Category Archives: agriculture

COP 19 and Climate Change: The Path to Resolution

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The Conference

On November 11th, world leaders in business, industry, and NGOs will join representatives from nearly 200 countries to convene in Warsaw, Poland, for the nineteenth annual Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—an international environmental treaty established in 1994 to address the challenges of a warming planet.

The Sustainable Innovation Forum will be occurring alongside COP 19, featuring similar representation, with the objective of fostering innovative thinking and actions to transform energy policy and supply (energy security).

What was concerning to a few researchers in the 1980s, leading to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, is generally widely accepted today—that global warming and climate change are very real, they are worsening, and they will exacerbate severe weather patterns, threaten food security, damage the health of our oceans, and detrimentally effect many lives. Developing countries already struggling with hunger, poverty, loss of productive topsoil, and human sickness will be particularly hard hit. Importantly, although natural sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions do exist, humans are to blame for the degree of climate change we are currently experiencing, because it is largely a byproduct of our actions—certain habits that have resulted in excessive GHGs being increasingly emitted into our atmosphere over the past century. Unfortunately, previous conferences of this type have ended in lack of formal agreement and have missed targets for change. The two largest emitters in the world, China and the U.S., don’t even participate.

Urgency       Image

Every aspect of global depletion has a timeline. It’s not really a question of if we will run out of certain vital resources or environment that sustains us… it’s WHEN. Perhaps the most critical timeline we face, regarding our survival as a species, is that of climate change. We have only a three- to four-year window of time from now to drastically reduce GHGs, or we will be thrust into irreversible warming of our planet. Most experts agree that if our planet’s temperature increases just 2 degrees Centigrade from pre-industrial levels, there will be catastrophic effects—complete loss of island countries, as well as severe droughts, flooding, and storms, just for starters. If some of this sounds familiar, it’s because we are already halfway to that two-degree mark, and we’re most likely careening toward a 3.6- to 5.3-degree Centigrade rise in average temperature by the end of this century. Some researchers believe that enough GHGs have already been emitted to cause atmospheric changes that will force us into continued short-term warming, regardless of a reduction in emissions.

In fact, the International Energy Agency has been quite clear about the window of opportunity for us to limit global warming, and that window closes at the end of year 2017 (IEA).

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Wrong Focus

To date, the attention at the previous eighteen COP conferences and all other high-level climate change meetings has been on reducing the burning of fossil fuels by the energy sector, which accounts for roughly 53 percent of all GHGs. (Energy accounts for 66 percent of global GHGs, and 80 percent of all energy consumption derives from fossil fuel). Many experts suggest elimination of coal, due to its lack of efficiency and large proportion of GHG contribution.

In 2006, a now widely cited U.N. study shocked the world by reporting that the livestock industry accounted for 18 percent of all human-induced GHG. Since that time, other researchers have found that this figure may be in excess of 51 percent, which would make it by far the most significant global contributor to climate change. This disparity (18 vs. 51 percent) was a result of at least three factors: underreporting and omission of key data, use of outdated figures, and likely editorial conceptual bias of that 2006 U.N. report (see Goodland & Anhang). Note that neither report (U.N. or Goodland & Anhang) accounted for the additional GHG and ecological damage contributed by the fishing industry—the fossil fuel used by fishing fleets, as well as the transportation, refrigeration, processing, and packaging of marine life that is extracted from our oceans or raised in aquaculture operations.

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In or out of COP conventions, discussions of our climate change plight typically end up sooner or later referencing one of two figures related to the maximum amount of GHG our atmosphere can accept before catastrophic effects mount:

  • The first figure, 350, refers to the parts per million density threshold of carbon-equivalent GHGs.
  • The second figure, 565, refers to the maximum total number of gigatons (Gt) of GHGs our atmosphere is able to absorb.

Livestock have been shown to produce up to 32 Gt per year (from methane and CO2 production, deforestation, etc.). So, it is possible that we could exceed our atmospheric maximum of 565 Gt by the year 2030, simply from the continued production and consumption of livestock—without the energy sector or any fossil fuel consumption (gas, oil, or coal) even factored into the equation.

While attention should surely be given to the energy, industry, and transportation sectors, certainly animal agriculture demands equal time in any COP or similar climate change conference. BP, Shell, and Exxon are significant players in our climate change saga, but so is every business associated with the meat, dairy, and fishing industries as well as the consumers who eat their products. And it is certainly easier for consumers to reach for plant-based food items than it is for them to go off the grid with their electrical needs or drive a wind-powered car.

