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Vegan Outreach is a 501(c)(3)
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reducing the suffering of farmed animals
by promoting informed, ethical eating.

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Resources and Contamination

“Much as we have awakened to the full economic and social costs of cigarettes, we will find we can no longer subsidize or ignore the costs of mass-producing cattle, poultry, pigs, sheep and fish to feed our growing population. These costs include hugely inefficient use of freshwater and land, heavy pollution from livestock feces, rising rates of heart disease and other degenerative illnesses, and spreading destruction of the forests on which much of our planet’s life depends.”

Time Magazine, Visions of the 21st Century,Will We Still Eat Meat?,” 11/8/99

Cattle feedlot Turkey house
Left: Cattle feedlot (click for larger image; courtesy of USDA). Right: Inside a turkey house (click for larger image; courtesy of Farm Sanctuary).

“The typical North American diet, with its large share of animal products, requires twice as much water to produce as the less meat-intensive diets common in many Asian and some European countries. Eating lower on the food chain could allow the same volume of water to feed two Americans instead of one, with no loss in overall nutrition.”

Scientific American
Growing More Food With Less Water
by Sandra Postel, February 2001

It takes more land, water, and energy to produce meat than to grow vegetarian foods. It’s several times more efficient to eat grains directly than to funnel them through farmed animals. According to the Audubon Society, roughly 70 percent of the grain grown and 50 percent of the water consumed in the United States are used by the meat industry. See also these excerpts from an ADA position paper.

The Hunger Report 1995 from the Alan Shawn Feinstein World Hunger Program at Brown University illustrates that a vegetarian diet can feed significantly more people than a meat-centered diet:

Populations Potentially Supported by 1993 Global Food Supply with Different Diets
Almost purely vegetarian diet 6.26 billion people
15% of calories from animal products 4.12 billion people
25% of calories from animal products 3.16 billion people
Source: FAO, 1994

World hunger is a complicated problem, and becoming vegetarian in the United States will not necessarily alleviate it in the short-term. However, being vegetarian is a positive step towards saving resources that can be used to feed people in the future.

Feeding dairy cows in FL Confined feeding operation in AZ
Left: Feeding dairy cattle in Florida (click for larger image; courtesy of USDA). Right: Confined feeding operation of cattle in Yuma, Arizona (click for larger image; courtesy of USDA NRCS).

According to Livestock & the Environment: Finding a Balance, a 1996 report coordinated in part by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:

The industrial [livestock] system is a poor converter of fossil energy. Fossil energy is a major input of intensive livestock production systems, mainly indirectly for the production of feed.

As Michael Pollan reports in “Power Steer” (New York Times Magazine, March 31, 2002):

[I]f you follow the corn…back to the fields where it grows, you will find an 80-million-acre monoculture that consumes more chemical herbicide and fertilizer than any other crop. Keep going and you can trace the nitrogen runoff from that crop all the way down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, where it has created (if that is the right word) a 12,000-square-mile “dead zone.”

But you can go farther still, and follow the fertilizer needed to grow that corn all the way to the oil fields of the Persian Gulf.… Assuming [a steer] continues to eat 25 pounds of corn a day and reaches a weight of 1,250 pounds, he will have consumed in his lifetime roughly 284 gallons of oil. We have succeeded in industrializing the beef calf, transforming what was once a solar-powered ruminant into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine.

Also from “Power Steer”:

Cows rarely live on feedlot diets for more than six months, which might be about as much as their digestive systems can tolerate.…

What keeps a feedlot animal healthy – or healthy enough – are antibiotics.… Most of the antibiotics sold in America end up in animal feed – a practice that, it is now generally acknowledged, leads directly to the evolution of new antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”.…

Escherichia coli 0157 is a relatively new strain of a common intestinal bacteria…that is common in feedlot cattle, more than half of whom carry it in their guts. Ingesting as few as 10 of these microbes can cause a fatal infection.

Most of the microbes that reside in the gut of a cow and find their way into our food get killed off by the acids in our stomachs, since they originally adapted to live in a neutral-pH environment. But the digestive tract of the modern feedlot cow is closer in acidity to our own, and in this new, manmade environment acid-resistant strains of E. coli have developed that can survive our stomach acids – and go on to kill us.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC Surveillance Summaries: MMWR 49, no. SS-1, March 17, 2000; PDF):

During 1993–1997, a total of 2,751 outbreaks of foodborne disease were reported.… Salmonella serotype Enteritidis accounted for the largest number of outbreaks, cases, and deaths; most of these outbreaks were attributed to eating eggs.

“A type of salmonella found in eggs is turning up more often in chicken meat and needs to be reduced, according to the Agriculture Department.

“From 2000 through 2005, there was a fourfold increase in positive test results for salmonella enteritidis on chicken carcasses.…

“Salmonella sickens at least 40,000 people and kills about 600 every year in the United States.”

Associated Press, “Salmonella on the Rise in Chicken Meat,” 11/21/06

Chickens raised for eggs Chickens raised for meat
Left: Egg-laying hens in battery cages (click for larger image; courtesy of Compassionate Action for Animals). Right: Chickens raised for meat (click for full view of broiler house; courtesy of USDA).

“Dioxins have been characterized by EPA as likely to be human carcinogens and are anticipated to increase the risk of cancer at background levels of exposure.…

“Most of us receive almost all of our dioxin exposure from the food we eat: specifically from the animal fats associated with eating beef, pork, poultry, fish, milk, dairy products.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Persistent Bioaccumulative and Toxic Chemical Program: Dioxins and Furans

Regarding “Arsenic,” Bette Hileman reports (Chemical & Engineering News, April 9, 2007):

Roxarsone…is by far the most common arsenic-based additive used in chicken feed. It is mixed in the diet of about 70% of the 9 billion broiler chickens produced annually in the U.S.…

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic can cause bladder, lung, skin, kidney, and colon cancer, as well as deleterious immunological, neurological, and endocrine effects. Low-level exposures can lead to partial paralysis and diabetes.…

Chicken manure introduces huge quantities of arsenic to agricultural fields.…

Even though the drinking water standard for arsenic has been strengthened, the standards for arsenic residues in poultry – 2,000 ppb for liver and 500 ppb for muscle – have remained unchanged for decades. Furthermore, neither the Food & Drug Administration nor the Department of Agriculture has actually measured the level of arsenic in the poultry meat that most people consume. USDA has measured it only in chicken livers.


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