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Ethical eating and food production
Welcome to Ethical Eating and Food Production!
“How we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.” ~~Wendell Berry
Food is now, as it always has been, an integral part of our human lives. In recent history major changes have been experienced in the global production of food and agriculture. One of the most influential driving forces of these changes is the rapid advancement technology (FAO 2008). Food and agricultural related technologies are accelerating at such a pace that it is challenging for the average person to keep current on new developments. Often, not enough information is provided. This makes it difficult to determine how these developments should affect our individual food choices. The process of consumer decision making is arduous, especially at the individual level.
Reasons for the lack of information are plenty. Pertinent information is frequently difficult to locate, and one must cover many sources to acquire a complete picture. Available information is often disorganized and not presented in a format that is user friendly. Most scientific studies have fallen short. More research of better quality is needed than that which is currently available (Williams 2007). This lack of information has resulted in significant consequences. The distance between consumer and producer has widened significantly. Nearly all food is purchased in supermarkets. Consumers have little, if any, contact with the farmers and food producers (Brom 2000). This disconnect has grown so extreme that many children have never visited a farm nor seen food being grown. If asked, most of these children won’t be able to explain where the food at the supermarket comes from.
Consumer concerns with respect to food and agriculture have never been more prevalent. Some people are concerned about certain products because of the wider impact these products have on their society and the world. Others are concerned about the safety and security of the food they consume. Whatever the reasons for concern, it is clear we must evaluate how we grow, produce, and purchase our food. By closely examining the food we eat and how it came to our table, we can initiate discussion about the costs and benefits of our current food production and consumption practices. The solution we propose is one of ethical eating. What is ethical eating? “Ethical eating, like ethical living, is not about absolutes. It's about doing the best you're willing and able to do – and nurturing a will to keep doing better.” (Baumel 2007)
Please allow us to explain. We (Zoe Dagan, David Finston, Jessica Rendon, and Chris Stadler) have dedicated our Senior capstone project, at Humboldt State University (HSU), to exploring and finding coherence in the hypernetwork that has become our quest to deliberate what ethical food really is. Conventional? Organic? Local? Processed? Fair Trade? We want YOU to decide what's right -- based on a factual understanding of what all these buzzwords really boil down to.
Fertilizers increase yields. Pesticides make controlling pests far easier. We are capable of modifying the genetic characteristics of plants and animals with far more precision than through the method of cross breeding alone. What we are doing with these new technologies has positive and negative consequences. It is not easy to decide what is good and bad, but if we analyze the positive and negative aspects of the way that we produce food, perhaps we will be able to improve upon the good things, and reduce the negative impacts of the bad.
Conventional food production often utilizes GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) which are different from plants and animals that have been crossbred. Crossbreeding can only be done with species that are similar enough to be able to reproduce with each other. An example could be breeding one tomato with another tomato, or a cow with another cow. Scientific innovation has allowed us to select a gene for a particular attribute which is desirable from one species, such as resistance to cold from a salmon, and put it directly into anther species such as a tomato. This can allow the tomato plant to survive in colder places, therefore allowing larger quantities to be produced in areas which were previously unsuitable for the production of tomoatoes. This has actually been done, as well as other things which may sound much more odd, such as to take the gene for bioluminescence (glowing in the dark) from a particular type of jellyfish, and putting it directly into the genetic structure of a tomato.
GMO’s allow for great innovation. By changing the plants at a genetic level, we are able to create an almost unlimited number of combinations of plant, while being able to taylor each plant to our own specific needs. In this area, we are only limited by our own imagination.
There are environmental drawbacks of using GMO’s. One is that it is difficult to control the reproduction of plants, especially when they are growin in an open environment, and not contained within a structure such as a greenhouse. When there is a farm with GMO’s nearby another farm, there can be a problem with crossbreeding between the two varieties of plant. This can result in genetic pollution which can have negative impacts for farms which produce heirloom varieties. When this effect is coupled with the terminator gene (a gene inserted in plants by companies which produce GMO’s, which prevents their seeds from producing viable offspring) this can have devastating effects on heirloom varieties, and for farmers who have been keeping their variety for generations.
The use of synthetic pesticides can prevent pests and disease from attacking a valuable crop, which is needed for food by the general population. They can also make production easier for the farmer, thereby allowing increased production with minimal effort or input of time.
