There is a strong link between our the health of our environment and the way that we eat. The mainstream American meat industry is neither a pal of the environment, nor a pal of American health: the way in which factory farm cattle are elevated, fed, managed, and slaughtered is bad for the environment, bad for the cattle, and bad for the people who eat beef. When we opt to buy grass fed cattle instead, we’re making a much better choice for our planet and for our physical structures. Here’s why.
What’s a Feed Lot?
The majority of the beef found in grocery stores can be traced back to a feed lot. In feed lots, cattle are crammed together in dirty pens and fed an assortment of grains instead of their traditional conventional diet of wild grass. Feed lots evolved in the 1950s as junk food started to boom, and Americans demanded more red meat, faster. Traditional conventional ways of raising cattle meant beef cattle were three to five years old when they were slaughtered; the meat industry wanted to find a means to bring cattle up to size (literally) within eighteen months. But cattle growing on their own simply don’t put on pounds that quickly; in order to get this sort of rapid growth, they must be devoured starchy grains like corn and soy. With constant feeding of these starchy vegetables, the cattle fatten up much faster, and can be slaughtered, processed, and packaged much faster.
Feed Lots and Deforestation
What does the Amazon Rainforest and a feed lot in Kansas have in common? The soy beans. In the Amazon, rainforest is disappearing every day, and as these woodlands disappear, soy bean farms appear in their wake. The need for beef has led to an increase in feed lots, and an increase in feed lots means an increase in feed. All that grain feed has to come from somewhere, and farmers on the edge of the shrinking Amazon Rainforest know where to see that grain. It is the American appetite for beef that is at least partially to charge for deforestation in the Amazon.
In the US, as much as 80% of the corn crop and 90% of the soy bean crop is fed to animals. If we used that same amount of corn and soy to feed humans, we might be able to make an essential dent in solving the problem of global hunger. Instead, it takes approximately fourteen pounds of grain to create one pound of beef.
Feed Lots and Green House Gases
The deforestation occurring to make feed for beef is bad, but the output of methane gas from agribusiness can be worse yet. Although it does not get the attention that carbon dioxide gets, methane gas is a powerful greenhouse gas – some scientists estimate it to be twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat in our atmosphere (and thereby responsible for global warming). Where does methane gas come from? It is estimated that 15% – 20% comes from agribusiness. This means that, methane gas is being released from the bowels of all these stock and into our atmosphere.