The True Cost of a Hamburger

Farming Carnage: Agriculture & Deforestation

Let's begin with defining our topic:  Deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests in order to make land available for alternative purposes.  This essentially means abolishing existing forest with no intention to replace or promote future forest growth.  The initial footprint of deforestation is staggering; it eliminates countless trees, damages natural habitats, and terrorizes indigenous animals.  

However, consequences of mass deforestation stretch beyond the confines of the flattened land.  The demolition of our limited forests has global impact, manifesting in part as increased: 

  • Soil erosion  
  • Floods
  • Water pollution
  • Wildlife extinction, and
  • Climate imbalance

An astounding 18 million acres of forest are estimated to be lost each year – that’s more than the size of Vermont, New Hampshire, and New Jersey combined (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, FAO).  The world is pretty big, but this trend cannot be sustained for any substantial amount of time.

Deforestation

The Plague of Cows

Although there are many causes of deforestation, agricultural expansion powers the large majority of forest conversion.  The farming industry levels forests to provide room for:

  1. Planting crops, or
  2. Grazing livestock  

Livestock prove especially detrimental, as forests paved for crops are often for farming animal feed instead of human produce.  In Brazil, the issue of rainforest conversion for agriculture has heightened.  As demand for plantations increases, many people are forced into the agricultural industry.  Underprivileged men, women, and children are lured from villages and separated from intimate communities to clear forestry and work in fields, sometimes under penalty of death (World Wild Life Fund, WWF).  An article in The Guardian estimated that 1,100 land activists - people who've been rallying opposition to the deforestation and bullying practices of the agriculture industry - have been killed in Brazil as of 2009 (Batty, David). 

1,100 people killed.  
In just 20 years.

The agriculture system has a frightening hold on our environmental and social future.  Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction (World Bank), contributing to 1-2 acres of rainforest being cleared every second (World Resources Institute).  In fact, livestock or livestock feed occupies 1/3 of the earth’s ice-free land (FAO).  Shocking, no?  Not when you consider that there are 1.5 billion cows on Earth right now - and each one of them requires 2-5 acres of land.

www.moore.org

www.moore.org

This astronomical volume of livestock is fueled by humans' consumption of beef and dairy products - two areas of cuisine completely unnecessary for our survival, let alone prosperity.  Take a look at the following figure and decide if that burger is actually worth it:

  • 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce just one pound of beef.
    With water shortages calling upon citizens to take action to stop wasteful water consumption - ie. shower less, insulate pipes, upgrade to eco-friendly flush toilets - that chunk of meat screams hypocrisy.
  • The average American consumes between 60-70 pounds of beef every year.
    Considering the average American is estimated to use a sizable 150 gallons of water per day, this means that an average American's beef consumption would triple their yearly water usage. 

Don't get us wrong, this isn't some trumped up vegan propaganda.  It's just that the current state of livestock and agriculture is actually killing our habitats.  And the only way to reduce the effects of raising beef is to stop eating it.

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Agriculture has become the largest driver of biodiversity loss, environmental destruction, and even climate change (our focus for next week).  If you are interested in learning more about the impact of the agriculture industry, watch COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret

Happy Earth