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Environmental Reasons for
not Eating Animals

     "We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it.  Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things connect."                  —Chief Seattle

     In general, feeding plants to animals and eating the animals wastes energy, water, pesticides and land.   An acre of prime land can produce 40,000 lbs. of potatoes, 30,000 lbs. of carrots, 50,000 lbs. of tomatoes, or 250 lbs. of beef.

     More than 70% of the U.S. grain harvest is fed to farmed animals, that is 33% of the entire world’s harvest.

     The amount of animal manure produced in the U.S. is 130 times greater than the amount of human waste.  One hog farm in Utah, built to produce 25 million animals per year will put out more waste than the entire city of Los Angeles.

     Every time it rains, excess phosphorous and nitrogen from the urine and feces of farmed animals seep into our waterways causing algae blooms to spread.  Another result of agricultural runoff has been the proliferation of dinoflagellates – these being a class of algae that manifest themselves as red tides.  In 1991, Pfiesteeria piscicida was discovered to be a particularly nasty dinoflagellate.  It has the ability to ambush its prey by stunning it with a disorienting toxin before sucking its skin off.  Known as the "cell from hell," it killed a billion fish within North Carolina’s estuaries in the summer of 1995.    People who come in contact with it often experience memory loss and disorientation as well as grotesque sores on their skin.  In 1982 there were 22 known species of harmful dinoflagellates.  In 1997, there were over 60.

     In 1996, more than 40 animal waste spills killed 670,000 fish in Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri.  In 1995, a single North Carolina lagoon of animal waste spilled 35 million gallons into a river, killing more than 10 million fish.

     Agriculture is exempt from the Clean Water Act of 1972. According to the EPA, of the 60 percent of rivers and streams considered "impaired," agricultural run-off is identified as the primary pollution source.  Five tons of solid manure – not including dead animals, used bedding and residual organic material – is produced annually for every U.S. Citizen.

     More than 100 species of marine fish were listed by the World Conservation Union as threatened or endangered in 1996.  Once common species are being driven to extinction by commercial fishing.   Early in 1998, 1600 scientists declared that the oceans were in peril.

     A recent study concluded that humans are depleting marine food webs, creating impoverished, less valuable ecosystems.

      Odor is a serious problem around huge hog-confinement operations.  Fumes carry 150 volatile compounds that can become airborne on dust particles.

     When calculating the cost of livestock production, topsoil degradation is part of the equation.  Huge amounts of land are required to supply feed grains, forages and pastures.  About 54 percent of U.S. pasture land is overgrazed resulting in erosion.  About 90 percent of U.S. cropland is losing soil to wind and water erosion at 13 times the sustainable rate.

     Animal feces and urine need to be categorized as hazardous industrial waste because of the bacteria, wormy parasites and viruses they carry.  Fumes can be so potent and even explosive, that a plume can kill a man on the spot. Still, the most common method of storage for animal waste is an open-air cesspool.

     Fish farming, or aquaculture, is even more disruptive to the environment than fishing the seas.  The construction of pens along shorelines is a major reason for the decimation of mangrove forests, those places where fish reproduce.  Some fish will not breed in captivity, so fish farmers must acquire stock from the wild.  These species will have less chance to replenish their numbers.  Farmed fish often escape into the wild, corrupting the genetic purity of wild species and spreading disease at the same time.

     Huge amounts of "nutrient" pollution emanate from fish farms, just as with all intensive animal agriculture.

     Massive amounts of fertilizer, pesticides and manure travel down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.   The high nutrient content of the waste causes an eco-chain reaction that ultimately ends with microscopic organisms robbing the bottom of the ocean of oxygen.  Any animal living there will have to relocate or suffocate and die.  The phenomenon is known as hypoxia.  Scientists have dubbed affected areas "dead zones."   The gulf’s dead zone in 1997 covered an area the size of Hawaii.

     It has been estimated that half of the aprpoximately 2,500 open hog-manure cesspools in North Carolina are leaking contaminants such as nitrate (a chemical linked to blue-baby syndrome) into the groundwater.  In the summer of 1995, at least five lagoons broke open letting loose tens of millions of gallons of hog urine and feces into rivers and onto neighboring farmland.

     Cattle disrupt ecosystems over half the world’s land mass.  In the last half century, more than 60 per cent of the world’s rangelands have been damaged by overgrazing, the most pervasive cause of desertification.

     Fishing can do a lot more than just make a species extinct.  It can strip an ecosystem of a vital component.  Oyster beds, for instance, function like giant, natural water-filtration systems in the Chesapeake Bay.  Once abundant, oyster harvests have dwindled to 1 percent of 19th century numbers.  Today it takes more than a year for the mollusks to filter the water in the bay.  A hundred years ago the process would have taken place in a week.

    As hog feces and urine collect in giant cesspools around factory farms, the sludge is broken down naturally by bacterial digestion.  Hazardous nitrogen is eliminated, but in the process it is converted into ammonia gas.  With subsequent rainfalls, the ammonia is returned to the earth, polluting the rivers and streams.

     In central California, 1,600 dairies produce the feces and urine of a city of 21 million people.  Not enough surrounding land is available to absorb it all.  In July 1997, when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the surplus cow sludge was polluting local waterways, only one state official was employed to track it all down.   Once he located a source, frequently far upstream, he often discovered that a drainage ditch had deliberately been built.  Violation notices that he wrote up were simply ignored.  In one case that made it to court, the judge imposed a relatively miniscule fine of $10,000.  The dairy was soon polluting again.  The deputy district attorney in the area commented that the case was only the tip of the iceberg.

     As fishermen find that their usual catch has been diminished by overfishing, they are likely to turn to species lower on the aquatic food chain to fill their nets.  People today are putting fish that would normally be food for endangered fish on their own dinner plates.  If the trend continues, experts predict marine food webs will collapse in 30 to 40 years.

     In order to raise grain-fed cattle, farmers in midwestern and western states draw water from aquifers.   Rainfall that would normally replenish these natural underground lakes often cannot keep pace.  Texas has lost 14 percent of its irrigated area since 1980 because of aquifer depletion.

     A heat wave in July 1995 killed about 4 million chickens east of the Chesapeake Bay on the Delmarva Peninsula in a single weekend.  (Unofficial counts were as high as 10 million).  Such losses are not uncommon, especially in southern states.  No farmer is compelled to report when they happen, even tough the mounds of dead birds can be an environmental hazard.   If local soil is sandy, as it is in the Delmarva region, burying carcasses (the cheapest, most common solution) will contaminate the groundwater, no matter how carefully it is done.

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