satisfying the human hunger for animal flesh.

Worldwide, over 70 billion farm animals are reared for food every year. This tally continues to grow.

1/3rd of the world’s arable land is dedicated to feeding livestock. Livestock take up 26% of Earth’s ice-free surface.

In 1950, each American consumed, on average, 9.5 kilos of chicken in 1950. 616,000 chickens were eaten. In 2000, Americans ate 8 billion chickens: 34.9 kilos per person – 3.6 times more chicken per person than in 1950.

Dogs, cats, and other pets eat ~30% of meat consumed in the US.

The world’s increasing appetite for animal food products of all kinds – pork, dairy, beef, poultry, and eggs – is placing unsustainable pressures on the planet’s ecosystems. ~ American environmental scientist Daniel Imhoff

Livestock in the US generate 3 times more raw waste than the human population. Runoff from factory farms pollutes the water supply more than all other industrial sources combined (fossil fuel extraction aside).

Producing poultry, pork, eggs, and dairy are 2–6 times less efficient, per consumed calorie, than growing potatoes or grains. But these are minor league compared to red meat.

Putting steak on the table is environmentally extravagant. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef.

In the current US regime, producing beef uses 28 times more land, 11 times more water, and 6 times the fertilizer of other livestock. 58% of American dietary meat is red meat.

Cattle ranching also generates 5 times more greenhouse gas emissions, as cow flatuses are methane laden. All told, livestock produce ~35% of the world’s methane emissions. Huge cesspools of animal feces and urine also emit copious volumes of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.

The egregious environmental impact of raising beef cattle versus poultry and swine obscures other ills, notably the treatment of the animals bound for consumption. Animal welfare is incidental to meat-growing operations, which aim solely at profit.

In most factory farms, animals subsist in filthy, cramped and often windowless environments, commonly confined in cages and steel-bar crates. They get no exercise, and do not have fresh air to breathe, owing to their packed and putrid living conditions. Many farms liberally spray pesticides to prevent sickness.

Livestock abuse has a long history. In 16th-century England, pigs were sometimes kept in conditions so cramped that they could not turn around. Robert Southwell, a large English landowner, marveled at a “new invention of an ox-house, where the cattle are to eat and drink in the same crib and not stir until they be fitted for the slaughter.”

For centuries, poultry and game were keep in the dark, with their feet nailed to the floor or cut off, as it was thought this made their meat more tender. In France to this day, geese are force-fed to produce foie gras.

The principle of confinement in so-called animal science is derived from the industrial version of efficiency. The designers of animal factories appear to have had in mind the example of concentration camps or prisons, the aim of which is to house and feed the greatest numbers in the smallest space at the least expense of money, labor, and attention. ~ Wendell Berry

All this cruelty is generously subsidized. European governments pay livestock owners more to keep their cows per day than what half of the world’s population lives on.

◊ ◊ ◊

Livestock are given growth hormones to maximize size and turnover, and copious antibiotics to ward off the epidemics which would arise otherwise rage from such squeezed squalor. In some countries, 80% of antibiotic use is on farm animals, not people. In all countries with industrialized agriculture, even those where growth hormones are banned, more antibiotics on are used on livestock than by people. Animals treated with antibiotics develop bacteria resistant to the drugs, and pass these microbes directly to humans, through food and contact with farm workers.

The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry. ~ Japanese physician Kazuaki Miyagishima in 2017

◊ ◊ ◊

Eating meat is itself unhealthy, and especially so in light of livestock being dosed with antibiotics and growth hormones. On top of that, contamination at meat processing plants is long-standing and ongoing. A 2018 study found that 60% of British meat factories had poor hygienic practices.