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Essay/Term paper: The environmental impact of eating beef and dairy products

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Society Term Papers

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The Environmental Impact of Eating Beef and Dairy Products

There are currently 1.28 billion cattle populating the
earth. They occupy nearly 24 percent of the landmass of the planet. Their
combined weight exceeds that of the earth's entire human population. Raising
cows for beef has been linked to several environmental problems, and eating beef
can worsen your health. The Dairy Industry puts not only your health in danger
from consuming their products, but the lives of the cows that produce them.

There is severe environmental damage brought on by
cattle ranching, including the destruction of rainforests and grasslands. Since
1960 more than 25 percent of Central America's forests have been cleared to
create pastureland for grazing cattle. By the late 1970's two-thirds of all
agricultural land in Central America was occupied by cattle and other livestock.
More than half the rual families in Central America-35 million people-are now
landless or own too litle land to support themselves. Cattle are also a major
cause of desertification around the planet. Today about 1.3 billion cattle are
trampling and stripping much of the vegetative cover from the earth's remaining
grasslands. Each animal eats its way through 900 pounds of vegetation a month.
Without plants to anchor the soil, absorb the water, and recycle the nutrients,
the land has become increasingly vulnerable to wind and water erosion. More
than 60 percent of the world's rangeland has been damaged by overgrazing during
the past half century.

Cattle ranching has also been linked to Global Warming.
The grain-fed-cattle complex is now a significant factor in the emission of
three of the gases that cause the greenhouse effect- methane, carbon dioxide,
and nitrous oxides- and is likely to play an even larger role in Global Warming
in the coming decades. The burning of fossil fuels accounted for nearly two-
thirds of the 815 billion tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere in 1987.
The other third came from the increased burning of the forests and grasslands.
When the trees are cleared and burned to make room for cattle pastures, they
emit a massive volume of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Commercial cattle
ranching also contributes to Global Warming in other ways. With 70 percent of
all U. S. grain production now devoted to livestock feed, much of ot for cattle,
the energy burned by farm machinery and transport vehicles just to produce and
ship the feed represents a significant addition to carbon dioxide emissions. It
now takes the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of grain-fed
beef in the United States. To sustain the yearly beef requirements of an
average family of four requires the use of more than 260 gallons of fossil fuel.
Finally; Nitrous Oxide, which accounts for 6 percent of the global warming
effect, is released from fertilizer used in growing the feed; and methane, which
makes up 18 percent, is emitted from the cattle.

The final victims of the world cattle complex are the
animals themselves. Immediately after birth, male calves are castrated to make
them more "docile", and to improve the quality of their meat. To ensure that
the animals will not injure each other, they are dehorned with a chemical paste
that burns out their horns' roots. Neither of these procedures is done with

There are about 42,000 feedlots in 13 major cattle-
feeding states in the United states. The feedlot is generaly a fenced-in area
with a concrete feed trough along one side. In many of the larger feedlots,
thousands of cattle are crowded together side by side in severely cramped
quarters. To obtain the optimum weight gain in the minimum time, feedlot
managers administer a variety of pharmaceuticals to their cattle, including
growth-stimulating hormones and feed additives. Anabolic steroids, in the form
of small time-release pellets, are implanted in the animals' ears. cattle are
given estradiol, testosterone, and progesterone. The hormones stimulate the
cells to produce additional protein, adding muscle and fat tissue more rapidly.
Today 80 percent of all the herbicides used in the United States are sprayed on
corn and soybeans. After being consumed by the cattle, these herbicides
accumulate in their bodies and are passed along to the consumer in finished cuts
of beef. beef now ranks number one in herbicide contamination and number two in
overall pesticide contamination. Some feedlots now expiriment with adding
cardboard, newspapers, and sawdust to the feed to reduce costs. Other factory
farms scrape up the manure from chicken houses and pigpens and add it directly
to cattle feed. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials say that it is not
uncommon for some feedlot operators to mix industrial sewage and oils into the
feed to reduce costs and fatten animals more quickly.

Moving beyond beef in our daily diets is a personal
decision, but one that has profound and far-reaching consequences. Millions of
Americans and Europeans are making personal choices to move beyond beef, or at
least to cut down their consumption, and this will have a significant impact on
the future of our planet and humanity. Beef consumption in the United States
has dropped markedly in the past 20 years, from 83 pounds per person per year in
1975 to less than 68 pounds per person per year in 1990.