Despite the benefits, pesticides can have devastating effects on the environment. What pesticide are in reality is a poison, used to control a particular pest or disease. Unfortunately, pesticides can often harm more than their intended victim. One of the first times that this was documented was in the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. In this book she documented how the spraying of DDT, a pesticide which was later made illegal in the United States but is still used in other countries such as Mexico) killed their intended insect victim, but also other creatures, such as birds which ate the bugs. The result is a poison which travels up the food chain. Compounding the negative effects is a process called bioaccumulation. Using DDT as an example, animals have difficulty removing DDT from their systems. When a bird eats an insect with DDT on it, it keeps in its system all of the DDT which was in the bug, as well as all of the bugs that it eats. When a cat eats that bird, it accumulates in its system all of the DDT in the bird, thereby accumulating all of the DDT from all of the bugs. If a dog were to eat the cat, than the dog would accumulate all of the DDT in the cat, which ate so many birds, which all ate so many bugs. What we have discovered is that as you move up the food chain, the concentration of DDT (or other substances, such as mercury) increases. These are ramifications which travel up the food chain, which have unknowable and potentially devastating effects. (note: DDT is not the only chemical which is known to bio-accumulate. Along with mercury, there are several different chemicals, each with differing side-effects, which are known to bio-accumulate)
Because synthetic pesticides are a relatively new convention, we don’t know what their effects on the environment are. The current policy in the US is to allow production until it is proven unsafe, and as of right now there are several thousand different chemicals, which are untested, and yet are available on the market.
Irradiation is the process of exposing food to low level radiation in order to kill any germs or bacteria which may be on the food. This process can be cheaper and faster than other methods of eliminating bacteria.
Because irradiation kills things, (including workers in third world coulntries where the regulations are more lax, who got trapped in the irradiation chambers,) it can not be used on all foods such as muscles or clams which need to be killed just prior to consumption (unless they are canned). If, for instance, fruit is irradiated, than all of the enzymes which were contained within it are destroyed. It has been suggested that these enzymes have health benefits, so there is debate over whether or not irradiated food is less healthy. Irradiated food is often supplemented by adding vitamins.
With Conventional food it is possible to produce much larger quantities of food, on less land and with less input of (some) resources and manual labor than ever before in history. With rising food costs and millions of people starving all over the world, it seems like we have a moral obligation to use conventional methods to produce large amounts of food at affordable prices.
Because many of the effects of conventional farming are unknown, and because of how many of the effects may be irreversible and harmful, it may be safer to stick to what we have been doing for hundreds of years. It may be considered irresponsible to continue using pesticides, irradiation and GMO’s when we really don’t know what the side effects are.
Because we are capable of transporting food relatively quickly, a variety of food is available to the consumer that would not be available to consumers if they were to rely only upon locally produced food. We are able to eat soy beans form china, avocado from southern America, and sugar from Hawaii. These are only a few examples of what is available to us due to modern technology. Many plants are only able to grow in a certain region of the globe, but because of the speed in which we are able to transport things, we are able to eat things which would have gone bad had they had to been transferred by hand, horse or other means. Because we are able to genetically modify food, we are also able to grow food in regions that would otherwise not be able to grow certain varieties of food. We are able to make plants more resistant to cold and drought, which allows us to grow food in colder and drier regions. Conventional methods allow us to preserve food longer and put food to more uses. Technological innovations allow us to do incredible things with corn besides just eating it on or off the cob. We can make sugar (corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup), we can turn it into ethanol to power our cars, we can make plastic out of it. We have been able to put it to incredibly innovative uses.
Organic Food Production
According to the USDA, an organic production system is one that responds to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Organic food comes from crops or animals produced in a farming system with certain regulations. These regulations ensure the avoidance of the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. Instead, organic farming systems rely on crop rotation, animal and plant manures as fertilizers, some hand weeding and biological pest control (Williams 2002).
The goals of organic farm systems include the maintenance of soil fertility, efficient usage of water, maximizing soil fertility, and improved animal welfare as well as environmental aspects indirectly related to farming such as reduction of energy use and avoidance of pollution (Trewavas 2001).
