Posts Tagged ‘Meat’
Posted on March 11, 2011 - by Crystal Cun
Hungry children in Africa. Bare grocery shelves in the Soviet Union. Long queues at Depression-era soup kitchens. Access to food is a necessity for everyone, but plenty of people have gone hungry in the past, and more will go home hungry tonight. Which begs the question, do we need to produce more food to feed the planet?
The obvious answer is yes, we do. There are over 6 billion people living on Earth today, and by 2050, the population is slated to increase to 9 billion, the equivalent of two additional Indias (Economist). Ever since Thomas Malthus made dire predictions of global poverty as a consequence of population growth, we have been struggling to find ways to increase food supply and keep up with the booming number of mouths.
To that end, modern governments have mostly employed technological advances to produce more food, including the planting of hybrid and high-yield seeds, the expansion of irrigation, and the intensive use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. In developed countries, the proportion of people who make their livelihoods as farmers has plummeted, and we now spend only a sliver of our incomes on food. The average U.S. household spent 9.5% of income on food in 2009, compared to 23.4% in 1929 (ERS/USDA). By those measures, the Green Revolution has been a smashing success.
Unfortunately, these industrialized farming practices come at a high environmental and social toll. So ultimately, we will have to use less intensive agricultural methods, if we don’t want to run the planet’s resources into the ground. Does this mean we are doomed to hunger in the future?
Wait a minute though, having food shortages around the globe does not necessarily mean we aren’t producing enough food. Today, over a billion people are malnourished and hungry, while another billion are overweight or obese. Currently, we are producing enough calories for every man, woman and child to have 2,700 calories a day, an amount that is considered more than sufficient to satiate daily energy needs (FAO). The problem is unequal distribution—how do we get calories away from the people who don’t need them to the people who do?
What about all the food we grow that gets converted to animal feed? Corn and other grains are grown for livestock production, and the energy input to protein output conversion ratio is steep. For every pound of chicken you eat, four pounds of feed is required. And chicken is considered the most energy-efficient meat produced—the ratio of grain required to produce beef is an astounding 54:1! “If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million,” David Pimentel, professor of ecology at Cornell University (Cornell Science News).
All right, half of America’s grain production is destined for factory farm feed bins, but what about the rest? Well, much of the rest of the grain will be turned into biofuels. Following ethanol-friendly policies enacted by the Bush administration, the production of ethanol produced from grains has climbed steadily. In 2009, 26% of US grain production was fed to cars, not people (Earth Policy Institute).
Then there’s all the food we produce that is thrown out or otherwise wasted. Americans throw out about 14% of the food they purchase, food that could have fed another person, symbolizing money that could have been spent on other goods (EPA).
Distribution and access, meat and changing patterns of consumption, biofuels, and wasted food—these are all issues that must be tackled to feed the planet. We can no longer focus on heedless food production without understanding the underlying factors that cause food shortages.
Stay tuned for in-depth looks at each of these factors.
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Posted on February 11, 2011 - by Crystal Cun
Factory farms are notorious for cramming thousands of animals into confined spaces, generating a toxic concentration of animal waste and other polluting byproducts. In Taiwan, the country’s 610 million pigs account for 26% of waterway pollution (Epoch Times).
Now, one Taiwanese farming operation has come across a solution that may save millions of liters of wastewater each day: toilet-trained pigs.
The make-shift “toilet” consists of iron bars installed above the floor of the pig pen. The pigs are trained to do their business in one spot, making it easier to remove, and dramatically cutting the amount of water needed to clean the sty.
Chang Chung-Tou, manager of the pig farm Long Kow Foods Enterprise, commented on the innovative toilet-training approach. “Because we don’t need to flush the whole cage with water, the pigs are also less likely to catch colds. That helped us to raise the survival rate of our pigs from 70 to 90 percent,” Chang said (MSNBC).
After examining the experimental results, Taiwan’s government is now offering financial incentives for farms to convert to the greener manure collection method. The resultant manure is less diluted, can be sold for higher prices, and will reduce waste effluents in Taiwan’s rivers. Chang commented, “Farmers are fighting to purchase the concentrated pig manure, because when used to fertilize bamboo shoots, the bamboo shoots are particularly fragrant, sweet and delicious” (Epoch Times).
