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Major Report Explores Staggering Impact of Meat Production

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It’s estimated that about 1 billion impoverished people worldwide earn at least some of their income from raising livestock, yet the rapid growth of commercialized industrial livestock has slashed work opportunities for many. In developing countries like India and China, large-scale industrial production has displaced many independent, rural producers.

Human health is also affected by pathogens and harmful substances transmitted by livestock, the authors said. Emerging diseases, such as highly pathogenic avian influenza, are closely linked to changes in the livestock production but are more difficult to trace and combat in the newly globalized marketplace, they said.

The livestock industry is a serious environmental polluter, the authors added, saying that much of the world’s pastureland has been degraded by grazing or feed production, and that many forests have been clear-cut to make way for additional farmland. Feed production also requires intensive use of water, fertilizer, pesticides and fossil fuels, added co-editor Henning Steinfeld of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Animal waste is another troubling concern. “Because only a third of the nutrients fed to animals are absorbed, animal waste is a leading factor in the pollution of land and water resources, as observed in case studies in China, India, the United States and Denmark,” the authors wrote. Total phosphorous excretions are estimated to be seven to nine times greater than that of humans, with detrimental effects on the environment.

The beef, pork and poultry industries also emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases, Steinfeld said, adding that climate-change issues related to livestock remain largely unaddressed. “Without a change in current practices, the intensive increases in projected livestock production systems will double the current environmental burden and will contribute to large-scale ecosystem degradation unless appropriate measures are taken,” he said.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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7:02AM PST on Feb 11, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

1:48AM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

I wonder whether the US (and all nations) should legislate to cap the amount of meat that can be sold within the country. And the cap could be gradually reduced with time.

5:37PM PDT on Jul 8, 2010

Beat the heat, cut back on meat.

Plus, lose some fat and save your bacon!

7:23AM PDT on Apr 26, 2010

Thank you for the article Melissa.We are eating meat in excess!!!

4:57PM PDT on Apr 20, 2010

thanks for the info. i agree we don't need to eat a lot of meat

1:12PM PDT on Apr 16, 2010

Cat..Just a bit of fruit turns it from an alkaline to an acidic food..fresh, ripe fruit is meant to be eaten raw..and veggies should never be heated above 130 deg. F., as this effectively kills most of the good nitrients in it...I don't know how this info will help or not for people with crohns...just thought i would let you know. Also..Cooked meat has most of the "water" cooked out of it..and as we all know..true.full-time carnivorous animals don't bother with the formality of cooking thier they do get a lot of thier fluids from thier meat...Humans are, averaged out..approx. 70% water..(Strangely is the earth) eating more fresh fruits and veggies will replenish this water better than cooked meat..most should try keeping the formula of 70% of thier food coming from fruits, veggies and grains..the other 30% can come from meat if you want..though i am a vegitarian..again..not sure how this applies to Crohns..just info, You would know better how to interpret this.

12:51PM PDT on Apr 16, 2010

It is hard to make EITHER point (Veg./meat)without sounding holier than thou..but I'll try. As a used to be hunter, and others that still do will agree with me..when we killed our moose/deer..we snuck up on it..and hopefully..took it down with one shot..because if it went on the run..the "Flight" chemicals..Adrenaline and lactic filled the meat and turned a 700 pound moose into sausage and hamburger meat...and if you have ever been to a slaughterhouse..watching the animals being forced thru the door..they have those same fear/flight feeelings..they know where they are right from the start the meat is tainted...never mind any other chamicals and medications ..(up to 2700 of them) are added while growing..and as for the "reduce/stop overpopulation" people...think..if approx 80 to 90% af all grain (Wheat,corn,oats,soy..etc) in North America is being grown for animal many people could that amount of food take care of..And for those who extol the virtues of Aboriginal meat consumption..I say,go and have dinner with they will eat ALL of the animal..eyes,tongue..all the organs..and i used to laugh as i watched two brothers in a native village fight over what they called the "Bum guts"..apparently because of the semi-digested plant matter that they found quite a delicacy...either meat if you want is just not necessary 3 times a day 7 days a week..Too much protien can do serious harm to the not enough isn't good for you either.

10:09AM PDT on Apr 8, 2010

processed meat with antibiotics GMO ....

7:26AM PDT on Apr 6, 2010


12:52AM PDT on Apr 6, 2010

we eat far to much meat

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