Organic farming can be divided into two distinct classes, small scale organic and industrial organic. Small scale producers often market directly to consumers, while large-scale operations target national and international markets. In a perfect world, both industrial and small scale organic methods would be equal in achieving the goals stated above. However, it can be difficult for both of these methods to achieve all the goals and ideals of organic farming.
When organic companies try to meet the demand of big chains like Whole Foods, they start looking a lot like conventional farms minus the herbicide and pesticide. Throughout some organic farms, the fields look as weed-free as those treated with herbicides. In order to achieve that look, organic farms must till the land more. This leads to a reduction in the soil’s biological activity, promotes topsoil erosion, increases water loss and contributes to a long list of other environmental concerns. Industrial farming such as this is not much more environmentally friendly than conventional industrial farming. Industrial organic farming often uses up to 1/3 more fossil fuel than small scale organic methods (Glazer 2007).
Conventinal or Organic. Which is Healthier?
Addressing the Nutrition Value of the Food We Eat
The view that organic foods are ‘healthier’ than conventionally-produced foods appears to be based on the perception that organic foods have superior sensory attributes, contain lower level of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and have higher levels of nutrients and protective phytochemicals.
A limited number of studies have compared the nutrient compositions of organically- and conventionally-produced crops. Upon review of the studies, it is obvious that clear-cut conclusions cannot be drawn from the present scientific literature, since very few of the studies conducted to date adhere to ideal criteria for evaluating effects of the two growing systems on nutritional quality (Williams 2002).
However, there is disagreement. Regardless of the presence of scientific literature, many people hold the belief that there is a difference in nutritional value between organically produced food and conventionally produced food.
The extent of disagreement is well illustrated by two diametrically-opposed statements currently published on the web. Whereas an editorial on the website of the American Council on Science and Health states “Not a single published study has shown any difference in the nutrient content of organic versus conventional farm produce,” the Mothernature site (www.mothernature.com) supports the view that organic food is healthier than conventionally-grown food “… based on research in Denmark and Germany showing that organically grown foods contain higher levels of nutrients.”
Many supporters of organic agriculture rely on personal experiences and beliefs that make them more receptive to the idea that there is a difference between organic and conventionally produced food. Although, as scientists, we may deplore the fact that people are swayed by non-scientific views, the fact is that a lot of them are. Despite arguments presented the critics, many people believe that organic production systems produce better food, care more for animal welfare and are kinder to the environment (Mørkeberg &Porter).
Food Labeling/Other Certifications
Food labeling can cover a wide range of topics, such as allergy information, when it is produced, when it will expire, as well as whether or not it was produced according to certain ethical preferences such as organic, vegan or free range.
Checking the label on different products can help aid and hinder people in making healthy and ethically sound decisions when choosing what type of food to purchase. Different interest groups can either attempt to strengthen or weaken regulations with regards to certain certifications/labeling, which can make an ethically based purchase even more difficult. When many of the conventional food producers realized how much money was being made by organic food producers, they fought to weaken the regulations, thereby making it easier to get on board and gather some of the profits for themselves. Other groups, such as some of the existing organic producers and consumers fought to strengthen the regulations to ensure that a high quality product, produced to their own ethical standards could be easy identified and provided to those who also desire to support those ethical standards.
Many of the regulations are very weak or lax right now. In order for a cow to be considered grass fed, it only needs to be fed grass for the last few weeks of its life. It can still be fed grain for the entirety of its life before that and still be considered grass fed. Similarly, chicken may be considered free range if they are cooped up in a barn, but provided with a small outdoor area for the last few weeks of their life.
While labels are intended to provide a means for consumers to easily identify a healthy food, or to easily make an ethical decision while shopping, this is not how it always works. In addition, it can be very costly for a smaller farm to become certified organic (or other). Because of the cost of certification, it is possible in many areas to find food that isn’t labeled, but may exceed the requirements of production for whichever label you desire.
Examples of labels:
Different labels have different ways of becoming certified. Some go through a third party. Local may be determined by the market selling the product. Just because an item in your grocery store is labeled organic or free range doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the best choice in terms of treating an animal ethically, or being the healthiest choice in terms of human and/or environmental health. An argument against labeling is that it makes it more difficult for small time producers to enter to market, or to compete with larger companies which may hold more lax standards than a smaller company. One of the best ways that a person can ensure that food is being grown and produced in the most ethically responsible way is to actually go to the farm where it is produced. This isn’t always feasible for most people, such as people who are required to work most of the week, or students who are busy with schoolwork constantly, which is why labeling is convenient. An important thing to note is that having food certified can be very expensive, and many small farms aren’t able to afford this luxury. Some of these small farms are able to exceed the standards in ways that larger producers can’t.
