Most people think the transparent plastic used to wrap meat in supermarkets lets them see what theyre getting for their money. But the real cost of meat is largely invisible to the publicand the meat industry would probably like to keep it that way.
By virtue of sheer numbers, modern meat production has created the most widespread animal suffering in history. Suffering that affects more than nine billion animals each year in the United States alone. Todays farms are vast indoor factories deliberately kept dark to subdue the inmates. Haylofts have been replaced by conveyer belts and automated feeding machines. Instead of outdoor ponds, enormous dams holdand unfortunately sometimes spillmillions of gallons of putrid animal waste. Animals' most basic needsto breath clean air, stretch themselves, lie down comfortably or even spread their wingsare simply ignored for economic gain.
And meat has created a host of other problems.
There is now overwhelming evidence that meat consumption is linked to cancer, heart disease and other degenerative diseases. Numerous studies show that people who favor a plant-based diet over one centered around meat have lower rates of these diseases. Other studies show that vegetarians tend to live substantially longer than their meat-eating counterparts.
In addition to its chronic effects, meat can be a short term killer. Today, much if not most of the meat in the Unites States is contaminated with deadly pathogens such as salmonella, ecoli and listeria. Regulators, for the most part, leave consumers to fend for themselves. As a result, food borne disease kills several thousand Americans each year while millions more become ill. While the vast majority of food borne illness is attributable to meat products, pathogens increasingly are found in fruits and vegetable products. In many of these cases, the contamination can be traced to water that has been polluted by animal waste runoff from factory farms.
Drugs are widely used in meat production. Sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics added to feed promote rapid growth and are also used to counter disease caused by stress. Hormones are routinely used to fatten beef or increase the milk yield of dairy cows. It is now suspected that indiscriminate misuse of drugs has contributed to the creation of bacteria which are resistant to antibioticsan extremely dangerous development for humans.
Meat production is enormously destructive to the environment. The main culprits are deforestation and overgrazing. According to World Watch Institute, five pounds or more of topsoil are lost forever in the creation of a single hamburger patty. And several hundred gallons of water are required to produce a single pound of meat. Not only are water reserves being used up faster than they can be replaced, in some cases the dwindling reserves themselves are being damaged beyond repair.
Eating meat promotes starvation on a global scale. The grain which is used to feed animals could feed up to 10 times as many humans if it went directly to people.
Unfortunately, our meat-centered dietary lifestyle is now spreading to less developed parts of the world like China and Africa. Already there is evidence of increased rates of the so called diseases of affluence linked to growing meat consumption. A tragic side effect of this demand for meat is the replacement of traditional farming methods with the industrial scale animal cruelty and environmental destruction of modern factory farming.