Mitigation vs. Adaptation    get-attachment-12.aspx

Unable to construct a workable legal framework by which all countries are accountable, and faced with what they now see as worsening climate change inevitability, the delegates at Doha, Qatar (COP 18) turned to discussions of methods for “adapting” to climate change, rather than mitigating it. Discussions about the role of agriculture were conveniently postponed, as had occurred at all prior COP conventions, so frank dialogue addressing the elephant in the room—raising and eating animals—remains quite remote. The participants at recent COP conventions have had no difficulty calling for the elimination of coal and replacement of fossil fuels by alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. It’s time they consider calling for the same measures with animal products and concomitant agriculture industries. Indeed, the solution to the climate change caused by at least one of the three largest emitters of anthropogenic GHGs can be readily found by any of the high-level COP 19 attendees—they simply need to glance down at what’s on their dinner plates!

Prescription for Change     bookhardcover copy 

When looking at strategies for solving our increasing anthropogenic GHG-climate challenge, I believe we are faced with adopting one of two approaches here in the United States, which could then serve as an example for the rest of the world.

  • The first approach is to reduce our dependency on fossil fuel and fund research on alternative technologies, which is already underway. However, building renewable energy infrastructure such as solar and wind generators across our country to reduce climate change, although a good idea, is projected to take at least 20 more years and $18 trillion to develop. We don’t have 20 years, and we certainly don’t have $18 trillion.
  • So another solution to climate change would be to stop eating animals—today. It doesn’t have to take 20 years. And instead of $18 trillion, it costs nothing.

Replacement of all animal-based food products with plant-based alternatives is the clear immediate prescription for mitigating climate change.

Oh, and by doing so, we will also minimize our global footprint, essentially reducing nearly all other aspects of global depletion—land use inefficiencies and freshwater scarcity, damage to our oceans and loss of rainforests, rapid extinction of other species, world hunger, and escalation of chronic disease in humans.

Problems solved.

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The Blue Planet Prize: What does it mean in 2012?

ImageYesterday, it was announced that Drs. William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel will receive the Blue Planet Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious environmental awards, for their work in creating the Ecological Footprint—a tracking or measurement of the impact we have on our planet. Since 2003, Rees, Wackernagel and their Global Footprint Network have used a data-determined metric as a monitoring device tracking how sustainable (or unsustainable) we are living. Their group and global partners now span six continents and apply the impact of the Footprint to many projects. As of 2012, they report that humans are in overshoot mode because we are using the equivalent of more than 1.5 planets to provide the resources taken, and to absorb our GHG emissions. One of their goals is to “increase international media outreach to broaden our message.” The work of this group is remarkable, and can serve as an important tool as we assess and then correct the detrimental effects we impose on our planet. They are to be truly commended.

But knowing that we are in an overshoot, unsustainable mode and actually taking the right steps to correct this are two separate issues. It is how we can best use this tool that becomes the question. The Global Footprint Network make it perfectly clear that they are “not anti-trade, anti-technology, or anti-GDP.” They are informational based only and “make no judgment about the value of technologies” or “the benefits, disadvantages or fairness of trade.” As such, it is left up to our nations’ leaders, policy makers, business leaders, and individuals to first become aware of the information provided by the Ecological Footprint and then to create change—if sustainability is their goal. The Global Footprint Network has come to the same conclusions as many other organizations in that “climate change, deforestation, overgrazing, fisheries collapse, food insecurity and the rapid extinction of species are all part of a single, over-arching problem: humanity is simply demanding more from the Earth than it can provide.” However, as with other organizations, the Global Footprint Network stumbles with providing specific reasons and then a viable direction as to resolution—we need a clear pathway toward sustainability, not simply hearing recited observations that we are not there. Fundamental change is in order and it begins with conveying realities.

I can help with the clarification. This would be my approach: Our global demand to eat animals, without proper economic regard or reflection of resource use, has caused food production systems to become the largest contributing factor to our unsustainable Ecological Footprint. The raising, slaughtering, and consumption of animals—livestock, wild caught fish, and aquaculture—is the primary cause of Global Depletion. It is not a factory farm or “agribusiness” problem. It’s an eating animals problem. Our demand to eat animals is responsible for 30-51% of all anthropogenic ghg emissions and climate change, 80% of the deforestation of tropical rainforests, 100% of the overgrazing, 100% of the fisheries collapse, 100% of the food insecurity issues (with factors we can control), and at least 50% of the rapid extinction of terrestrial and oceanic species. This is what needs to be said.

So Drs. Rees and Wackernagel are quite right in stating that “climate change, deforestation, overgrazing, fisheries collapse, food insecurity and the rapid extinction of species are all part of a single, over-arching problem: humanity is simply demanding more from the Earth than it can provide.” They, and the world however, need to identify the reasons, spell out the fact that although there are other contributing factors, our food choices as they involve animals and animal products are the largest single issue. We need to use this valuable information to create change, not simply point our finger at a generality that a problem exists. Although specifying the major cause of our ecological overshoot appears to be difficult for everyone to do, it is actually the easiest to identify and correct—simply begin eating all plant-based foods. No animals. Now.

