Exploring Ontology

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Vegetarianism – The Facts

Before anyone argues for or against the merits of vegetariansim, he/she must be aware of all of the pertinent facts. This post should be a resource for the facts that all people, meat-eaters and vegetarians, need to know.

Health

-Official Statements: Many major health organizations, such as the American Dietetic Association and the American Heart Association, all hold that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthy and nutritionally adequate (just as omnivorous diets need to be appropriately planned to be healthy as well).

-Pros: “Research shows that in many ways a vegetarian diet is healthier than that of a typical meat eater. Compared with omnivorous diets a varied vegetarian diet contains less saturated fatty acids, cholesterol, and more folate, fibre, antioxidants, phytochemicals and carotenoids. Research studies have found that vegetarians have a lower incidence of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and type II diabetes.” (From the Vegetarian Society)

-Cons: If a vegetarian diet is not adequately planned, than some nutrient deficiencies such as in Vitamin B12, iron, or calcium can be harmful. (Again, an uncarefully planned omnivorous diet can be just as harmful.)

-Longevity:  A metastudy titled “Does low meat consumption increase life expectancy in humans?” published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that low meat eating (less than once per week) and other lifestyle choices significantly increase life expectancy, relative to a group with high meat intake. The study concluded that “The findings from one cohort of healthy adults raises the possibility that long-term (≥ 2 decades) adherence to a vegetarian diet can further produce a significant 3.6-y increase in life expectancy.”

-The Bottom Line: Although I don’t wish to argue that a vegetarian diet is strictly “better” than an omnivorous diet, I think the facts speak for themselves in saying that one can be a very healthy vegetarian. In other words, if a meat-eater is to reject a vegetarian diet, an argument from lack of health or nutrition should not be very convincing.

The Environment

 

Facts:

  • Nearly half of the total amount of water used annually in the U.S. goes to grow feed and provide drinking water for cattle and livestock.
  • In the US, 33% of all raw material consumption is used solely in the production of meat, egg, and dairy products.
  • The annual beef consumption of an average American family of four requires more than 260 gallons of fuel. The result is 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, or about as much as the average car over a six month period.
  • According to some estimates, supplying the entire world with a western, meat-centered diet would deplete the planet’s oil reserves within ten years.
  • From 1995 to 1997, more than forty animal waste spills killed some 10.6 million fish.
  • Cattle produce nearly 1 billion tons of organic waste each year. The average beef cow produces more than 47 pounds of manure every 24 hours.
  • 85% of topsoil loss in the US is the result of livestock production, with each pound of steak resulting in 35 pounds of eroded US topsoil.
  • 260 million acres of US forests have been cleared for cropland to produce grain for livestock. From 1960-1985, 40% of the Central American rainforests were destroyed to create gazing land for cattle.
  • According to the US General Accounting Office, more plant species in the United States have been eliminated or threatened by livestock grazing than by any other cause.
  • In an effort to combat “nuisance” animals preying on livestock, in 1989 the US Department of Agriculture killed 86,502 coyotes, 7,158 foxes, 1,220 bobcats, 236 black bears, and 80 wolves. Four hundred pet dogs were inadvertently killed in the process.
  • Cows produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, three gases largely responsible for global warming. Through daily belching and flatulence, cows emit over twelve percent of the total methane released into the atmosphere per year

Deforestation

  • Cattle ranching is a primary cause of deforestation in Latin America. Since 1960, more than one quarter of all Central. American forests have been razed to make pasture for cattle. Nearly 70 percent of deforested land in Panama and Costa Pica is now pasture.1
  • Some 40,000 square miles of Amazon forest were cleared for cattle ranching and other commercial development between 1966 and 1983. Brazil estimates that 38 percent of its rain forest was destroyed for cattle pasture.2
  • Just one quarter-pound hamburger imported from Latin America requires the clearing of 6 square yards of rain forest and the destruction of 165 pounds of living matter including 20 to 30 different plant species, 100 insect species, and dozens of bird, mammal, and reptile species. 3