Third Party Certifiers:
There are several different companies that can certify that a food producer is producing their food organically according to the current laws and regulations. There is the USDA , Oregon Tilth , OCIA , QAI . All of these certification agencies must have a minimum standard of what the USDA expects, but some of these agencies may choose to have higher standards than the USDA if desired. Some food companies may even choose to become certified by more than one agency as a means of assuring their customers that they are organic.
What is Fair Trade?
Fair Trade empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace. Fair trade practices benefit over one million farmers and farm workers in 58 developing countries across Africa. Fair Trade certification enables consumers to vote for a better world with their dollars, simply by looking for the Fair Trade Certified label on the products they buy.
How does fair trade work?
By guaranteeing minimum prices for the farmers product, Fair Trade enables producers to invest in their farms and communities and protect the environment. But Fair Trade is much more than a fair price.
Fair Trade principles include: • Fair prices: Democratically organized farmer groups receive a guaranteed minimum floor price and an additional premium for certified organic products. Farmer organizations are also eligible for pre-harvest credit. • Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions, and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited. • Direct trade: Importers purchase from Fair Trade producer groups as directly as possible, eliminating unnecessary middlemen and empowering farmers to strengthen their organizations and become competitive players in the global economy. • Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers decide democratically how to use their Fair Trade premiums. • Community development: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers invest Fair Trade premiums in social and business development projects like health care, new schools, quality improvement trainings, and organic certification. • Environmental sustainability: The Fair Trade certification system strictly prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), promotes integrated farm management systems that improve soil fertility, and limits the use of harmful agrochemicals in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers' health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.
Farmed vs. Wild
“Give me a fish and I eat for a day. Teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime.” -Chinese Proverb
Almost all grocery stores have a fish and seafood section. Salmon, shrimp, catfish, and scallops are just a few of the common items one can purchase. You may have noticed that some of these items are marked with a label of “Farmed” or “Wild.” A farmed label indicates that the seafood has been raised and produced in some type of manmade enclosure, either in a natural body of water, or a built facility. Some of the most common farmed fish are salmon, catfish, tilapia, and shrimp. A wild label indicates that the seafood has been caught from its natural habitat. There are complex differences between these two methods of fishing, which are described below.
Both methods of fishing require that the fish be transported to its final destination. This involves shipping and/or trucks. They can consume large quantities of fossil fuels, depending on how far the fish must travel before it reaches its final destination. Final destinations include processing facilities, grocery stores, and restaurants. With wild caught fish, most of the energy that is used (other than shipping) powers boats to capture the fish. Other energy inputs go into making nets, traps, bait, and gear. With farmed fish things are a bit more complicated. Fish farming requires that the fish be raised and cared for until they are ready to be harvested. Whether their enclosure is in a natural body of water or a facility, the fish require clean water and sufficient levels of oxygen. Because of these requirements, large water purification and oxygenation systems may be integrated into the fish farm. In addition, feed must be provided for the fish. Feed can be made from a number of ingredients such as ground up mackerel and anchovies, or vegetable substances such as corn. This feed must itself be harvested and processed before it is fed to the fish (World Wide Fund for Nature, 2008).
Many of the world’s fisheries have been severely deleted or are already at maximum output yield (Hackett, 2006). Wild fish that are caught exacerbate this problem. And, as world wide fish demand increases, some species are brought closer to extinction and ocean and river food chains are disrupted. In theory, farming fish would help to alleviate this problem and not take away from wild fish populations. In some cases farmed fishing does do this, but in others it ends up doing more harm than good. “The severity of these impacts depends upon the species being farmed” as well as the location of the farmed fishery (World Wide Fund for Nature, 2008). For example, farmed seafood such as oysters, clams, and mussels can have less of an environmental impact. Because they are filter feeders, they help to clean the waters they inhabit more than they pollute them (Monterey Bay Aquarium, 2008). Some farmed freshwater fish such as tilapia, catfish, and trout can also have less of an impact on the environment (Monterey Bay Aquarium, 2008).
