Archive for the ‘waste’ tag
My Beef Is with Pork: Taxpayer Subsidies of the Meat Industry Are Bad for Your Health and Your Pocketbook
Giving away the Farm
Bank bailouts, real estate bubbles, record unemployment―these are hard times requiring difficult sacrifices. But one cut in government spending would pay big dividends long into the future: end the flow of billions of tax dollars ($7.3 billion in 2005) to producers of grain for animal feed.
When soaring health care costs and an obesity epidemic are among the many challenges facing our country, why does our government promote meat consumption by artificially lowering feed grain prices? Big agri-business is at the trough, putting special interests ahead of our national interest. Efforts to reform agricultural subsidies have largely faltered in Washington, and Obama’s plan to cut direct payments to farmers doesn’t appear to stand much of a chance. According to House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (Minnesota Democrat) Obama’s plan is “more than dead on arrival.” If the thought of billions of taxpayer dollars going to support big business nauseates you, then hold your nose, because there is another kind of waste implicated by the meat industry that will turn your stomach.
Waste of Another Sort
From a public health perspective one of the most disturbing environmental consequences of the meat industry is pollution from animal waste (yes, we’re talking feces here). Pig farms are among the worst offenders. The sheer numbers hint at the magnitude of the problem: in 2003, 101 million pigs were slaughtered for food in the U.S., and pigs produce about four times as much solid waste as the average person. Unfortunately, pigs don’t have the luxury of flushing toilets connected to sewage treatment plants. Instead, their waste is often stored in toxic, uncovered, “lagoons” containing ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorous, nitrates and heavy metals, plus a stew of microbial pathogens that can cause illness in humans, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptocolli and girardia.
Under the Bush administration, the meat industry benefited from lax enforcement of environmental regulations, but it also received a valuable parting gift from the outgoing President. Upon his departure, President Bush instituted a rule that exempts factory farms from federal laws requiring them to alert government officials when they release unsafe levels of toxic emissions into the surrounding community.
Feeling Sick? It May Be Something You Ate
Four of the leading causes of death in the U.S.―heart disease, certain types of cancer, stroke and diabetes―are linked to a diet high in meat and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The cost of these diseases is estimated to exceed $33 billion a year. According to the USDA, in 2007 the average American consumed 222 pounds of meat―84 pounds more than the maximum intake of lean meat recommended by The American Heart Association. Simply put, if we are really interested in lowering health care costs, then lowering our level of meat consumption ought to be high on our list of priorities.
Industrial meat production further undermines public health by increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists more than 70% of antibiotics produced in the U.S. are used in animal production. The seriousness of the problem is made clear by the FDA which warns, “the world could be faced with previously treatable diseases that have again become untreatable, as in the days before antibiotics were developed.” (emphasis added) About 70% of bacteria that cause infections in hospitals are resistant to at least one of the drugs most commonly used to treat infections. We hear so much about the outrageous cost of prescription medications, but soon, thanks to the meat industry, we may be begging for effective antibiotics at any price.
Living in Denial of Killing
I have often heard people complain about those of us who champion the rights of animals by pointing to the human suffering in the world. My response is that these are not separate issues but rather different manifestations of the same underlying problem: human beings’ capacity to live in denial. As Leo Tolstoy observed, “As long as there are slaughterhouses there will be battlefields.” No doubt our species’ ability to tune out the otherwise unbearable miseries that surround us―famine, violence, illness―has been an important factor in our ancestors’ ability to survive. However, I believe our capacity for denial is no longer evolutionarily advantageous. Instead, it is now the source of the biggest threats to our survival.
If humanity is to rise to the challenges of global warming, population growth, pollution, and extreme poverty, to name just a few, it will require an epidemic of personal responsibility―of being, as Ghandi exhorted, the change we want to see in the world. Ending farm subsidies to growers of feed grain would be a small step in the right direction, but the more important lesson is to recognize the link between what we eat and other important public policy objectives.
Thankfully, choosing a vegetarian or even semi-vegetarian diet is a relatively simple way for every one of us, every day, to take personal responsibility for creating a better world.
Following her graduation from Boalt Hall in 1999, M. Renée Orth practiced business litigation in California with emphasis on employment, real estate and banking law. She now focuses on philanthropic efforts while indulging her passions for vegetarian cooking and traveling.