It’s Vital That We Change the Way We Produce Meat

Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston is originally from Williamsport, PA and holds a bachelor's degree in English. She enjoys writing about health and social justice issues. When she isn't writing, she can usually be found curled up reading dystopian fiction or hiking and searching for inspiration. If you like her writing, follow her blog, So Well, So Woman.

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29 Responses

  1. James K says:

    To prevent environmental catastrophe, the government may even need to intervene to set rules as to how much land can be used for meat production

    This is not a good solution to the problems you identify. For one thing, some land is only fit for grazing – it can’t grow crops so you might as well grow grass and graze animals on it – if meat production is to be reduced we want that land to be left for animals since it cant be used for anything else.

    My suggestion for dealing with the environmental effects of animal farming is to either tax effluent run-off and agricultural methane emissions directly, or institute traceable permits for releasing them. At that point the market will sort everything out.Report

    • North in reply to James K says:

      I’d quibble with the idea that top down has much feasibility either. People really like to eat meat right now. Any democratic government that’s seen trying to intentionally obstruct that is going to get heaved out very quickly and the associated environmentalism associated with the policy will become a pariah. Seems like either finding a non-animal meat alternative or convincing the masses to switch to eating less meat is the more promising route.Report

  2. Have to disagree with a lot of this.

    1) Many of the health claims are … dubious. The connection between fat, cholesterol and heart disease has come under serious fire lately and more focus has been on sugar and other carbs as the driver of obesity. We now know, for example, that the Seven Countries study that fed these ideas was deeply flawed.

    2) As James noted above, land use is not really an issue. Cattle typically graze on land unsuited to crops. When I lived in Texas, we had a cattle ranch next door. When they moved the cows out and began to expand our development, you could see first-hand how poor the land was. New Zealand grazes zillions of sheep on land that could never be used for agriculture. And land use for food has been going down, not up, thanks to technological advances including GMOs. I do agree that runoff is a huge problem. But that’s one that can be addressed through better regulation.

    3) Won’t disagree to much on animal treatment. But it should be pointed out that when countries have abandoned factory farming and massive antibiotics, their meat production has sometimes gone up because of improved husbandry methods.Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to Michael Siegel says:

      I do agree that runoff is a huge problem. But that’s one that can be addressed through better regulation.

      The article is misleading because the runoff isn’t from the Cattle; the runoff is from the NPK deposited on the crops that are fed to the cows in feedlots. It is easier to finish cows on NPK Corn/Soy, but not required. I’m not sure what we mean by regulating NPK crops, but one way to reduce NPK use is to put Cows (and Sheep and Goats) back on the croplands and decentralize meat production. So, win, win, win.

      The other reference to runoff was also misleading in that it has to do with Pig slurries from industrial confinement operations. Decentralizing Pig production also puts pig shit to good use increasing crop yields and not becoming “runoff”. Basically the moment the farming operation moves from seeing manure as a benefit to production to becoming a bio-hazard is the moment our food production model has broken.

      Our food will cost more, but the decentralization and reintegration of meat production answers all of the objections raised by the author and is doable today without having to hope vat meat becomes a thing.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    Vat Meat means that we could ethically eat human meat, right?Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

      Not on Fridays.

      One of the things about Vat meat is that while we might be replicating protein strings, a big part of eating things that eat things is eating the things they’ve eaten… which is usually conveyed in the fat. Animal fat is perhaps the most important thing we eat.

      …which we won’t really “discover” for a few generations of eating vat meat. At which point, I expect our descendants will have lively hologram discussions about the various costs of pharmaceuticals needed to keep us happy and/or our pancreas from disintegrating… which is why we can’t just go back to eating fat from ruminants that eat grass which conveys the trace minerals we need to keep our pancreas from disintegrating.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Marchmaine says:

        One thing that shocked me to discover was that lard made from pigs that spent all day outside (“free range” pigs) apparently has a metric double-buttload of Vitamin D.

        So the biscuits, cookies, and pies that grangran made had upsides that you just don’t get anymore.Report

        • Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

          The lard is the reason we process our own pigs; we’ve never sent the lard to a lab for testing, but we can taste the sunshine. 🙂

          Actually the best thing we made last year was Gizard confit… which is exactly what the name says, chicken gizzards confited in lard… fork tender and an intensity of flavor that must capture the essence of the true name originally given by Adam himself.

          {In French, confit de gésier… which – for once – didn’t really improve the vocals}Report

          • Aaron David in reply to Marchmaine says:

            Huh, I just started using a local pig lard. Coincidence? I think not!Report

            • Marchmaine in reply to Aaron David says:

              Great! So much goodness from (grassfed) lard; sometimes we add just a bit to oil/butter for a little background depth. But seriously, if you haven’t already, get some fresh chicken or rabbit and confit them (or ask your wife to, if I remember your family food dynamics correctly)… will make a foodie of you yet.Report

    • KenB in reply to Jaybird says:

      That question should go into Haidt’s Moral Foundations quiz. The expected result would be that people who describe their political outlook with a word that includes the root “liber” would reluctantly say Yes, unless they could come up with a good rationalization for why it’s somehow actually harmful.Report

    • Road Scholar in reply to Jaybird says:

      Also lamp shades.

