Friday, July 13, 2001
Green Corner Food: Here's the Beef
Transportation, household operations, and household food consumption have the largest impact on the environment of all of our activities. The higher a food is on the food chain, the more impact its production has on the ecosystem: red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) has a bigger influence than poultry, which in turn has a bigger influence than fruits, vegetables, and grains. Production of meat is inefficient compared to grain, because a cow eats many times its weight in grain over its lifetimesixteen pounds of grain and soybeans are required to produce a pound of beef. Dairy products have much less environmental impact than beef because cows produce many times their weight in milk in a year and only ten percent of the cattle in the US are dairy cows.
Environmental effects of meat production
Many of the harmful effects of raising livestock are not obvious to the consumer:
· Land use (habitat alteration): 40 percent of the US land area is devoted to livestock grazing, and 3 to 10 percent is devoted to crops for animal feed, while only 10 to 15 percent is devoted to crops for all other purposes. Half the forests in Central America, and vast areas of tropical rainforest in South America, have been cleared for beef cattle, and deforestation is continuing at the rate of one football field per second.
· Water pollution: from fertilizers and pesticides for feed grains, animal waste, and erosion from deforestation.
· Water use: livestock production uses more than half of all the water consumed in the US 2500 gallons of water are needed to make one pound of meat.
· Air pollution: methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, is produced in significant quantities by ruminant livestock.
· Antibiotics are used in large quantities on livestock, resulting in strains of drug-resistant bacteria. Regulations don't require reporting how much is being used estimates are that 40 to 70 percent of all antibiotics in the US are used on livestock just to gain weight or to prevent illness. The European Union has banned all growth-promoting uses of antibiotics that have a role in human medicine.
Our eating habits
Being aware of food alternatives can make a big difference to our body's health and to the health of the environment.
· Vegetarian products and meat substitutes such as soy burgers and veggie nuggets have been improving in quality.
· Organic meat and poultry products, usually from free-range ("happy") livestock, are made from animals fed only organically grown grass and grains. Grass-fed cattle have only 1/3 to 1/2 of the total fat of grain-fed ones, more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid a fat that may prevent cancer), and morevitamin E. Grass-fed beef has two to six times more omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that may prevent heart attacks. Pastured hen's eggs also have more omega-3 than factory hens.
· The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) now certifies organic food, providing federal standards for production and marketing, with a certification seal coming in 2002. These new high standards, enacted last year and governing meat, poultry, produce, and processed foods, prohibit organic labeling on any foods produced with genetic engineering, irradiation, antibiotics, municipal sludge, and all but a few pesticides. Mill Iron Farm in Carlisle will be selling local organic beef this August. Bread & Circus in Bedford sells organic chicken and "all-natural" meat, which is raised without growth hormones (but is not certified organic). Drumlin Farm in Lincoln sells all-natural meat and eggs, and Marilyn Harte in Carlisle sells home-grown eggs.
· Organic produce, as opposed to "conventional" produce, is grown using sustainable agricultural techniques such as crop rotation and cover crops instead of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Low-till farms reduce erosion, tractor use, and irrigation. A majority of "conventional" processed foods containing soybeans or corn now have genetically engineered ingredients (where the genetic structure is artificially modified to make the plant more resistant to insects or herbicides), which may have undesirable effects on the natural ecosystem. Supporting local farmers' markets such as Hutchins Farm in Concord, which sells all organic produce, avoids air pollution from trucking. Daisy's Market in Carlisle also has organic produce, and Verrill Farm in Concord uses "integrated pest control," requiring few inorganic pesticides.
· The Carlisle Food Coop sells natural, organically grown grocery items to its members monthly by buying in bulk from the same wholesalers in Vermont that supply Bread & Circus. Members order items singly or in bulk from a catalog that varies each month. For information on the food coop, contact Kathy Balles at 1-978-369-3859. Debra's Natural Gourmet in West Concord also sells organic produce, frozen meat, eggs, etc. For more information, see the web site www.ucsusa.org or the book 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth, The Earthworks Group, 1989.
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