Monday, June 25, 2007

KNOW Book Notes: Six Arguments for a Greener Diet

Six Arguments for a Greener Diet
by Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., and the staff of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Green is the new black. But it transcends fads, since it’s about reducing impact on the environment, using sustainable practices that don’t irreversibly deplete resources, and producing products with minimal or no risk to health. Going green has been touted as a way each of us can help save the world. Greening our diets can help save the world and out lives.

In this well-researched, thoroughly documented wake up call, the authors enumerate many compelling reasons to adopt a more plant-based diet. Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” reveals the origins of the foods we eat, and “Six Arguments” trains its telephoto lens on the environment impact of specific food-raising and livestock management practices on the land, waterways, air, our own health and that of other species.

To aid short attention span readers, each chapter ends with a summary of “What It All Means.”

Consider these examples of environmental impact statements:

* Its takes 4,500 gallons of rain and irrigation water to produce a quarter-pound of beef. About 7 pounds of corn is needed to add 1 pound of weight to feedlot cattle. It takes 1 pound: of fertilizer to produce 3 pounds of cooked beef. Yes, it takes resources to grow fruits and vegetables – a tiny fraction of what goes into producing an equivalent amount of animal-derived food.

* Livestock plus the manure lagoons on factory farms generate enough methane to produces nearly as much global warming as the release of carbon dioxide from 33 million automobiles.

* Health? A 16% decrease in death from heart disease is associated with eating one extra serving of fruits or vegetables each day. Vegetarians have 24% fewer heart attacks as nonvegetarians. To save money, factory farms switched cattle from the natural diet of grass to mainly corn/grain. But a steer fed grain rather than grass has meat that’s twice as fatty.

About 63,000 people die from coronary heart disease annually that is linked to fat and cholesterol in meat, dairy, poultry and eggs. Adding to the toll are the toxic chemicals, such as PCBs that accumulate in livestock animals’ muscle, fat and milk, linked to 50,000 to 100,000 premature deaths each year.

This doesn’t include the established but hushed link between colon cancer and beef consumption and prostate cancer and milk. America spends $37 billion annually on drugs to treat high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Those who profit from work at and investments in these drugs or from factory farms don’t support such research. But to be sure, this issue affects health, quality of life, length of life, worker, productivity insurance costs, and your wallet.

Full of illuminating studies, the brief, pithy paperback is a must-read for the sake of your health and that of your family. And even reading just the first few pages – which feature the chart “The Web of Animal -Based Foods and Problems” and the quick-list of facts called “Eating Green: By the Numbers” – will make you a more enlightened consumer. And a healthier, more socially responsible one if you modify your diet as a result.

And if you care about animals....

Consider these examples of treatment of animals used in agribusiness, specifically factory farming. A half-square foot allotted to the average layer hen. The hogs whose tails are chopped off and chickens whose beaks are cut off to reduce the financial costs of psychological stress. (See farm animal handling systems engineer Temple Grandness book “Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior” for the effects of profit-squeezing treatment on factory farmed animals.

And the growing number of filmed documentation of chickens smashed against walls and cattle having their throats slit and hoisted in the air by their legs while still conscious indicates such inhumane treatment occurs frequently – when there is no need for it to happen at all. (See the documentary “Peaceable Kingdom,” which features live footage as well as testimony from farmers and workers.)

To meet the demands of carne consumers, 140 million cows, steer, pigs and sheep are slaughtered each year. 13,200 chickens are killed every hour in a modern slaughterhouse. In return for giving their short lives to satisfy human appetites, at minimum humans could treat these animals humanely.

Under the radar, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI) has developed the “Eating Green” project, which proposes a more plant-based diet to protect health and the environment. As a nonprofit, CPS lacks the financial firepower of the huge factory farming industry (which includes the well-funded and politically protected and government-subsidized beef, diary, poultry, pork and other animal product industries). It does have a boatload of research findings from scientists and doctors.

Most people don’t think about the source of the foods they eat. They don’t know that producing the vast quantities of corn, soybean meal, alfalfa and other ingredients of livestock for humankind’s dining table requires vast quantities of natural resources and thousands of square miles of land. Much of the Midwest’s grasslands and forests have been plowed over by grain farms.

Because of all the fertilizer that washes down the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico has a poorly oxygenated “dead zone” the size of New Jersey. Farming and development practices continue to kill aquatic life, including “commercially valuable” seafood. The dead zone is caused largely by agricultural fertilizer runoff from Midwestern farms.

What is the true cost of raising so many animals to kill for human food? What are the effects on human health and the environment that’s being leeched by our generation?

We can’t get into the fully secured feedlots and poultry factory farms, but the book will offer a real-world view beyond the well-funded public image campaigns that tell consumers to eat more and more animal products.

* Some illuminations from “Six Arguments for a Greener Diet”:

Nutrition researchers examined the ecological impact of 3 diets: the typical Western diet, low meat and lacto-ovo vegetarian. Compared to a typical diet, a low-meat diet uses 41% less energy and generates 37% less carbon dioxide equivalents (greenhouse gases) and 50 percent less sulfur dioxide equivalents (respiratory problems, acid rain). For a lacto-ovo (animal flesh-free) vegetarian diet, the savings are even greater: 54% less energy 52% less carbon dioxide equivalents and 66% less sulfur dioxide equivalents. Though not studied, the diet with the smaller environment foot print is vegan (no eggs, milk or other animal-derived products).

What to eat instead of animal-derived foods? Vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains (grains that have not been processed to remove the high-fiber bran and germ, which contain much of the protein, vitamins like the B family, and minerals), and healthful oils such as flax oil. Specific diet modifications are listed in a practical “Changing Your Own Diet” section.

Much of the book focuses on “Changing Government Policies.” Not sexy reading, but important and long ignored, overfeeding the corporate farming machine for several decades – in turn, making change an uphill struggle.

Eating lower on the food chain is a big step in a healthy direction. Also watch the intake of salt, partially hydrogenated oils, and sugar -- itself produced from sugar cane, the raising of which contributes to environmentally destruction

The U.S. has set an example, and upward-aspiring citizens of developing countries – such as China, India, Indonesia – are following our footsteps to the meat counter. Per Earth Policy Institute president and global agriculture researcher Lester Brown (author of the 2006 book on environment solutions, “Plan B 2.0”), the animal-rich American diet requires the production of four times as much grain per person as the average Indian diet. If the whole world’s population were to eat as much meat as Westerners, two-thirds more farm land would be needed. The increased demand for water, fertilizer and pesticides would increase pollution and eventually devastate the planet.

Another point brought up in the quest to update the U.S. Farm Bill: Farmers who grow crops to feed livestock receive billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded annual subsidies, hundreds of times more than received by fruit and vegetable growers. This practice is increasingly out-to-step with the government’s evolving dietary guidelines being promoted to the public.

We’re reminded of the cattle industry’s successful tactics to defeat South Dakota George McGovern after the senator – respected for being guided by ethics that shielded his public stands and his votes from lobbyist/campaign contributor influence – suggested that people eat less beef.

What about alternative food sources to America’s entrenched factory production/consumption complex? Those not ready to grow their own food can shop at farmers’ markets, local veg/fruit farms, coops and CSAs (community-supported agriculture) – as well as grocers that offer humanely raised, locally grown, organic and healthful whole (unprocessed) foods.

Myths exploded: why the “goodness” of grain-fed livestock is good only for producers and marketers, not consumers. Corn and grain fatten an animal faster, meaning they go to slaughter sooner and at a younger age, but the meat is fattier (and more artery-clogging) and lower-grade.

Consumption of any kind of beef was shown to increase colon cancer risk in various studies.

Notes the book: “The practices that lead to the fastest production and cheapest prices are not what’s best for the consumer’s health.”

As for healthy omega-3 fatty acids, the best, purest sources are flaxseed, followed by canola and soybean oils. The book also notes the popularity of fish oil.

Realizing the dependence of Western consumers on animal-derived foods, the authors note that those who do eat beef should seek that from cattle raised on pastureland instead of factory farmed grain-fed. This would “dramatically reduce the fat content of beef, the waste and pollution of water and the fouling of air caused by manure and agricultural chemicals, and the misery experienced by the cattle consigned to feedlots.”

Argument 1: Less Chronic Disease and Better Overall Health

Our diet is killing us. The saturated fat and cholesterol in beef, pork, dairy foods, poultry and eggs have been proven to cause some 63,000 fatal heart attacks a year.

Vegetarians have lower levels of cholesterol, less obesity, hypertension, diabetes, strokes and other maladies than carnes (people whose diet includes animal flesh).

Although Americans are eating one-third fewer eggs (egg yolks are the key source of cholesterol, which leads to heart disease) than in 1953, Americans are eating 4 times as much cheese, which is high in saturated fat and is clearly linked to heart disease.

There are non-animal-derived dietary culprits too: refined grains used for white bread, white pasta, white rice), which are stripped of many nutrients and fiber; sodas high in refined sugars (including high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS), which replace more healthful foods; and baked goods and fried foods, particularly with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

Instead, humans thrive better eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Enlightening findings of studies compare vegetarian and nonvegetarian Seventh Day Adventists, the Mediterranean Diet (heavy on vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts; light on animal products), a vegan diet for fighting the progression of prostate disease, a study of the impact of switching to a plant-based diet on patients with coronary artery disease; intervention studies using a low-fat vegetarian diet on type 2 diabetes – enabling the patients to discontinue use of insulin and another on the pain- and symptom-relieving effects of a vegan diet for diabetes patients. Also addressed: the possible preventative effects of certain dietary approaches on cancer (good candidates include tomatoes, citrus fruits and cruciferous vegs).

There’s a handy chart outlining specific foods that help prevent/fight disease (plant sterols, folates, legumes) or aggravate (alcohol, dairy, salt) diseases. “Beans, beans, good for your heart....” the childhood ditty rings true. Ditto for certain nuts.

Debates over soy, the bone-strengthening effects of dairy, fish risks and nutrients, and specific components of these and other foods provide actual nourishment are addressed. For dairy, this includes vitamin D and potassium, for example, which can be found in many plants (spinach, cantaloupe, beans and bananas, for example). And what components cause harm, such as pesticides that suppress the immune system and cause autoimmune disorders.

Argument 2: Less Foodborne Illness

“Chicken, ducks and pigs serve as major reservoirs for flu viruses. Because pigs can become infected with both human and avian strains of a given virus, the viruses may swap genes, creating a new harmful strain to which humans may be susceptible.” Tight quarters speeds spread of disease.

When food poisoning germs are resistant to antibiotics, ordinary illnesses may become life-threatening.

We’re courting disaster when we allow farmers to use penicillin, erythromycin and other key antibiotics for economic – not medical – reasons.” For example: “Using low levels of antibiotics day in and day out on millions of animals greatly increases the chances that bacteria – including those that cause foodborne illnesses – will develop antibiotic resistance. The problem arises when a germ happens to mutate in one of several ways that reduces the antibiotic’s effectiveness. The tougher new bacteria pump the antibiotic out of their cells, degrade the antibiotic, change the antibiotic’s chemical structure, or modify target molecules to ‘fool’ the antibiotic.”

*** “Just as public health experts finally figured out that cleaning up water and air drastically reduced infectious diseases in people, so agribusiness should turn to different approaches to prevent illnesses in their animals. If they cleaned up their hog sheds, gave their chickens more room to roam around, stopped feeding cattle an unnatural grain-rich diet, and bred animals not just to grow fast but to have strong immune systems, farmers could both raise healthier animals and protect the effectiveness of precious antibiotics.”

Problems are exacerbated by the federal government’s incomplete and fragmented food-safety system. The U.S. lacks a system to track animals and meat from the farm to the slaughterhouse to the table. So health officials can’t trace the cause of a food-poisoning outbreak. Also, the government can’t require food processors to recall suspect projects; instead, they must negotiate with companies; meanwhile more get sick. There are no fines for violating the law from the USDA, and the FDA can only fine a company $1,000. As for imported foods, the USDA has the power to inspect foreign processing plants, but the FDA does not. (Plus USDA is famous for lack of actual inspections.)

Speaking of a fractured system, the FDA oversees dehydrated beef soup, the USDA regulates dehydrated chicken soup. FDA regulates chicken broth, but the USDA regulates beef broth.

The authors raise a critical question in an age when people seek high-tech antidotes to health risks that have logical, low-tech solutions – or rather, preventive strategies. Where is the wisdom of attacking food-safety problems with the development of costly new technology from steam-treating to acid-washing beef carcasses to vaccinating poultry to irradiating cuts of meat? More effective and ultimately more economical: address the root causes of animal disease, dishealth, disease transmission (see above).

*** How can you make a difference? Vote with your wallet and protect your health at the same time: consume fewer animal products. And wash your fruits and vegetables since microbes and fertilizer leeches into the soil and travels far and wide.

Argument #3: Better Soil

Modern agriculture practices have put immense demands on soil. Growing crops for animal feed erodes the topsoil, a precious commodity for all agriculture.

Raising almost 100 million acres of feed crops for livestock production depletes topsoil of nutrients and causes erosion. 22 billion pounds of fertilizer, about half of all fertilizer applied in the the US, gets applied to lands used to grow feed grains for American livestock each year. The energy used to manufacture that fertilizer could provide a year’s worth of power for about 1 million Americans. Soil, and crops can be contaminated with cadmium, lead and other heavy metals in sewage sludge and chemical fertilizers.

Monocropping is hard on land, but that’s how so many farmers respond to the huge demand for feed grains. Inadequate crop rotation with corn and other crops also causes big problems.

*** It takes a pound of fertilizer to produce 2 1/2 pounds of cooked pork. One pound of fertilizer is required to produce 3 pounds of cooked beef. Hogs are the least fertilizer-efficient of major farm animals. Unlike cattle, they eat grains their entire lives.

Argument 4: More and Cleaner Water

Agriculture uses about 80% of all freshwater in the U.S. Example: Lake McConaughy, once “Nebraska’s ocean” and a haven for migrating birds, is now a mud hole after years of heavy irrigation by farmers raising animal feed grains such as soybeans and corn. Half the lake’s water has been lost.

*** It takes 1,000 gallons of irrigation water to produce a quarter-pound of animal protein.
Half of all irrigation water is used to raise livestock. 14 trillion gallons per year are used to water crops grown to feed U.S. livestock; another 1 trillion are used directly by livestock producers.

The water used to irrigate just alfalfa and hay – 7 trillion gallons per year – exceeds the irrigation needs of all the vegetables, berries and fruit orchards combined.

Farms pollute water with fertilizer, pesticides, manure, antibiotics and eroded soil.

About 90 percent of U.S. water is renewable, coming from rain, lakes and rivers. The remainder comes mainly from nonrenewable underground aquifers AKA groundwater. In the U.S., agriculture consumes 80% of freshwater and over 60% of groundwater.

Taxpayers pay for irrigation for livestock producers through heavy tax subsidies. The World Resources Institute estimates that the federal government – rather, us taxpayers – pays an average 83% of the costs of irrigation projects.

California’s Central Valley has log suffered a host of environmental problems due to over-irrigation including “devastation of fish and wildlife habitat and severe toxic pollution.” according to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group., which also notes that American taxpayers provide up to $416 million per year for California’s Central Valley Project.

Pollution also comes from manure lagoons. For example, an 8-acre cesspool breach that spilled 22 million gallons of waste from the Oceanview Hog Farm into NC’s New River Basin in June 1995.

Modern farming practices pollute water. Irrigation leds to erosion, runoff and salinization. In California, selenium – a naturally occurring element in soil – was so highly concentrated in irrigation water runoff that it caused an epidemic of deformities in migrating waterfowl, including hatchlings born with no eyes or feet. (photo)

Salinization: water contains salts; irrigation water carries those salts onto cropland. When the water evaporates, salts are left behind. Salt buildup reduces crop yields. Estimates put the affected acreage at about 10 million acres, or almost 20% of all irrigated land.

Fertilizers, including manure, suffocate aquatic life. Runoff from fertilizer and manure is the biggest polluter of lakes and ponds and among the top 5 polluters of rivers and streams. When those nutrients wash into waterways, they promote excessive growth of aquatic plants and algae. That increased growth leads to oxygen depletion and eutrophication – the decomposition of vegetation that absorbs almost all oxygen in the water (hypoxia). Aquatic species then either suffocate or if they can swim are forced out of the affected area.

Phosphate fertilizers -- 12 million tons of which are produced annually – are made by treating phosphate rock with strong acids. A byproduct is highly corrosive chemicals that cause air and water pollution, including hydrogen fluoride. Chronic exposure to hydrogen fluoride weakens the skeleton and can irreparably damage any tissue in the body.

See “Dead zone” reference above.

Manure contains ammonia, thus using too much manure on cropland can pollute waterways and soil with pathogens (dangerous bacteria) and excess nutrients.

Antibiotics in manure contaminate water. (Factory farming uses antibiotics as a crutch with disastrous consequences.)

Pesticides wash off of farmland, infiltrating waterways and soil far and wide. (See articles about pollution carried by such waterways as the Mississippi dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.)

“Cutting back on meat consumption would protect waterways from pollution caused by fertilizer production, runoff from chemical fertilizer and manure, and soil erosion. Of course, producing more fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts still would require water, but far less than is needed to produce animal products.”

Argument #5 : Cleaner Air

Burning fossil fuel emits noxious gases, particulate matter, and methane.

Argument #6: Less Animal Suffering

More and more consumer-citizens are echoing the concern expressed by West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd: How long will we tolerate the barbaric treatment of the helpless, defenseless creatures raised to feed our families?”

Each year in the U.S., food producers slaughter 140 million cattle, pigs, and sheep, 9 billion chickens and turkeys, and millions of fish, shellfish and other sea creatures.

Industrially farmed chickens are raised in huge, crowded sheds. Most never see the outdoors; many exhibit abnormal behavior. Layer hens live in tiny cages, are debeaked, and are periodically starved to maximize egg production.

* The unnatural high-grain diets of cattle in feedlots are linked to liver, hoof and digestive diseases.

* Pregnant and nursing pigs spend most of their lives in pens so small they cannot even turn around in them.

* Fish bycatch: Billions of pounds of commercially useless fish, turtles and other sea animals are unintentionally caught as bycatch and discarded, dead or dying.

* Wildlife is poisoned by pesticides applied to crops [see research news reports about “mysterious” mass deaths in Virginia’s Shenandoah and James Rivers, the Potomac...with frogs born with with excess appendages... and elsewhere].

Farm animals die of injuries or illnesses before they reach the slaughterhouse [Google “downed animals” to learn about another whole category of animals suffering at the hands of factory farm workers before these pitiful animals are processed into the food supply.]

* The egg industry literally shreds millions of male chicks at birth since they don’t lay eggs and they don’t produce tender meat. Cruel, painful methods include suffocation and grinding machines or macerators (in which the chicks are placed alive). Details at

* Chickens to be used for food are separated early from their mothers – visibly traumatic for both mother and offspring, who bawl for each other. Neuroses result.

* Food animals are not protected by federal animal welfare laws. “Inconvenient” parts are removed using usually painful methods without sedatives or anesthesia – debeaking, dehorning, tail docking, detoeing, chopping off testes.

* Economics in part spur ranchers to castrate bull calves: packers pay less for bulls than for steers, ostensibly because consumers prefer the fattier steer meat.

* Sows are confined to gestation crates, resulting in psychological suffering, sickness and organ problems.

* Chickens are confined 5 to 7 at a time in battery cages. A single farm may house up to 800,000 birds at a time. Wire floors injure feet and legs, catch head neck wings in the wire sides.

* Pigs and cattle and chickens are forced to eat, sleep, stand where urinate and defecate.

** Many of the abnormal behaviors of confined pigs, including tail biting, may be reduced simply by providing them with straw, sawdust or other fibrous material. Straw keeps floors drier and helps piglets stay warm. It also keeps animals from slipping, thereby reducing leg injuries. Finally, it helps alleviate the tedium by allowing them to build nests and engage in other natural forms of behavior.

* Animals on factory, and some other, farms today, are fed like living garbage disposals. They’re fed foods contaminated with pesticides and feed from unknown/suspect origins, some found to contain PCBs and other industrial byproducts that pollute the environment. A 2000 FDA test found that 44% of samples of animal feed contained with pesticide residues, with 2% exceeding the legal limits.

* Feedlot operators use antibiotics and antacids routinely to prevent and treat diseases caused by the unnatural high-grain diets in cattle. One-fourth of all baking soda produced in the US is fed to livestock. Growth hormones are routinely fed to livestock hurt humans.

* Since large-scale farm operators do not allow visits and bar reporters from their sites, some have gone in with hidden camera: “In 2004, workers at a West Virginia facility owned by Pilgrim’s Pride – the second largest poultry producer in the U.S. – were caught on videotape stomping on live chickens, throwing them against walls, and kicking them.”

* Poultry litter is a euphemism for the mixture of manure, feathers, wood chips and spilled feed collected from the floors of poultry houses. It is commonly fed to other animals.

* Transportation can be harrowing for the animals. Cattle not meant to be moved. Sheep have been inhumanely treated during transported by ship.

* Abattoirs: slaughterhouses are hell for workers too. An undercover videotape revealed widespread routine mistreatment. The New York Times described the taped scene: “After steers were cut by a ritual slaughterer, workers pulled out the animals’ tracheas with a hook to speed bleeding. In the tape, the animals were shown staggering around the killing pen with their windpipes dangling out, slamming their heads against walls and soundlessly trying to bellow. One animal took three minutes to stop moving.”

* In these venues of slow and excruciating deaths, some holding areas have no water. So animals are parched with thirst as well as frightened while waiting for death. [For better alternative facility design and handling that would even benefit high-volume animal producers along with the animals, see Temple Grandin’s books.]

* Layer hens are typically conscious when their throats are slit. Why aren’t they stunned? Again, profit-focused “efficiency”: because their bones, due to a life without exercise or room to move, are so brittle they shatter when exposed to electrical current.

In contrast to American practices, Switzerland banned the use of cages barren of nesting materials; the European Union (EU) is in the process of banning them as well.

* Wildlife also affected by factory farm practices that result in destructive algae bloom and runoff pesticides causing sickness, birth defects and death in animals “downstream.”

* “Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy” by Matthew Scully, former presidential speechwriter shed light on the cruelties imposed on farmed animals.

The “Making Change “ section of the book offers steps that individual consumers can take that will make a difference.

Such as changing your own diet. The authors explain how what you choose to eat makes ripples throughout the economy.

They present various dietary guidelines from health organizations. The takeaway from the pyramids and professionals: Eat more vegetables and fruits, and nuts and whole grains, cut the amount of fatty sugary foods, and minimize intake of animal-derived foods.

The Mediterranean diet food pyramid now being adopted worldwide suggests reducing meat consumption to monthly; sweets, eggs, poultry, fish weekly; cheese, yogurt, and more olive oil, fruits, beans legumes and nuts, vegetables, whole grains – and exercise – daily. Alternatives include the DASH (hypertension) and the Vegetarian food pyramids.

If continuing to eat animal-derived foods, buy ones that cause the least misery for the animals: eggs from uncaged hens, beef from cattle not raised on a feedlot/factory farm, pork and poultry from pigs and birds who could roam about, and milk from cows allowed to graze on pastures. Look for labels such as “humanely raised,” [note: not always accurate, but the system is a start....] and at farmer’s markets, where you can ask farmers about their practices. Note that some “organically raised” animals are not necessarily “humanely raised.” The book includes a helpful appendix.

When changing your diet for health, environmental or ethical reasons, remember that avoiding fatty meat and dairy products is only half the solution. The other half is choosing healthy plat-based foods. Most bread, pasta, rice and other grain foods Americans consume are made from reined/processed grains. Soft drinks and candy are made with empty-calorie sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. And too much once-healthy vegetable oil has been partially hydrogenated and contains artery-clogging trans fat (though this is one area in which marketers and merchants have wised up about relatively quickly).

You can make changes meal by meal. Each time you have a choice to make, you can try to make a healthy and hopefully more humane one.
and a Diet Scorecard with ratings in the categories of health, environmental impact and animal welfare.

Changing government policies:

“Consumer demand is the most important factor in changing what people eat, what food marketers offer, and what farmers grow. But nutrition- and environment-based food and farm policies could improve diets indirectly.”

Try to buy foods from companies and farmers who are producing healthier foods, minimizing negative impact on the environment, and raising animals humanely. If they succeed, other companies and farmers will emulate them.

Actually changing your diet is not radical comparing with some other proposals for government leg, such as levying a tax on higher-fat cattle, assessed at the slaughterhouse.

Ban routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock, a practice used to ineffectively (window-dressing) to compensate for overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at factory farms and slaughterhouse and transportation.

Livestock industry ideas include adding canola seeds or other sources of unsaturated oil t cows’ feed to lower the saturated fat and increase the unsaturated fat content by 20% each. Add conjugated linoleic acid to the cows’ feed or change feed in other ways to lower the total fat content of milk by approximately 25%.

Improve nutritional info labeling on beef, poultry and other animal-derived food. Reduce feed grain usage; the authors suggest the USDA or FDA set standards to limit the grain content of the feed and the length of time cattle can be fed grain. But, can the government enforce such a regulation? It’s understandable to doubt businesses’ willingness or commitment to voluntarily make changes but perhaps the market, and consumers, could offer incentives ... with the help of the media, which has largely been asleep at the wheel on food and animal treatment issues, and still behind on the environment despite the popular new appeal of “green.”

Stop the indirect subsidy to livestock producers – cheap corn. Better to convert some of the acreage devoted to corn to growing switchgrass for alternative fuel.

Water pollution could best be mitigated by raising fewer animals for food and limiting the size of CAFOs – concentrated animal feeding operation. Also, required upgrading manure lagoons to reduce the chance of breaches.

Expand the tiny Fruit and Vegetable Snack program that provides free daily snacks to children in a couple hundred schools.

Pursue a federal Humane Farming Act, proposed by Matthew Scully, that “would explicitly recognize animals as sentient beings and not as mere commodities or merchandise.” It has been easy to ignore the inhumanity since most Americans are shielded from it due to powerful meat, poultry and other trade groups that profit from the flesh and product of animals, and the animals can’t speak for themselves. As noted by many journalists, even those writing for Gourmet magazine, the agribusiness concerns won’t allow visits let alone tours of their massed-animal facilities.

Require husbandry and cleanliness standards to reduce use of antibiotics. Require ID by ear tags or devices other than hot-iron branding. Establish a reliable, better labeling scheme to encourage consumers who buy animal-derived products to choose those from humanely raised animals and to inform consumers which come from animals raised on factory farms. Slow slaughterhouse lines to help ensure that animals are stunned properly before slaughter. Also, see Temple Grandin’s recommendations in her book, “Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior.”

“Such measures would modestly raise the price of animal products, but any society that considers itself civilized should ensure that farm animals are treated humanely.”


Order "Six Arguments for a Greener Diet"

“Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior” by Temple Grandin

“Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy” by Matthew Scully, former presidential speechwriter shed light on the cruelties imposed on farmed animals.

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan

Gourmet article June 2007 issue: A View to a Kill

Vegetarian diets

Physicians Committee for Social Responsibility

Nutrition for disease prevention and treatment

Animal welfare

Compassion in World Farming

Compassion Over Killing

Farm Sanctuary

Humane Society of the United States

Community-Supported Agriculture

Humane Farm Animal Care

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