      Didn’t we have a discussion here about the ethics of voluntary cannibalism a few years back? I recall that lining up as libertarians against everyone else with the opposition remaining unconvinced despite their (our, tbh) inability to muster a sound logical counter-argument.

      This strikes me as being in that ethical gray area, along with simulated kiddy porn and robotic sex slaves, where despite the indisputable fact that no actual humans are being harmed there nonetheless is an argument to be made against feeding that particular appetite. If for no other reason than that appetite, once stimulated, may lead to increased demand for the genuine article. Not saying I agree with that argument but I don’t not agree with it either.Report

  4. KenB says:

    If you’re going to give up only certain kinds of factory-farmed meat, it may make more sense to start with chickens — they’re arguably treated worse than cows or pigs, and more of them have to suffer to generate the same quantity of food.Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to KenB says:

      By all means, start with Chickens too. Aside from a rather annoying (to the farmer) tendency of getting themselves ate by any predator that walks, flies, jumps, or slithers by… they are incredibly easy to raise on pasture. And electric netting takes care of everything that walks, jumps and slithers… all that leaves are things that fly. And bears. Bears shocked by an electric fence don’t simply get angry, they experience the electric fence as a grave moral offence; a cosmic wound against their dignity. And that offending fence will fence no more. Such is the code of the bear.Report

  5. Road Scholar says:

    I sorta hate to do the pile-on thing but I really have to, given how horribly misinformed and off-base much of this article is.

    First, I very much dislike the bait and switch of an article titled “It’s Vital That We Change the Way We Produce Meat” which then ends up as an entreaty to adopt veganism/vegetarianism. There’s actually very little in this article about specific changes to make in our methods of meat production. Which is a shame because there certainly are legitimate issues of animal welfare and environmental concerns surrounding our current industrial methods. But any solution of the form, “If only everyone would just do X” is a non-starter cuz everyone simply ain’t gonna just do X. This isn’t to pick on the SJW crowd in isolation; everybody does it, Conservatives, Libertarians, Communitarians, etc.

    Now to specific issues–
    Land use: As others have pointed out there’s a lot of land that simply isn’t suited to raising crops, whether due to climate (generally, too dry) or topography (too rugged) that can nevertheless support grazing. Take away the cows and you just have useless prairie. Now you may be thinking, “Great! Return it to its natural state!” Well, that natural state would include ungulates. On the Great Plains that was originally tremendous herds of bison, which are basically cows. They’re so closely related to cows that they can be interbred to produce Beefaloes. Cattle production on prairie pasturage is about the most “natural” use of the land possible. Plowing that prairie up to produce (generally) grain is more environmentally destructive by orders of magnitude and absent irrigation it’s not even that terribly productive.

    Pollution: Agricultural runoff is a very real issue. But as @Marchmaine points out, that runoff is mostly NPK (Nitrogen, Phosporus, Potassium) fertilizer which is an issue whether the crops are being grown for human or animal consumption. The sewage from confinement pork and poultry production as well as beef finishing feed lots is, if anything, much easier to address technologically (driven by appropriate regulation) since it’s point-source pollution rather than distributed. It’s hard to see how a wholesale shift away from meat to more vegetables actually helps this situation.

    Animal welfare: This is actually your strongest argument but you are going to get exactly zero traction advocating for a shift away from meat consumption. The proper ethical framework here isn’t to anthropomorphize animals, thus imbuing them with something akin to rights, but to acknowledge our responsibility as moral agents to minimize suffering within a framework that also acknowledges that we’re omnivorous creatures ourselves and that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with consuming animal flesh. It’s “how” rather than “whether”. Look, I grew up on a farm, a real Old McDonald, e-i-e-i-o situation. Cows in the pasture, pigs in an outdoor pen, chickens running around the yard doing their chicken thing. Yes, they were our food source (as well as cash income) but in the meantime, until they landed on our table, they were fed and cared for and allowed to live pretty decent animal lives. No cruelty.

    Health: I don’t know what to tell you here. I have Type 2 diabetes (inherited: father, both brothers, a sister) and carbs, particularly sugars, are my nemesis. If anything, I’m better off eating more meat and dairy and less plant-based carbs to control my blood sugar. As @Michael Siegel points out, the actual evidence in favor of restricting meat consumption for weight control is increasingly tenuous. Restricting carbs seems to be more effective and there’s some evidence for an insulin feedback loop that causes you to actually consume more calories and gain weight on a fat/protein restricted diet.Report

  6. Dave says:

    Recently, I had a vegan try to sell me on this stuff and tell me that I ate too much protein. I was about to respond to his points until a gust of wind blew him away never to be seen again.Report