I encourage everyone to take the information Rees and Wackernagel have so skillfully assembled, assign the major causative factor for overshoot, make the change to a fully plant based diet and then inspire others to follow suit. We have the information. Let’s do something with it.

Dr. O

The World Hunger-Food Choice Connection: A Summary

ImageDuring many of my lectures, I have been asked to discuss world hunger as it relates to our food choices because it is a very serious and complicated issue. One billion people in the world suffer from hunger and six million children will die from starvation this year, as they did in 2011. The reality of these figures should be as startling to you as they are to me.

We all seem to have difficulty understanding how our choices, particularly regarding items we consume such as food, could possibly have an impact on something or someone elsewhere in the world. It is so very difficult to see, feel, or extend beyond the microcosm or bubble each of us finds ourselves living within. After all, if it is not directly in our sight, it must not real.

Although having many layers of complexity, to most observers the reason we have world hunger is because of poverty. While on its simplest level this is true, animal based food production systems are directly responsible for many factors affecting hunger, starvation—and even poverty, which then, cycles itself back to hunger.

This correlation between animal (livestock and fish) based food production systems and world hunger is, of course, fueled by the demand for these products and can be found in generalized global factors as well as on a very local basis or regionally within countries where hunger rates are high. Together, these two categories of factors (global and local) insidiously manifest themselves in many ways.

There are two primary groups of people suffering from this poverty-hunger cycle—about 33% are those living in more urban settings (this is the case with those found in the U.S. and other developed countries), while the other 2/3 are those in rural and more undeveloped nations. For both groups, the raising and eating animals (livestock and fish) by our global community ultimately affects food prices, food availability, policy making, and even education to improve agricultural systems in those developing countries. Global factors include control of seed manufacturing and pricing primarily for livestock feed crops by large companies such as Monsanto and DuPont (Pioneer), buying and selling of grain including futures by Archer Daniel Midland, Cargill and through the processing/slaughterhouses and packaging by Cargill, Swift, Tyson, and JBS. These few but very large and powerful companies control over 65% of all seed, grain, and over 80% of all final animal products in the world. It is a very monopolized production and economic system manufacturing seeds at one end and spewing out meat at the other. Because of the global demand for meat (all livestock), cultural, social, political, and economic influences remain strongly supportive of the continued dominance of these large companies and the meat, dairy, and fishing industries in general, which then drives how global resources are being used (land, water, rainforests, oceans, atmosphere, biodiversity, etc.), how money is spent, and how policies are determined. The demand for animal products in developed countries drives resource depletion in developing countries as well as exacerbating poverty and hunger.

Realize that 82% of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals that are then killed and eaten by more well off individuals in developed countries like the US, UK, and in Europe.  One fourth of all grain produced by third world countries is now given to livestock, in their own country and out.

Globally, even with climate change issues and weather extremes, we are producing enough grain to feed two times as many people as there are in the world. In 2011, there was a record harvest of grain globally, with over 2.5 billion tons, but half of that was fed to animals in the meat and dairy industries. Seventy seven percent of all coarse grains (corn, oats, sorghum, barley, etc.) and over 90% of all soy grown in the world was fed to livestock. So clearly the difficulty is not how can we produce enough food to feed the hungry, but where all the food we produce globally is going, in addition to the other factors of pricing, policy making, and education. This will certainly become more of an issue as our planet’s human population extends beyond 9 billion before the year 2050.

On a local basis, specific animal based agriculture simply perpetuates both poverty and hunger. This is true whether in urban, industrialized countries, which are affected by all those factors mentioned above, or in rural developing countries. As an example, in Ethiopia, over 60% of their population is considered hungry or starving, and yet they have 50 million cattle in that country (one of the largest herds in the world), unnecessarily consuming their food, land, and water. More than 2/3 of Ethiopia’s topsoil has been lost due to raising cattle. Many countries elsewhere in Africa and in the Amazonian region that suffer from hunger raise cattle inefficiently at the expense of their soil, localized climate, and other resources while producing a fraction of the food they could if converting to plant based foods. This is because of their  very powerful cultural factors to raise cattle as well as demand globally and by neighboring countries.

More than 66% of the world’s poorest people (those living on $2 or less per day) live in rural areas and rely on natural resources for their existence. Global demand and production of fish and livestock has reduced traditional fishing stocks and decimated coral reef systems for indigenous people living on coasts and islands, shriveled and segmented million year old forests. This will only exacerbate world poverty and hunger because while remote from those who consume animal products, it is the world of the indigenous and the very natural resources they have relied on for centuries.