However, there are many negative impacts that can occur with farmed fishing. For example, because farmed fish are kept in enclosures, they are often packed in at very high densities. Because of this, many famed fish are prone to diseases and parasites. If these enclosures are kept in a natural body of water, it is also possible for these diseases to spread to wild fish populations. Also, because of their high densities, fecal matter is also concentrated. This further pollutes the surrounding environment. In addition, farmed fish are an invasive threat. If these fish escape their enclosures they can out compete the wild fish and plant life and further marginalize them, possibly leading to their extinction (Roberge, 2008). Notably, shrimp farming is particularly devastating to mangroves. Around 35% of the world’s mangroves have been destroyed, with shrimp farming as a major cause (Shrimp Farm, 2008).
Both wild and farmed fish pose the risk of containing high levels of mercury, PCB’s and pesticides. In general, farmed fish have higher levels of these contaminates than wild fish (Edwards, 2004). Eating such fish, even in small quantities, can have negative consequences for physical, mental, and reproductive health. This is especially true for women and children (Environmental Defense Fund, 2008). However, a potential benefit from eating both wild and farmed fish comes from their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and lean fat content. Comparably, wild fish have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acid and a lower fat content than farmed fish. This is due to the fact that farmed fish are not able to swim or use their muscles naturally (Environmental Defense Fund, 2008). Another health concern about eating farmed fish is that their diet is unhealthy. Take as an example farmed salmon. In the wild, salmon are carnivorous. However, as farmed salmon, they are often fed a corn meal or other vegetable-derived diet that is dyed red. This red dye is to ensure that their flesh will be the reddish-pink color that wild salmon get from their natural diet (Joyce, 2003).
Aside from ethical concerns about eating animal protein, there are other considerations in the wild vs. farmed debate. For one, because many fisheries are severely depleted, buying fish from these fisheries may be helping to exacerbate this problem and push certain species closer to extinction (Hackett, 2006). Because some many of these fisheries are being depleted, “Other marine species are also being left with few fish to eat, including seals, sea otters, seabirds, whales, and dolphins. Humpback whales in Canada's Bay of Fundy, for example, appear to be suffering from lack of food due to competition with fishing fleets for herring” (World Wide Fund for Nature, 2008). Another concern is that while wild caught fish lead natural lives, the live of farmed fish are drastically different. Because farmed fish are kept in high concentrations and are packed tightly into their enclosures, they often are not able to swim or move naturally and their fins can become deformed (Wild versus Farm, 2008). They are also prone to infection and diseases at higher levels than wild fish.
To learn more about farmed vs. wild fish visit: <http://www.mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp> This is a resource that may help one to decide whether to purchase wild fish or famed fish.
- Humboldt Bay Oysters: Raising Oyster Concerns
- Humboldt Bay Oyster Culture Initial Study
- Genetically Modified Fish: CRS Report for Congress: Genetically Engineered Fish and Seafood
"… and yet he had rated it as a gain in coming to America, that here you could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day. But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things." -From “Walden" by Thoreau
“... who shall teach man to confine himself to a more innocent and wholesome diet. Whatever my own practice may be, I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other… If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over the arguments and customs of mankind.”-From “Walden" by Thoreau
What do Leonardo da Vinci, Mahatma Gandhi, Paul McCartney, and Pamela Anderson all have in common? They are all vegetarians! To be a vegetarian means that one does not eat meat. This includes all meat products such as chicken, lamb, and fish. People choose to lead vegetarian lifestyles for many reasons including ethical, environmental, and health reasons. There are many important issues regarding a vegetarian lifestyle which are described below.
Generally, raising animals for human consumption is less efficient and requires more energy and water inputs than is required to produce other food sources such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Studies performed at Cornell University have shown that the production of animal protein can require as much as eight times the amount of fossil-fuel energy when compared to the production of plant protein. They have also calculated that grain-fed beef production takes 100,000 liters of water for every kilogram of meat produced, and that chicken production takes 3,500 liters of water for every kilogram of meat produced. In comparison, soybean production uses 2,000 liters of water for every kilogram of food produced; rice, 1,912; wheat, 900; and potatoes, 500. Also, they concluded that the U.S. could feed 800 million people with the grain that livestock eat (U.S. could feed 800 million..., 1997). Many other similar studies and lifecycle analyses have been done that reach this same general conclusion: the production of animal protein is generally much less efficient than the production of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes and requires larger inputs of resources. As the human population continues to increase, both energy and water demands are also likely to increase. With the predicted shortage of both these resources becoming more of an increasing concern for the near future, the viability of meat production (at least how it is performed presently) may become more problematic (Brower, 1999).
