Meat and dairy consumption has been largely ingrained in the diet of many countries and cultures, with the average American consuming 209 pounds of meat per year. But they’re also ingrained in the ways they negatively effect our society and the planet. Animal agriculture is a major cause of climate-change, water pollution, drought, water shortage, deforestation, land degradation, species extinction, and contributes to world hunger. Toxic substances in the animals’ excretions, such as pharmaceuticals and bacteria, cause damage to the environment, wildlife, and humans. Furthermore, animal-based food products (meat, fish, dairy, and eggs) contribute to America’s top killers: heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and various types of cancer. Lastly, but not least, animal agriculture is horrendously inhumane and cruel to the ‘farmed’ nonhuman animals, who are treated and traded as ‘commodities’. Seventy billion farmed animals are reared annually worldwide, and more than 6 million animals are killed for food every hour.
The harmful global environmental impact of the animal agriculture and animal-based food industries is indisputable. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found animal agriculture responsible for 14.5% – 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than the entire transportation sector. In the 2000 National Water Quality Inventory conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, agricultural activity was identified as a source of pollution for 48% of stream and river water, and for 41% of lake water. The top source of this pollution is the storage and disposal of animal waste. The amount of water used to raise animals for human consumption dwarfs the amount used for growing plants for us to consume. Occupying over half of Earth’s arable land; animal-agriculture is behind the majority of deforestation, land degradation, and species extinction.
A diet rich in meat, eggs, milk and cheese can be as harmful to health as smoking. High levels of dietary animal protein in people under 65 years of age has been linked to a fourfold increase in their risk of death from cancer or diabetes, and almost double the risk of dying from any cause over an 18-year period, researchers found. In contrast; fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds build health and prevent and reverse disease affordably with healthy carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants. The science is clear: a vegan diet is significantly better for human health, and increasingly many people are making the switch. For those who wish to transition to a vegan diet, there are many plant-based meat substitutes, that approximate certain aesthetic qualities (primarily texture, flavor and appearance) or chemical characteristics of specific types of meat.
Most of our meat, milk and eggs come from industrial farms where efficiency trumps welfare — and animals are paying the price. The majority of the nearly 10 billion land farmed animals, not to mention the trillions of fish and other marine animals, that are raised each year in the U.S. suffer in conditions that consumers would not accept if they could see them. On today’s factory farms, animals are crammed by the thousands into filthy, windowless sheds and stuffed into wire cages, metal crates, and other torturous devices. These animals will never raise their families, root around in the soil, build nests, or do anything that is natural and important to them. Most won’t even feel the warmth of the sun on their backs or breathe fresh air until the day they’re loaded onto trucks headed for slaughterhouses. Yet, in polling, 94% of Americans agree that animals raised for food deserve to live free from abuse and cruelty.
The American government spends $38 billion each year to directly subsidize the meat and dairy industries, but only 0.04 percent of that (i.e., $17 million) each year to subsidize fruits and vegetables. Most alarming are the ‘hidden’ social or external costs of animal food production, those dealing with human health care and the environment, that are offloaded onto the U.S. taxpayers to the tune of $477 billion every year. In light of all we know about industrialized animal agriculture’s devastating impacts on the health of the planet and people, as well as its inherently inhumane exploitation of sentient beings, it does not make sense for us to be subsidizing it. This is a case of the profits of a few large corporation taking precedence over the benefit of the many. Bringing an end to animal-based food consumption, and to all taxpayer funding of animal agriculture subsidies (both direct and indirect) by the U.S. government, would result in many significant and positive outcomes for our society and the planet.