Colorful blossoms, the aroma of fresh dirt and the promise of Mother Nature’s bounty provide a backdrop for celebrating Earth Day each April. Throughout the month countless people draw their attention to ways to lower consumption, renew resources, or recycle items otherwise destined for a landfill. What does not receive as much attention during this month of awareness is the impact your food has on the environment.
The industrialization of the food supply has led to some of the world’s most threatening environmental problems. Deforestation, climate change, exploitation of natural resources and water pollution are all connected to demands placed upon the meat industry by a population with a predominantly carnivorous diet.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals website states that every six seconds, an acre of the rainforest is cut down for cattle farming. These statistics are confirmed by a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations showing a 40 percent reduction in forested area over the last four decades to make room for livestock and the crops being fed to them.
With the loss of these valuable spaces comes a loss in biodiversity, which adjunct professor of earth sciences and president and CEO of Wintechgeo Dr. Fred Busche said “effectively causes a real problem for man and his ability to survive.”
While efforts have been made to stop the damage, Greenpeace reported that progress defending against deforestation in the Amazon has halted. A recent increase of nearly 27 percent has been reported with the destruction of 654 square miles, approximately the size of London, over a six-month period between August 2012 and February 2013.
Within the staggering data, Greenpeace also detailed the 2.9 million acres lost during one year’s season to produce crops used to feed animals in factory farms. That is 220 square feet of rainforest sacrificed to produce one pound of hamburger.
According to a 2006 United Nations report, the farming industry is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships in the world combined. Among these greenhouse gas producers, agribusiness is one of the highest sources of carbon dioxide and is the leader in both nitrous oxide (a significantly more threatening pollutant than carbon) and methane emissions.
Destroying the very plant life that, according to Busche, is the more efficient way of sequestering carbon dioxide in the atmosphere further cripples the natural measures in place to absorb and store it.
By adopting a vegetarian diet not only would the demand for space leading to the destruction of forest be lessened, but the emissions of each of the harmful greenhouse gases would be greatly reduced. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, if every American skipped one meat-based meal a week it would be equivalent to taking half a million cars off the road.
The production of food for the average meat-eating American’s demand also requires more from the petroleum industries. These demands put a greater strain on natural resources and fossil fuels, which Busche said, “by definition are nonrenewable.” In his documentary, “Food Fight,” Chris Taylor explored the role big farming businesses play in creating a need for more and better insecticides, weed killer, fertilizers and lubricant for large machinery. The demand does not stop at fuel needs in factory farming.
Similar to our invaluable fossil fuels, water is also a precious resource that the big business of agriculture has its grip on. While a vegetarian diet can be produced using only 300 gallons of water a day, it takes more than 4,000 gallons a day for a meat based diet, according to a special report in Newsweek.
The consumption of water by agribusiness not only provides drinking water for the excessive animal population, it also requires water for crops fed to the farmed animals and to clean out the contamination found within the farms, coops, barns and slaughterhouses.
Adopting a vegetarian diet will conserve water while also reducing water pollution. The amount of animal excrement introduced into the water supply is 10 percent that of what humans produce, according to PETA. The Environmental Protection Agency stated that animal factory farms pollute the water source more than all other industrial sources combined.
A plant-based diet acts as a significant defense against the harmful effects of factory farming and industrialized food.
Christopher Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute said, “There is no question that the choice to become vegetarian or lower meat consumption is one of the most positive lifestyle changes a person could make in terms of reducing one’s personal impact on the environment.
This Earth Day, explore any of the multiple resources available to those venturing into a greener way of eating. Stop by the Brookhaven Health Center with questions regarding the switch. Or visit eatveg.com a website that offers extensive information, recipes and articles regarding vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.