However, some critics of vegetarianism point out that a vegetarian diet can still use up large amounts of fossil fuel and water resources. For example, crops that are planted and harvested on a large scale require mechanical machinery that burn fossil fuels, as well as pesticide and fertilizer inputs which are petroleum-based. Also, where water is subsidized, farmers have little incentive to conserve their water usage. In addition, eating overly processed, packaged, and transported vegetables may in fact use more energy than eating a local, organic chicken breast in some cases (Oliver, 2008). This criticism points out that if one wishes that their diet use the least amount of resources, it is not as simple as just cutting out meat consumption. Other factors also play a role such as long-distance transport, packaging, and some horticultural practices (Reijnders, 2003).
According to a report released in 2006 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency” (Steinfeld, 2006). As one might expect, choosing a vegetarian diet is often recommended as one of the main ways you can reduce your ecological footprint and impact (Brower, 1999).
Climate: One of the reasons that meat production has such a negative environmental impact is that it is responsible for a large portion of greenhouse gas emissions. The Food and Agriculture Organization stated in 2006 that the rearing of livestock produced more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation sector during that year, and that livestock production generated 37 percent of human-induced methane and 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide emissions. This data is important because methane is 23 times more destructive to the atmosphere than CO2. Nitrous oxide is 296 times more harmful (Oliver, 2008). Some researchers have calculated that simply cutting out meat from one’s diet just one a day a week would be the equivalent of driving 1860 km less a year. Cutting out meat consumption completely would have a much greater impact (Callaway, 2008).
Water: “The world is moving towards increasing problems of freshwater shortage, scarcity and depletion, with 64 percent of the world’s population expected to lie in water-stressed basins by 2050. The livestock sector is a key player in increasing water use…It is probably the largest sector source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, ‘dead’ zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops, and sediments from eroded pastures” (Steinfeld, 2006).
Deforestation: The livestock sector plays a major role in deforestation. For example “in Latin America where the greatest amount of deforestation is occurring- 79 percent of previously forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and feed crops cover a large part of the remainder” (Steinfeld, 2006).
Biodiversity: “The livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, over fishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species” (Steinfeld, 2006).
The environmental issues surrounding meat production are complicated and intricate. A more detailed discussion of these impacts, as well as issues that are social and economical in nature, are discussed in further detail in the United Nations Report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”: http://www.virtualcentre.org/en/library/key_pub/longshad/A0701E00.htm
A properly planned vegetarian diet can be nutritionally adequate and meet current recommendations for all proteins, vitamins, and minerals that are necessary for all stages of a person’s life, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Vegetarian diets offer a number of health benefits: lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, blood pressure, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, prostate and colon cancer, renal disease, osteoporosis, and lower rates of death from heart disease and obesity (Vegetarian Diets, 2003).
A vegetarian diet can have so many health benefits because it cuts out the negative health risks associated with consuming meat. For example, the consumption of meat has been correlated with an increased risk of getting many types of cancer. According to one study, “Both red and processed meat intakes were positively associated with cancers of the colorectum and lung; furthermore, red meat intake was associated with an elevated risk for cancers of the esophagus and liver” (Cross, 2007). A vegetarian diet also avoids other risks from eating meat. For example, a vegetarian diet avoids fish that are contaminated with high levels of mercury, as well as avoiding high concentrations of dioxins, artificial growth hormones, and antibiotics that are often found in factory-farmed animal protein. However, a vegetarian diet may also pose the risk of eating fruit and vegetables that are coated with pesticide residue (Nierenberg, 2006).
Some critics of vegetarianism say that a vegetarian diet doesn’t provide enough protein in the diet. However, while protein can be a concern for some diets if not planned properly, all 9 essential amino acids can be obtained by eating a variety of complementary plant sources and this is just as adequate and sustaining as protein from animal sources. Vegetarian sources of protein include rice, beans, hummus, grains, legumes, eggs, and dairy products (Young, 1994).