Soil Erosion and Desertification

  • Cattle production is turning productive land into barren desert in the American West and throughout the world. Soil erosion and desertification is caused directly by cattle and other livestock overgrazing. Overcultivation of the land, improper irrigation techniques, and deforestation are also principal causes of erosion and desertification, and cattle production is a primary factor in each case.
  • Cattle degrade the land by stripping vegetation and compacting the earth. Each animal foraging on the open range eats 900 pounds of vegetation every month. Their powerful hoofs trample vegetation and crush the soil with an impact of 24 pounds per square inch.4
  • As much as 85 percent of U.S. western rangeland, nearly 685 million acres, is being degraded by overgrazing and other problems, according to a 1991 United Nations report. The study estimates that 430 million acres in the American West is suffering a 25 to 50 percent yield reduction, largely because of overgrazing.5
  • The United States has lost one third of its topsoil. An estimated six of the seven billion tons of eroded soil is directly attributable to grazing and unsustainable methods of producing feed crops for cattle and other livestock.6
  • Each pound of feedlot steak costs about 35 pounds of eroded American topsoil, according to the Worldwatch Institute.7

Water Scarcity

  • Nearly half of the total amount of water used annually in the U. S. goes to grow feed and provide drinking water for cattle and other livestock. Producing a pound of grain-fed steak requires the use of hundreds of gallons of water. Producing a pound of beef protein often requires up to fifteen times more water than producing an equivalent amount of plant protein.8
  • U.S. fresh water reserves have declined precipitously as a result of excess water use for cattle and other livestock. U.S. water shortages, especially in the West, have now reached critical levels. Overdrafts now exceed replenishments by 25 percent.9
  • The great Ogallala aquifer, one of the world’s largest fresh water reserves, is already half depleted in Kansas, Texas, and New Mexico. In California. where 42 percent of irrigation water is used for feed or livestock production, water tables have dropped so low that in some areas the earth is sinking under the vacuum. Some U.S. reservoirs and aquifers are now at their lowest levels since the end of the last Ice Age.11

Water Pollution

  • Organic waste from cattle and other livestock, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and agricultural salts and sediments are the primary non-point source of water pollution in the U.S.11
  • Cattle produce nearly 1 billion tons of organic waste each year. The average feedlot steer produces more than 47 pounds ofmanure every twenty-four hours. Nearly 500,000 pounds of manure are produced daily on a standard 10,000- head feedlot. This is the rough equivalent of what a city of 110,000 would produce in human waste. There are 42,000 feedlots in 13 U.S. states.12

Depletion of Fossil Fuels

  • Intensive animal agriculture uses a dis proportionate amount of fossil fuels. Supplying the world with a typical American meat-based diet would deplete all world oil reserves in just a few years.13
  • It now takes the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of grainfed beef in the United States. The annual beef consumption of an average American family of four requires more than 260 gallons of fuel and releases 2.5 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, as much as the average car over a six month period.14

Global Warming

  • Cattle and beef production is a significant factor in the emission of three of the four global warming gases — carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane.15
  • Much of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is directly attributable to beef production: burning forests to make way for cattle pasture and burning massive tracts of agricultural waste from cattle feed crops. When the fifty-five square feet of rain forest needed to produce one quarter-pound hamburger is burned for pasture, 500 pounds of CO2 is released into the atmosphere.16
  • CO2 is also generated by the fuel used in the highly mechanized agricultural production of feed crops for cattle and other livestock. With 70 percent of all U.S. grain production now used for livestock feed, the CO2 emitted as a direct result is significant.17
  • Petrochemical fertilizers used to produce feed crops for grain-fed cattle release nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas. Worldwide, the use of fertilizers has increased dramatically from 14 million tons in 1950 to 143 million tons in 1989. Nitrous oxide now accounts for 6 percent of the global warming effect.18
  • Cattle emit methane, another greenhouse gas, through belching and flatulation. Scientists estimate that more than 500 million tons of methane are released each year and that the world’s 1.3 billion cattle and other ruminant livestock emit approximately 60 million tons or 12 percent of the total from all sources. Methane is a serious problem because one methane molecule traps 25 times as much solar heat as a molecule of CO2.19

