Monday, June 08, 2009

When I made my decision to become a vegetarian more than twelve years ago, little did I know the environmental effects of my personal decision. At that time, the decision to turn a vegetarian was solely guided by my reluctance to cause pain to other animals for my food. Today, I realize that the decision I then made goes beyond what I could have imagined at that stage.

To produce one kilogram of potatoes, a hundred litres of water is needed; to produce one kilogram of rice, four thousand litres; and to produce one kilogram of meat, thirteen thousand litres of water is required. The choice to turn a vegetarian helps the environment at a time where the world's fresh water reserves are running low. In most places, ground water, which is non-renewable, has already been over-exploited, mainly for agricultural use. Major rivers have been diverted for mega irrigation projects to the extent that one out of ten rivers of the world no longer flow to the sea. The state of the once vast Aral sea, now reduced greatly in size manifest what we have done with our fresh-water reserves.

With every extra cow grown, we put extra pressure on our atmosphere; the production and transport of huge quantities of livestock is something that the atmosphere can no longer bear. 95% of the world's soya bean produce is used to feed livestock. 50% of the world's agriculture trade is redirected towards livestock feed. The Cornell website gives us these shocking statistics that govern production of meat:

Animal protein production requires more than eight times as much fossil-fuel energy than production of plant protein while yielding animal protein that is only 1.4 times more nutritious for humans than the comparable amount of plant protein, according to the Cornell ecologist's analysis.

Tracking food animal production from the feed trough to the dinner table, Pimentel found broiler chickens to be the most efficient use of fossil energy, and beef, the least. Chicken meat production consumes energy in a 4:1 ratio to protein output; beef cattle production requires an energy input to protein output ratio of 54:1. (Lamb meat production is nearly as inefficient at 50:1, according to the ecologist's analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. Other ratios range from 13:1 for turkey meat and 14:1 for milk protein to 17:1 for pork and 26:1 for eggs.)

Animal agriculture is a leading consumer of water resources in the United States, Pimentel noted. Grain-fed beef production takes 100,000 liters of water for every kilogram of food. Raising broiler chickens takes 3,500 liters of water to make a kilogram of meat. In comparison, soybean production uses 2,000 liters for kilogram of food produced; rice, 1,912; wheat, 900; and potatoes, 500 liters. "Water shortages already are severe in the Western and Southern United States and the situation is quickly becoming worse because of a rapidly growing U.S. population that requires more water for all of its needs, especially agriculture," Pimentel observed.

Livestock are directly or indirectly responsible for much of the soil erosion in the United States, the ecologist determined. On lands where feed grain is produced, soil loss averages 13 tons per hectare per year. Pasture lands are eroding at a slower pace, at an average of 6 tons per hectare per year. But erosion may exceed 100 tons on severely overgrazed pastures, and 54 percent of U.S. pasture land is being overgrazed.

"More than half the U.S. grain and nearly 40 percent of world grain is being fed to livestock rather than being consumed directly by humans," Pimentel said. "Although grain production is increasing in total, the per capita supply has been decreasing for more than a decade. Clearly, there is reason for concern in the future."

One billion people around the world today go hungry. The earth has enough land to produce crops to feed all these one billion hungry people if others reduce their consumption of meat.

Every-day more and more forest land is cleared to make way for agriculture, the produce of which is invariably redirected towards livestock-feed, production of oil, or bio-fuels. Only a few decades ago, Borneo was covered primarily by a diverse and rich rain-forest which should have been protected as a world heritage site and a biosphere reserve. Instead, 90% of Borneo's forests have been wiped out to make way for palm plantations to feed the growing demand for palm oil. It is unimaginable that we can turn a blind-eye to this and still live with a clear conscience.

Fish accounts as a staple food for one out of five people in the world. However, we have managed to over-exploit this very important resource. Seventy-five percent of the world's fishing grounds are over-exploited, thanks to modern fishing trawlers; fish nets that span hundreds of kilometres sweeping catching fish and other non-target species indiscriminately, the latter are then thrown back into the ocean, dead; and satellite assistance for location of shoals. Most of the large fish species have become extinct as the long time they take to grow into adults does not give them a time to regenerate in the presence of these titanic trawlers.

Consider this. The plate on your table will be tasty. After-all, it contains the blood and flesh of so many humans who cannot afford to eat meat or grains, or drink safe water.

1 comment:

Brady said...

amazing post. Thanks for this. I have been a veggie all my life, but had been looking for such facts as you have presented.