In other words, this is a major step in making sure that waste is not wasted, and nutrients will be returned back to the soil in a sustainable fashion.
On the other hand, if the pigs were not being raised in a factory farm operation, there would be no need to manage large amounts of waste in this manner. A diversified farm with free-range pigs would be able to incorporate the manure back into the fields without a problem. Arguably, toilet-trained pigs do not solve the root of the problem—our planet’s skyrocketing meat consumption.
No word yet on whether these sophisticated swine can help train your two-year-old to lose the diapers.
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Posted on November 11, 2009 - by Lisa Madison
By: Nicollete Hahn Niman
Author of Righteous Porkchop
Most people share at least the following traits: they want to be healthy; they like animals; and they value clean air and water. Yet relatively few Americans connect those concerns with their food. As more people start making the link (especially if they’ve seen graphic video footage of industrial animal operations), many decide it’s time to stop eating foods from factory farms. This is a guide for doing just that.
I’ve been a vegetarian for more than twenty years. Unlike the fits and starts described in Jonathan Safran Foer’s autobiographical book Eating Animals, the day I decided to quit eating meat was the last time I ever did. I remember that dinner well. It was my mother’s tuna fish casserole, and actually quite tasty. But while I chose to stop eating meat, I never adopted the view that it was morally wrong, and, consequently, didn’t become one of those vegetarians who spends her spare time plumbing the depths of meat industry literature looking for bits of information to shock my friends and family into giving up meat.
Nine years ago, I had just started working as an environmental lawyer for Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. when he approached me about leading a national campaign to reform the livestock and poultry sector. He said that industrialized animal production had become one of the nation’s worst polluters of water and air, and he wanted to aggressively attack the problem.
Initially, realizing that Bobby was asking me to work full-time on poop, I hesitated. It was not the glamorous job I’d envisioned when moving to New York to work for him. But then I visited towns in Missouri and North Carolina that had been overrun by factory-style production of hogs, chickens and turkeys. I witnessed biblical-scale plagues of pollution and stench; I spoke with people whose lives had been ruined when an industrial hog or poultry operation was erected next door; and I heard the details of how the animals were raised. My reticence vanished and I jumped at the chance to work on cleansing the earth of the animal factory menace.
I loved the job and threw myself into it, body and soul. But there was one problem: I could no longer deny the shady past of my own food. Every day, I was putting stuff into my mouth that undeniably came from factory farms. I was a vegetarian, yes, but consumed plenty of eggs, milk, yogurt, butter and cheese. And much of the factory farm data and stories I was gathering from all over the country was about egg and dairy operations. My unease grew with each passing day.
To avoid the products of factory farms, I became something of a food detective. My groceries were the subjects of my investigations. Where were they coming from and how they were produced? I roamed grocery store aisles carefully reading product labels, but there was little to no information about the conditions in which the animals were raised. I wrote letters to food companies with questions about what they fed their animals, but the letters went unanswered. The food system’s lack of transparency was frustrating. Eventually, I mostly gave up on supermarkets and began exploring new ways to get at the good food I was seeking. Although the task was daunting, my goal was simple: I wanted all my food to come from places I would enjoy visiting.
Three years later, I was still fighting factory farms but had moved across the country from New York to California. Surprising myself (and others), I had married a cattle rancher and meat company head, Bill Niman. Bill is no ordinary meat guy. He’s spent his entire adult life slowly and painfully building a viable alternative to factory farms, the natural meat company Niman Ranch. Over the past six years, I’ve worked here on our ranch in Northern California and continued researching factory farming. And I’m still hunting down the foods of non-industrial, traditional farms.
My book Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms, released earlier this year, tells the tale of my journey through the meat system and from East Coast vegetarian lawyer to West Coast rancher. In a chapter called “Finding the Right Foods,” I also share what I’ve learned about how to avoid food from factory farms and how to get the good stuff.