Loss of Biodiversity

  • U.S. cattle production has caused a significant loss of biodiversity on both public and private lands. More plant species in the U.S. have been eliminated or threatened by livestock grazing than by any other cause, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO).20
  • Riparian zones — the narrow strips of land that run alongside rivers and streams where most of the range flora and fauna are concentrated — have been the hardest hit by cattle grazing. More than 90 percent of the original riparian zones of Arizona and New Mexico are gone, according to the Arizona State Park Department. Colorado and Idaho have also been hard hit. The GAO reports that “poorly managed livestock grazing is the major cause of degraded riparian habitat on federal rangelands.”21
  • Unable to compete with cattle for food, wild animals are disappearing from the rangs. Pronghorn have decreased from 15 million a century ago to less than 271,000 today. Bighorn sheep, once numbering over 2 million, are now less than 20,000. The elk population has plummeted from 2 million to less than 455,000.22
  • The government has worked with ranchers to make cattle grazing the predominant use of Western public lands. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has long favored ranching over other uses. BLM sprays herbicides over large tracts of range eliminating vegetation eaten by wild animals and replacing it with monocultures of grasses favored by cattle.23
  • Under pressure from ranchers, the U.S. government exterminates tens of thousands of predator and “nuisance” animals each year. In 1989, a partial list of animals killed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Damage Control Program included 86,502 coyotes, 7,158 foxes, 236 black bears, 1,220 bobcats, and 80 wolves. In 1988, 4.6 million birds, 9,000 beavers, 76,000 coyotes, 5,000 raccoons, 300 black bears, and 200 mountain lions, among others, were killed. Some 400 pet dogs and 100 cats were also inadvertently killed. Extermination methods used include poisoning, shooting, gassing, and burning animals in their dens.24
  • The predator “control” program cost American taxpayers $29.4 million in 1990 — more than the amount of losses caused by wild animals.25
  • Tens of thousands of wild horses and burros have been rounded up by the federal government because ranchers claim they compete with their cattle for forage. The horses and burros are held in corrals, costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year. Many wild horses have ended up at slaughterhouses.
  • For several years, cattle ranchers have blocked efforts to re-introduce the wolf, an endangered species, into the wild, as required by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

These facts were taken mainly from Beyond Beef and Meat Junkie, mostly from the former. Beyond Beef cites the sources for those who are interested.

Animal Welfare

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I don’t know how many a video is worth. Basically, the suffering and the cruelty than animals endure in factory farms and slaughterhouses is completely appalling. The most efficient method to convey this is through a video. WARNING: VERY GRAPHIC IMAGES.

  • For those who may think that this type of treatment is the exception rather than the  norm, factory farming now accounts for more than 99 percent of all farmed animals raised and slaughtered in the United States.
  • One relevant term used in these debates is speceisism. A term similar to racism and sexism, speceisism is a form of prejudice or discrimination against sentient creatures other than humans solely because they do not happen to be of the species homosapien. One distinction should be drawn here. Not being a speceisist does not entail that one puts all sentient creatures on the same level. The non-speceisist would simply point to features such as complex thoughts, hopes, plans, and relationships to give humans high moral value. Then again, however, many animals have these features as well, and some humans (for example those who have severe mental illnesses) do not have these capacities. As a generalization, most non-speciesist would give far more importance to animals than speceisists.
Lastly, this is not some abstract philosophical/ethical issue that one should just read about and move on. The amount of suffering inflicted on animals by humans (food, clothing, testing for cosmetics, entertainment) is appalling, and every second that passes adds to it. We should all strive to do our part to help the cause!

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” —Albert Einstein

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2 responses to “Vegetarianism – The Facts

  1. e.e. October 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    as of late, the treatment of the animals has changed. if your country returned to old agricultural values or you moved somewhere where those values were still upheld, would this change your mind on your argument of vegetarianism?
    with consideration to the principles of the conservation of energy, all is one and one is all. in essence, all humans and animals (and everything else in the universe) will always be part of the universe. why does this issue make it to your priorities?

  2. tarrobread October 27, 2011 at 12:32 am

    I take it that your first question is approximately: “If animals were treated better, would you still be a vegetarian?” Well, I would obviously perfer it to be the case that animals were treated better, and it would depend just how much better they were treated. If animals led a sort of idyllic existence where they could roam pastures freely, socialize with other animals, engage in natural activity, have new things to do all the time, and be killed quickly and painlessly when they were getting too old, then I think it would be much, much better to be a meat-eater. The only arguments that might give me pause in that situation are the environmental arguments, which would still apply, and maybe the health arguments. Of course, this is an extreme, however. With the current barbaric treatment of animals in the U.S., it seems morally obligatory almost to be a vegetarian.

    In regards with the second point about the principle of conservation of energy, I don’t see exactly how its relevant. Regardless of the fact that “humans and animals will always be part of the universe” (do you mean the atoms that make them up?), it does not in any way affect the fact that animals suffer tremendously in their factory farm lives, and it harms the environment to a great extent. For example, if we lived in a universe without conservation of energy, all of the exact same argument would apply, and I would still be a vegetarian.

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