A Pound of Flesh: the Truth about the Meat we Eat

Meat has been part of the human diet for millions of years. The average meat eater in the United States consumes about 270 pounds of meat a year (Barclay 2012). However, a large percentage of the population do not realize the terrible treatment that these animals that are raised solely for the products that they produce, endure through their lives, or how the consumption of these products is negatively impacting health, contributing to global hunger, and destroying the environment. While many may argue that these animal products are essential to attain adequate nutrition, the amount consumed needs to be drastically reduced or eliminated.

Evidence shows that meat and bone marrow slowly started to become part of the human diet about 2.6 million years ago (Pobiner 2013). The domestication of animals began 10,000 years ago. In the 1800’s, farmers began using fences to contain their animals. By the 1920’s the first factory farms began to emerge, first with the mass production of chicken followed by pigs and cows in the 1970’s. As these large-scale farms have taken over the meat industry, many smaller, more sustainable farmers have slowly been pushed out of the picture. Today there are close to 10 billion animals that are raised for consumption every year and 95% of these animals are raised on factory farms (Kutzer 2016). The treatment that these animals receive throughout their entire existence, from the filthy conditions in which they’re forced to live to the many cruel practices such as debeaking, is appalling. Animal agriculture is currently one of the leading causes of many health issues in humans. Waste from livestock makes its way into the water supply causing many different illnesses. The consumption of animal products is also linked to a number of different cancers and heart problems. The excessive use of antibiotics in livestock production is leading to many antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are threatening the human population. With most crops grown globally being fed to livestock rather than the large population of humans who do not have enough to eat, animal agriculture is directly affecting global hunger. Animal agriculture is also responsible for up to half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and is a leading cause to many other environmental issues such as depletion of resources and deforestation (Goodland and Anhang 2018). As the population increases, so does the demand for animal products. If there is not a change in this trend, the results will be catastrophic for the entire planet.

The consumption of animal products is directly contributing to the unethical treatment these animals endure throughout their lives. The animal industry views these animals as means of production rather than living breathing beings and are treated as such. Chicken in the animal industry are unable to take part in any of their natural behaviors. Egg-laying hens, for example, are forced to live their lives in small cramped cages, known as battery cages, with up to 5 other birds. The size of these cages is no bigger than that of an average sheet of paper. These birds are unable to fully stand up or spread their wings. Their feet are destroyed from spending their lives on the metal wire of these cages. It causes painful sores and infections. The limited space also causes these birds to be aggressive towards each other. Because these hens peck at each other’s bodies, debeaking is a common practice on factory farms. These hens have the ends of their sensitive beaks removed at a young age with no pain preventing measures. The pain caused by debeaking can last for months. To increase the production of eggs, the natural cycles of these birds is manipulated by long periods of light as well as periods of up to 2 weeks in the dark with little to no food or water. Once the eggs of these hen’s hatch, the male chicks are sorted out of them. Because male chicks cannot produce eggs and are not used for meat, the chicks are sent to a gruesome death. The chicks, while still alive, are fed through a grinder, suffocated, or sent through gas chambers (Murray 2018).

Hens raised for meat, or broiler chicken, have been evolved by the industry to grow much larger and faster than their bodies can handle. Many are unable to support their own weight causing extreme pain and crippling. Because there are so many birds, the amount of waste accumulates quickly. These birds sped their lives living in their own waste. This waste emits extreme amounts of ammonia. It burns the eyes of these birds and often results in blindness as well as respiratory issues.

A pregnant sow, or female pig, spend their pregnancies inside what is known as a gestation crate. According to a report by the Humane Society of the United States, these crates are just slightly larger than the pig itself. They measure 2 to 2.3 feet by 6.6 to 6.9 feet. This provides about enough space for a step forward or back. She is completely unable to turn around. The pregnancy lasts up to 115 days. Once she gives birth she will be moved to a farrowing crate. These are not as wide as the gestation crate but otherwise very similar in size. She will remain here until her litter is weaned at around 3 weeks. From here she will be impregnated again and forced back into the gestation crate. These pigs begin this cycle at 7 months of age and are butchered after an average of 3.5 litters (The Humane Society of the United States 2013).

