How Skipping That Steak Can Help Heal The Planet

what you need to know about how we produce meat

Photo credit: Another Pint Please… via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

If you’re a reader of my blogs you know that even though I am a vegan, I still crave a good, juicy hamburger from time to time. It’s hard to grow up in a state like Kentucky without red meat as part of your diet.

My reasons for curtailing my red meat habit and looking for tasty meat substitutes like the Impossible Burger trace back to when I had a brush with ovarian cancer and was told that estrogen feeds cancer. That was a great wake up call that challenged me to omit all estrogen-based proteins from my diet, red meat being my favorite. As I discovered there are many good health reasons to limit or omit red meat from your diet.

The links to cancer and heart disease are obvious health concerns. Studies have found that people who ate the most red meat were 20% more likely to die of cancer and 27% more likely to die of heart disease. For women, the rate of cardiovascular related death was 50% higher. It’s not just the red meat but also the way in which it is cooked that contribute to poor health. High temperature charing, smoking, curing and salting as well as the addition of chemical preservatives lead to the formation of carcinogenic compounds.

Still, red meat consumption is on the rise with Americans consuming 60% more than Europeans and production expected to double by 2050 to approximately 1.2 trillion pounds of meat a year! Which brings me to another reason to think before you order that prime rib. The way we produce red meat is taking a huge toll on the environment!

Livestock production uses pesticides, chemical fertilizer, fuel, feed and water

According to EWG, growing livestock in the US requires 149 million acres of land, 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer every year just to grow the grains to feed the animals! The fertilizer applied to the soil emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas which contributes 300 times more than carbon dioxide to the warming of the planet.

Wastewater pollutes groundwater

The pesticides and fertilizers used in the process end up in waste water which pollutes groundwater, rivers, streams and eventually the ocean. That includes toxic pollutants including nitrogen, phosphorous and ammonia. So does the animal manure. While manure is a helpful nutrient for plants, it can leach pollutants including the antibotics the cattle may be fed into the groundwater.

Waste pollutes the air

Dust, smog odors and toxic gases including ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are released into air when that waste is decomposed. The electricity used to run the slaughterhouses and to pump large quantities of wastewater is another source of greenhouse gases. The resulting poor air quality affects workers and those living close by. This does not even take into consideration the inhumane aspects of mass slaughtering.

Cattle ranching kills trees

This probably never crossed your mind before but four-fifths of the deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is a result of cattle ranching. Livestock production uses 70% of the agricultural land in the US and 30% of the land surface of the planet, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Trees get in the way of cattle grazing.

Beef and lamb generate methane in their digestive process

It’s estimated that the production of cattle emits 20 percent of all US methane emissions, a greenhouse gas 25 times more toxic that carbon dioxide. Beef and lamb production are the biggest culprits.

Not all meat is bad

In fact meat eaten in moderation is an excellent source of protein, vitamins and nutrients including iron, zinc, vitamin B-12, B-6 and niacin. The key is to know how it’s produced. Free range and pasture-raised cattle farmed without antibotics reduce the risk of bacteria contamination and exposure to toxins from pesticides. Grass-fed operations that are well managed are better for the environment and more humane. Moving the animals on a regular basis spreads manure more evenly and helps to conserve soil, reduce erosion and water pollution.

Eating less meat reduces your carbon footprint

Becoming a vegan or vegetarian is not for everyone, but if you must eat meat, eat responsibly and with the future of the planet in mind. According to the EWG’s Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change and Health which was the source of the data in this article “if your four-person family skips steak once a week, it’s like taking your car off the road for nearly three months.”

So live with a green heart and think before you eat that steak. The planet is counting on you.