Today's dairy cow has been bred to be a milk machine,
producing an average of 15,557 pounds of milk a year, almost 40 percent more
than her counterpart of just 16 years ago. while the undomesticated cow
produced enough milk to feed her one or two calves, a dairy cow in a modern
dairy farm produces about twenty times more milk than her calf needs. Excessive
production demands, coupled with the trend toward confining cows indoors or in
densely populated drylots (enclosures devoid of grass), have resulted in serious
welfare and disease problems for the dairy cow.

The modern dairy cow is usually artifically inseminated,
pumped full of hormones and growth stimulants, and super-ovulated so she can
churn out more calves, faster and faster. Cows are fed a diet geared toward
high production. This diet, which is heavy in grain, is fed to species whose
digestive track is suited to roughages. High-production diets create many
health problems, including severe metabolic disorders and painful lameness,
which are compounded by confinement. Also, at any given time, half of U.S.
dairy cattle have mastitis (a painful udder inflamation, usually caused by

Today's cow is typically burned out (unable to keep up
production) and sent to slaughter, for human consumption and other uses, at an
average age of four years. Her natural life span would be from twenty to
twenty-five years.

A recent analysis by the FDA found that meat from dairy
cows and their calves was the source of 60 percent of those drug and other
chemical residues found in edible meats in ammounts that violated allowable
limits (Dairy cows are the source for the majority of processed beef and 26
percent of hamburger in the United States ). The government's ability to ensure
a safe milk supply has also come into question.

Despite a dairy product surplus and with cows already
pushed to their limits, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), a genetically
engineered drug injected into dairy cows to increase milk production, has been
approved for use by American dairy farmers. Embryo transfer, cloning, the
creation of transgenic cows, and the engineering of cows to secrete
pharmaceuticals and other substances in their milk are also under way.

Another practice growing in popularity is tail docking,
the removal of about two-thirds of an adult dairy cow's tail- without use of an
anesthetic. This procedure, the rationale for which is that it keeps cows
cleaner, is completely unnecessary. It also deprives the cow of her natural
means of swatting flies.

Newborn dairy calves are typically taken from their
mothers at birth of shortly thereafter. Some female calves are kept as
replacements for cows in the dairy herd. The other calves are sent to slaughter
as babies, to veal farms, or to be raised for beef. Many are sent to stockyards
when only one or two days old, even before they can walk. Calves in the
sale/slaughter pipeline are often transported long distances, subjected to rough
handling, and exposed to numerous diseases and weather extremes. They may be
given no opportunity to rest or eat. Calves destined to be slaughtered at
sixteen weeks old for "milk-fed" veal spend their lives in crates so narrow that
they are unable even to turn around. Denied water and solid food, they are fed
a diet consisting solely of an intentionally iron-deficient milk replacement,
often containing antibiotics, which they typically lap up from a bucket twice a
day. Veal is a by-product of the dairy industry that owes its existance to the
surplus calves delivered by ten million dairy cows every year.

Veal consumption has decreased from its peak of 3.5
pounds per capita to under one pound per capita in 1993, owing in large part to
the public's refusal to purchase inhumanely produced products such as milk-fed

Another by-product of the dairy industry is the downed
animal- an animal who is too weak, ill, or injured to stand or walk without
assistance. Burned-out dairy cows and newborn calves make up a large percentage
of downed animals, who often suffer from brutal treatment at livestock markets.
Baby calves that cannot walk are often dragged or thrown and are trampled by
other animals. Downed dairy cows are painfully dragged off trucks and across
stockyards by chains or ropes tied around one leg. Both downed calves and cows
are shocked with electric prods, kicked, and beaten during the transport and
auction process in futile attempts to get them to move on their own. They are
often left without food, water, or veterinary care, sometimes for days at a time,
untill they either die or are loaded onto trucks yet again for a trip to
slaughter. as many as 90 percent of downed animals could be prevented by simple
improvements in management, handling, and transportation practices, including
keeping newborn calves on the farm of their birth for a minimum of five days
before sending them to market.

There are many health problems linked with eating beef
and dairy products. Harvard scientists found that women who had beef, lamb, or
pork as a daily main dish ran two and a half the risk of developing colon cancer
as did those who ate the meats less than once a month. The conclusions are
drawn from a study of 88,751 nurses that was begun in 1980. Eating beef has
also been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes. Drinking
milk has been linked to asthma, allergies, intestinal bleeding, and juvenile
diabetes. Cutting dairy products out of your diet gives you a greater chance of
avoiding bronchial, respiratory, and stomach problems.

Eating Beef, as well as dairy products, has an extreme
impact on the environment. Raising cows for beef has been linked to several
environmental problems, such as Global Warming, and eating beef can worsen your
health. The dairy industry puts not only your health in danger from consuming
dairy products, but that of the cows who make them as well.


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