Paul McCartney said “If slaughterhouse had glass wells, everyone would be vegetarian”. When animals reach slaughter weight they are forced into trucks then transported thousands of miles. While in transit these animals receive no food or water and are unable to rest due to the cramped space. In extreme temperatures many of these animals don’t survive the trip. Some are too weak to make it off the trucks and are dragged to slaughter by chains. Once in the slaughterhouse, cows are one by one put into a metal enclosure to prevent movement. They are then stunned by either the use of a bolt through the skull, electricity to the brain, or the use of carbon dioxide. Next their feet are removed, and they are hung by their hind legs and slit industrial line style down a conveyor belt where their throats are slit. The stunning process is not always effective and because the process moves so quickly they just keep the animals moving. Many of these animals feel the entire process (“Cow Transport” 2013).

The process of slaughtering a chicken is mostly mechanical. They will be strapped upside down by their legs and sent through electrified water to first stun them. They then move on to have their throats cut are then bathed in scalding water so their feathers are more easily removed. Because this process is mostly reliant on machines, there are times the voltage may not be high enough or the blade will miss the birds, causing many of these birds to feel most of the process including being boiled alive (Murray 2018).

If the treatment these of these animals is not enough to convince those who consume the end products that they provide to reconsider their next meal, there is also the negative impact they have on human health. The conditions in which these animals live are the perfect breeding ground for many types of bacteria. Much like humans, stress and inadequate nutrition of these animals cause the immune system to weaken, making them more prone to infection. Because these animals are so confined and packed into these facilities is makes diseases spread at an alarming rate. To prevent disease, as well as promote growth, an average of 75% of antibiotics in the world are used for livestock each year. The extensive use of antibiotics in livestock is the leading cause of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (Weathers, et al 2018). Because of the rise of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria, many infections in humans that were once easy to cure, are becoming much harder to treat and resulting in hospitalizations, higher cost of care, and often death (NARMS 2018). Humans are being infected through food and water contaminated with feces containing the bacteria. The animals on factory farms produce billions of pounds of waste a year. By using this manure to fertilize crops the bacteria is transferred into fruits and vegetable. What is not used as fertilizer is stored in what are known as manure lagoons. These lagoons are large, open bodies of waste typically the size of several football fields. The waste in these lagoons leaks out, contaminating both water and soil.

Animal proteins contain much higher concentrations of essential amino acids. While these essential amino acids play an important role in the human body, high levels have detrimental effects on health. Humans are the only mammals on the planet who consume the milk of another mammal and the only ones who consume milk into adulthood. Early in life the body produces lactase that helps break down mothers’ milk. As the body ages, the ability to break down lactose decrease. Even though dairy contains many essential nutrients, such as calcium, b-12, and potassium, lactose intolerance occurs in 3 out of 4 people. Both meat and dairy promote the production of high amounts insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is a regulator of growth hormones. In early stages of life, IGF-1 plays a crucial role in growth and development. However, later in life, IGF-1 increases the aging process. It increases the growth and production of all cells including those that are cancerous. (Fuhrman 2017). Animal products also contain high levels of lecithin, choline, and L-carnitine. These nutrients are transformed into metabolic substances by the gastrointestinal tract. Of these substances produced is trimethylamine (TMA). From here TMA is transported to the liver where it is turned into Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). This substance is directly linked to cardiovascular health issues because it affects the body’s ability to properly metabolize cholesterol. This causes the buildup of plaque in blood vessels (Cleveland 2016). Consuming animal protein is also linked to osteoporosis. Animal proteins contain high amounts of amino acids that contain Sulphur (Ochoa). When these amino acids are metabolized they produce sulfate. Sulfate causes acidity of the blood to rise. For the body to neutralize this acidity, calcium is taken from the bones and absorbed by the blood stream resulting in weakened bones (Ochoa).

By greatly reducing or eliminating the consumption of animal products, the number of people in the world who are faced with hunger could also be reduced. As the population and demand for animal products continues to rise so does the number of people in the global population who do not have enough to eat. Of the 7.5 billion that make up the world’s population, around 850 million are undernourished. A large portion of crops are used to feed livestock rather than humans. On a yearly basis, there is enough food produce in the world to feed a population of up to 10 billion. The problem is that rather than feeding those in need, the majority of this food it going to live stock. In the U.S. alone, 70% of all crops are used to feed livestock. (Pittman, Arianna). For example, the country of Ethiopia has one of the largest herds of cattle in the world, consisting of 50 million cattle, 50 million sheep and goats, and 35 million chickens. Of the 105 million that make up Ethiopia’s population, 40 % of them are starving and have a limited supply of water. Rather than using their resources to take care of the population, they are being used on the production of these animals (Oppenlander 2018). Many farmers in underdeveloped countries typically only produce enough food to feed their families. The high demand for animal products in developed countries, such as the United States, calls for the use of more resources such as land and water. In doing so these resources are taken from those in underdeveloped countries (Campanella, Anthony J.).

