Any conversation dealing with meat eating is geared to the minority of the world’s population who can afford to be carnivorous.
In order to maintain a U.S. diet, more than 9 billion livestock must be maintained to supply the animal protein consumed each year in the United States, according to an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
On average, this livestock population outnumbers the U.S. human population about 29 times.
The concerns caused by our carnivorous lifestyle will only be aggravated with the passage of time.
Rather than witnessing a reduction in meat demand, an increasing global desire for a Western-based diet, specifically a U.S. diet, is leading experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to envision a doubling of meat production during the first half of the present century; an increase from 229 million metric tons at the start of the 21st century to about 465 million metric tons by 2050.
Drastic increases in livestock create greater competition for scarce resources, specifically sufficient land for grazing.
The land used by animal grazing could feed more of the world’s population if it were diverted for crops grown for human consumption.
According to a U.N. study, grazing takes up 26 percent of the land on Earth that is not covered by ice. An additional 33 percent of the planet’s arable land is required for feed-crop production.
Production of livestock accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land and almost one-third of the entire land surface of the planet.
The need for grazing land is so acute that it is the main cause of global deforestation, especially in Latin America. Seventy percent of what was the Amazon Forest is now used for animal grazing and feed-crops.
In Central America, forest area has been reduced by almost 40 percent between 1960 and 2000.
Besides this increasing land shortage caused by the needs created by livestock production are the repercussions of freshwater shortages and depletion.
In order to survive, a person needs at least 20 liters of water daily for drinking, cooking and washing.
Even if we were to forgo cooking and washing, we would still need two liters a day to replace the two liters we lose through sweat (half a liter), breathing in the form of water vapors (half a liter) and urination (one liter).
Of course, this number would radically increase with strenuous exercise.
While the earth is literally covered in water (occupying 70 percent of the globe), less than 1 percent is fresh water.
Every year, five million people, mostly children, die from water-borne diseases. About 1 billion out of the 6 billion who inhabit the earth cannot turn on a tap and obtain clean water; 2 billon lack basic sanitation.
If present trends continue, 64 percent of the world population will, by 2025, live in water-stressed basins.
And yet, livestock production is considered responsible for most of the water pollution, due mainly from animal waste runoffs, chemical contaminations from tanneries, pesticides and fertilizer runoff from feed-crops, and the emergence of antibiotic resistance.
Besides contaminating water, livestock production is a main user of fresh water. Half of the world’s available fresh water is consumed by humans, of which 70 percent is diverted to agriculture.
To produce a kilogram of grain-fed beef, 100,000 liters of water are required (due mainly to feed-crops).
By contrast, a kilogram of soybean production uses 2,000 liters of water; rice requires 1,912 liters of water; wheat uses 900 liters of water; and potatoes only need 500 liters of water.
When animals are slaughtered and appear as burgers, pork chops or chicken fingers on our tables, we are faced with the dilemma that their consumption can also prove hazardous to our health.
Seventy percent of all antimicrobials used within the United States are fed to livestock.
Antimicrobials are used to kill and/or inhibit the growth of microorganisms such as protozoans or fungi.
Antibiotics, an antimicrobial whose purpose is to eradicate bacterial microorganisms, are added to animal feed and water in low doses to prevent disease outbreaks in cramped and crowded conditions, as well as to stimulate animal growth.
Unfortunately, new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are developing that can prove harmful, if not deadly, to humans.
Along with the antibiotics, cattle are given hormones to also promote growth.
While legal in the United States, such hormone treatments are banned in the European Union because their studies show that the residues found in meat could be linked to reproduction issues, as well as colon, prostate and breast cancer.
Complicating health concerns is the indiscriminate usage of pesticides, which is leading to the selective breeding of pesticide-resistant super-pests while decimating desired and necessary pests.
If the body is indeed the Temple of God’s Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), then abusing the body through ingested pollutants is akin to desecrating the Temple.
Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology.