CO-OPERATOR CONTRIBUTOR / OTTAWA
The rapid growth in modern livestock production is causing environmental damage and spreading serious diseases such as avian influenza and BSE, according to the Worldwatch Institute.
Much of the vigorous growth in meat production is due to the rise of industrial animal agriculture, or factory farming, said Danielle Nierenberg, senior researcher for the influential Washingtonbased environmental research organization.
Factory farms pollute the environment through the heavy use of inputs such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used for feed production.
Large-scale meat production also has serious implications for the global climate, she added. Animal waste releases methane and nitrous oxide greenhouse gases that are, respectively, 25 and 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to the group.
The condemnation of large-scale meat production is contained in the latest report from the institute s Nourishing the Planet project. It says worldwide meat production has tripled over the last four decades and increased 20 per cent in the past decade.
The report s release comes on the eve of the Future of Animal Agriculture conference here that will discuss what Canadian farmers can do to feed the growing demand for meat products and deal with some of the environmental and health issues outlined in the report.
It says, Dirty, crowded conditions on factory farms can propagate sickness and disease among the animals, including swine influenza (H1N1), avian influenza (H5N1), foot-and-mouth disease, and mad-cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). These diseases not only translate into enormous economic losses each year the United Kingdom alone spent $18 billion to $25 billion in a three-year period to combat foot-and-mouth disease but they also lead to human infections.
The report condemns the use of antibiotics in livestock production, charging that it contributes to antibiotic resistance in animals and humans alike.
Worldwide, 80 per cent of all antibiotics sold in 2009 were used on livestock and poultry, compared to only 20 per cent used for human illnesses, the report states. Antibiotics that are present in animal waste leach into the environment and contaminate water and food crops, posing a serious threat to public health.
The report s authors also argue that while meat is a good source of protein and of important vitamins and nutrients, consumption should be limited.
A diet high in red and processed meats can lead to a host of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
The solution, according to Worldwatch, is small-scale operations on dry grasslands that sequester carbon dioxide. It praises grass-fed beef, saying it contains less fat and more nutrients, poses less of a disease risk, requires fewer inputs, and conserves soil.
It s largely a matter of rethinking meat at both ends of the production- consumption trail, the report concludes.
The Worldwatch Institute says grass-fed beef is better for consumers and the environment.PHOTO: JEANNETTE GREAVES