Reasons to go Vegetarian

Nearly all of the approximately 10 billion animals slaughtered for food in the U.S. every year are the end result of a behemothic, swift-moving, assembly- line system, incorporating dangerous, unprecedented, and unsustainable methods of production. Cheap meat could never exist if the meat industry were required by law to give the animals humane living conditions, including spacious quarters, clean surroundings, fresh air, sunlight, and opportunities for social interaction, nor if it were simply illegal to drug the animals who would otherwise die from the conditions in which they live. Time and again the industry balks at even lowcost measures designed to improve the animals' plight. And now, prices have been driven to unnaturally low levels for the final end products, making these cruel, unsustainable foods staples of the American diet.

America's farmed animals produce 1.3 billion tons of waste per year, or 5 tons for every U.S. citizen. (Just one cow produces 100 pounds in a day.) And the pollution strength of it all can reach levels 160 times greater than that of raw municipal sewage. This vast accumulation is not neatly contained; manure is the most common pollutant today in America's waters. Land sprayed with pig excrement is particularly toxic, since pigs contract and transmit many human diseases—namely, meningitis, salmonella, chlamydia, giardia, cryptosporidiosis, worms, and influenza. Manure is laden with phosphorous, nitrates, and heavy metals and emits ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, and cyanide. Manure has always been seen as fertilizer. But in today's quantities, it is a menacing under-regulated industrial pollutant.

When people follow a diet rich in animal fat and protein and get little exercise, cancer risk is increased. Beef consumption raises the level of toxic substances called N-nitroso compounds, which are formed in the large intestines. The substances are believed to adhere to DNA, making mutations more likely. Dietary fiber could be helpful in repairing the damage. But, remember, only plant foods contain fiber.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 70 percent of the world's commercial fish stocks are fully exploited, overfished, or collapsed. To supply surging world demand, fishers use rapacious techniques, such as sonar, driftnets, longlines, dredgers, and leviathan fishpacking vessels. In the case of longlining, 4.5 million hooks are launched daily. Now, 90 percent of the coveted top predator fish are gone. Consequently, fishers have moved down the food web to species once considered "trash." These species, of course, are the food source of the fish that were initially overfished. Amazingly, a third of the world's harvested fish go to feed livestock or farmed fish. The ocean's interconnected ecosystem simply cannot keep pace. In 2006, a report published in the journal Science estimated that by 2048 all wild commercial fish stocks would be wiped out.

The Humane Slaughter Act requires that mammals be rendered insensible to pain before being slaughtered. A Washington Post series some years ago, however, exposed a packing industry hard pressed to follow this law. Animals were found regularly butchered alive on speeded-up conveyor lines. A $5 million appropriation was consequently enacted to hire more humane inspectors for kill floors across the nation, but the funds ended up being diverted to food-safety inspectors already employed. In the end, the Humane law does not even apply to 99 percent of animals slaughtered, because poultry birds and fish are not covered by it.

A meat diet dramatically raises your risk for heart attack, but in recent years you're less likely to die from it. Technology will probably save your life, leaving you to live with the consequences. In the case of congestive heart failure—an increasingly common outcome—your heart, now damaged, is unable to adequately circulate blood to the rest of your body, resulting in fluid build-up and organ damage. In the U.S., nearly 5 million people live with heart failure, and about 550,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. The disease is the leading cause of hospitalization among the elderly, and hospital bills attributed to it total $29 billion annually.

Pigs are naturally anything but dirty and brutish and, if given half a chance, display high intelligence. Ask Professor Stanley Curtis of Pennsylvania State University. He taught several pigs to understand complex relationships between objects and actions in order to play video games. Curtis, along with his colleagues, found these creatures to be focused, creative, and innovative— equal in intelligence to chimpanzees. Other researchers have found chickens to be good at solving problems, cows to respond to music, and fish to be as individualistic as dogs.

Approximately 800 million people today live with chronic hunger, and 16,000 children die from hungerrelated causes every day. Yet the world cycles nearly 43 percent of all the grain that is harvested through animals to produce meat. No matter the species, feed-to-flesh ratios are inefficient— 7, 3.5, 2, and 3 pounds to 1 for beef, pork, chicken, and farmed fish, respectively. Biofuel production within one recent year gobbled up 110 million additional tons of grain, raising food prices and putting pressure on the world's fragile food security. Compare this to the 840 million tons within the same year that was snatched from the mouths of the poor to feed livestock. Those who care about world hunger need to eat less meat.

A 2005 report by Environmental Defense estimated that 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. go to chickens, hogs, and beef cattle, "...not to treat disease, but rather to promote growth and to compensate for crowded, stressful, and often unhygienic conditions on industrial-scale farms." Also, according to the report, antibiotics deemed important to human medicine "comprise nearly half of the overall quantity of antibiotics used as feed additives," a particularly troubling fact in light of growing worldwide antibiotic resistance.

Every year, Americans suffer from approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths because of something they ate. That something was probably of animal origin. The main culprits are E. coli, salmonella, listeria, and campylobacter. The annual cost to the U.S. for the top five food borne pathogens, all originating in animal-derived food production, is $6.9 billion.

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Reasons to go Vegetarian