While a vegetarian diet can meet all requirements for a healthy diet and be beneficial to ones overall health, a bit more time and planning may be necessary to ensure all nutrient needs are met (See Disclaimer Below).
“The sociologist Max Weber emphasized the basic fact that people are not satisfied to just engage in behavior but also need to believe that what they do is good or right. Thus some people, both meat-eaters and vegetarian alike, will respond with defensiveness, intolerance, or hostility towards the other, interpreting the other's behavior as calling their own behavior into question. Vegetarians often associate their calls for giving ethical consideration to animals with other movements that have attempted to expand the range of beings given this consideration such as the anti-slavery movement, the women's liberation movement, opposition to racism, child labour, colonialism, and others. All of these activities have at some point been defended on the basis that the suffering incurred is legitimate, natural, necessary, or just” -(Ethics of Eating Meat).
At the heart of many people’s choice to be a vegetarian are ethical reasons and concerns. These reasons and concerns can vary greatly. At one end of the spectrum are people who feel that no animal should ever be exploited for human consumption regardless of the negative environmental or health impacts. These reasons stem from ethics that consider all animals to be sentient creatures, which require careful moral consideration. At the other end of the spectrum are people who feel that the consumption of animal protein is not right for them, but can be legitimized in a few particular circumstances, such as when the animal was humanely raised and slaughtered, or out of dire necessity.
For many vegetarians, a big ethical concern about eating meat stems from how the animal was raised. Many vegetarians in particular cannot legitimize the mass production of meat under factory farm conditions, in which the animal’s welfare and their humane treatment is often sacrificed for increased production and efficiency. Expose news stories and organizations like PETA often document gross mistreatment of animals during and before slaughter. Reports and videos show warehouses of animals cramped into cages, unable to stand and perform any natural moment or behavior. Often, these animals are not allowed outside and are subject to routine procedures that mainstream society, whether vegetarian or not, would consider unsettling. For example, in some chicken factories, the chickens are de-beaked because they are packed in so tightly to their cages that they become bored and peck violently at each other, thus damaging themselves. The same thing can occur in pig factories. Here, pig tails are cut off without anesthetic to prevent the pigs from chewing each others tails off (The Issues, 2008).
Many vegetarians also do not eat meat as they feel doing so is promoting a lifestyle that is unsustainable. For example, in 1998 the Worldwatch Institute concluded that each kilo of meat that is produced represents several kilos of grain that could have been directly consumed by people. If the 670 million tons of the world's grain that is used for feed were reduced by just 10 percent, this would free up 67 million tons of grain, enough to sustain 225 million people for the next three years (United States Leads World Meat Stampede, 1998). Some critics of vegetarianism state that eating meat is natural human behavior which is also seen throughout the animal kingdom. However, vegetarians point out that many natural behaviors seen in the animal kingdom are not acceptable in our society, such as rape, murder, and incest. They also point out that animal behavior should not be the basis for one’s morals and ethics. In addition, while humans may be biologically able to process meat, in today’s world with so many negatives associated with eating meat, along with the multiple benefits of not eating meat, and the fact that it is unnecessary for survival, there is little reason to eat meat. This is especially so when it inflicts such pain and suffering on sentient beings.
Another criticism of vegetarianism is that sometimes a vegetarian may conclude that being a vegetarian is all that is needed to be environmentally conscious. Critics point out that this can been too simplistic an answer, and that other factors also play a role into one’s environmental impact - such how much you drive, the products you buy, and how much resources, such as water, you consume (Oliver, 2008).
Vegetarian Sushi in Arcata: <http://now.humboldt.edu/news/beyond-the-taco-truck-paradigm/>
HSU Receives Veggie-Friendly Nomination: <http://www.times-standard.com/local/ci_7223610>
This section is meant only to gloss over the general topic of vegetarianism and be an informative resource. It is not meant to provide anyone with a set plan on how to be a healthy vegetarian. If you are thinking about becoming a vegetarian do not let this be the only resource you look at. There are hundreds of books, journal articles, videos, and websites that can give you further information. Finally, be sure to talk to your doctor to ensure that a vegetarian diet is tailored to properly fit you and your body.
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