The consumption of meat needs to be greatly reduced or eliminated due to its negative effect on the environment. Animal agriculture uses many natural resources including land, water, and fossil fuels. Over half of the planets ice-free land is used for animal agriculture. According to the FAO, pastures for livestock populate 26% of this land while the other 33% is used for producing the feed for livestock. Livestock is the leading cause of deforestation. Forests are being cleared at an alarming rate for the use of land to produce feed crops and pastures for livestock.

As the population continues to rise the amount of fresh water available in the world decreases. There are currently 2.1 billion people in the world who do not have sanitary drinking water. (Loria) Animal agriculture is responsible for the use of 20% to 33% of the fresh water available on earth. Red meat requires the most water compared to other meat and plants. It takes about 3,960 gallons of water to produce 2 pounds of beef. As a comparison, it takes about 897 gallons of water to produce 2 pounds of rice, 871 to produces 2 pounds of eggs, 264 gallons to produce 2 pounds of milk, and 67 gallons to produce 2 pounds of potatoes. (Gourmelon, Gaelle). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the uses of water for animal production consists of drinking water for the animals, water used for cooling the buildings, animals, the products they produce, and water used to dispose of waste. There is also a large percent of this water required to process the animals into their intended products. However, the most extensive use of water in animal agriculture is the production of feed for the animals accounting for 56% of water used. (Loria)

The livestock industry currently accounts for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Goodland 2009). Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are the three most serious greenhouse gases and are all also produced by livestock. Factory farms emit up to 41 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year through the manufacturing of the fertilizers used for feed crops. Another 90 million metric tons are caused by the mass amount of energy that is required by factory farms such as cooling, heating, ventilation, and the use of machinery to prepare land for and harvest crops. Forests and soil store carbon dioxide, keeping it from reaching the atmosphere. When these areas are cleared for the use of land for feed crops and pastures, all of the once stored carbon is released. (Koneswaran and Nierenberg 2008).

Methane emitted by livestock accounts for 37% of the world’s total methane emissions. Methane is produced mostly by the digestive tracts of cattle. Cattle digest food through a process known as enteric fermentation. The stomach of these animals contains microorganisms that help break down carbohydrates so that food is more easily digested. Methane is a product of enteric fermentation. Cows stomachs are meant to digest grass. When they are fed the high-carb diets that are given by factory farms the amount of methane that they produce is greatly increased (Koneswaran and Nierenberg 2008).

Rearing livestock and producing their feed is responsible for 65% of the world nitrous oxide emissions. The diet of livestock, the majority of the world’s soy and corn, requires large amounts of fertilizers that are high in nitrogen (Koneswaran and Nierenberg 2008). When these fertilizers are applied to crops, bacteria in the soil break down the nitrogen, producing nitrous oxide (Cornell 2016).

Diane Rodgers, the author of a blog named Sustainable Dish, believes that our bodies are designed to process the fats and proteins we obtain from animals. She also states that animal-based products provide us with the most abundant source of heme iron, the vitamin b-12, and that it contains the essential amino acids that our bodies require (Rodgers 2019). However, just because our bodies can digest something doesn’t mean that it’s good for us. She also fails to mention that of the listed nutrients, all are available from sources other than animals. When it comes to protein, there is heme iron found in meat and nonheme iron found in plants. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by our bodies the nonheme iron. The absorbency of non-heme iron is immensely increased with the intake of vitamin c. By increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed, attaining enough iron would not be an issue. As for amino acids, meat contains all the essential acids our bodies need. There are also a large variety of plant-based sources we can obtain these amino acids from. The best way to obtain all of them is by eating a variety of different foods such as whole grains, beans, and nuts. B-12 is only naturally occurring in meat.

Consuming animal products is feeding the industry in which they’re produced. By greatly decreasing the consumption of these products the mass production of animals would no longer be necessary. In doing so, billions of animal’s lives could be save from horrifying treatment, and the negative impacts the industry is having on health, global hunger, and the planet could be alleviated.

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