So, how would conversion to plant-based, local agriculture systems change this? Hunger and poverty, in many cases, exist as a circling phenomenon, whereby one perpetuates the other. Addressing the hunger issue will help solve the poverty issue. It has been shown that growth in the agricultural sector of a developing nation is two times more effective than growth in any other area including economics. This is because in Africa and most other developing countries where there is poverty and hunger, over 75% of the working force is engaged in agriculture. Ethiopia has 95% of its income dependent upon agriculture. However, at the same time that agricultural growth is needed, it must be in organic plant based systems because this would be the most efficient use of their resources—many of which are already critically diminished such as water and land.

Instead of using their food, water, topsoil, and massive amounts of land, and energy to raise livestock, Ethiopia could for instance grow teff, an ancient and quite nutritious grain. Seventy percent of all their cattle are raised pastorally in the highlands of that country where less than 100 pounds of meat and a few gallons of milk are produced per acre of land used. If this land were used for the growing of teff, Ethiopians could produce over 2,000 pounds of food per one acre with no water irrigation. The end product could provide a much greater amount of much needed nutrients and even stimulate improved economics with business opportunities to sell teff (as well as many other types of produce) to other countries. Therefore, conversion to plant based food systems for local regions in developing countries would feed more people more nutritiously with more efficient use of their resources, improve long term soil fertility, create economic opportunities, all of which would provide a path toward breaking the poverty and hunger cycle.

Nearly all researchers on this topic could agree that while there are many complex layers of influences related to hunger and that war and repressive government regimes as well as climate extremes all play a role, the most significant are poverty, lack of natural resources and inefficient use of the resources they do have. And although other influences certainly may also play a role in poverty, the most significant and long-term factor that can be changed is with the development of new plant based organic agricultural systems and the education to do so. It is what we have the most control over, with the most profound impact. It must begin, though, with education and an example of this can be found in the Machakos district of south Kenya. This is a poor area economically as well as from a soil fertility standpoint and they are many times in the midst of an unstable, if not repressive, government. Nevertheless, a program was implemented teaching the women farmers, (more than 50% of the farmers in African countries are women) techniques such as erosion and rainwater control with terracing. They began focusing on organic, plant based foods instead of livestock or animal feed crops, and their yields improved by more than 50%, now using produce to feed more people and even creating business opportunities that are selling items such as green beans to other countries.

In developing countries elsewhere, organic plant based agricultural systems have been shown to improve yields by as much as 400%, with an average of 150%. While most researchers and organizations involved in the plight of nations suffering from hunger inherently feel that improved information technologies, increasing intensified livestock operations, and fostering the continuation of cultural practices are where energy and dollars should be spent, I can see many difficulties with that approach. Instead, I feel that the emphasis should be placed on education, redefining the word “yield” beyond short term consumptive gain, and providing guidance for the implementation of fully organic plant based agricultural systems. This is the best way to improve soil fertility for the future, provide the most nutritious food at the least cost to their environment, while opening the doors to economic opportunities—thus, “feeding themselves” and creating a food, economic, and environs security net despite what repressive forces may surround them or they may encounter.

We must remember that although climate change and extremes of water conditions from floods to droughts do obviously exist, much of the soil fertility issues that are faced by developing countries in Africa and elsewhere who have high rates of hunger and malnutrition are derived from how they have managed (or mismanaged) their own agricultural systems over the past 100 years. It would be difficult to blame any other reason than their use of livestock—their complete cultural dependence on cattle. In many areas of Africa, poorly managed cattle herds have caused severe overgrazing, deforestation, and then subsequent erosion and eventual desertification. On average, 1/2 to 2/3 of all the topsoil has been lost across the entire African continent with some areas experiencing complete topsoil loss.  Allocation of the 2.5 billion tons of grain produced globally to people instead of animals, elimination of livestock based agricultural systems globally and locally, education of all small stakeholders and governments in developing countries for furthering organic plant based systems, and of course increased global awareness of these issues and the development of a collective consciousness will help eradicate world hunger as well as many other concerns along the way.

The World Hunger Service and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations stated in 2011, regarding world hunger: “The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.”

And, therein lies the problem—explaining why there has been no progress. This statement vividly illustrates the quite narrowed, simplified view of the very institution that is leading efforts to solve world hunger.

Let’s do our part in reducing world hunger and poverty by increasing awareness about changing to a fully plant based diet. Let’s raise and mobilize the collective conscience. We can do this.

Inspire Awareness Now!

Meet Jane

ImageThis is a story about Jane, a cute, cuddly, trusting and innocent 10 month-old real life koala. It’s not so much about her life directly as it is about a major disconnect—and a necessary reconnect that I’ll begin to weave for you. Jane’s life has been affected by the food choices we make on a global basis. “How can that possibly be,” you would surely ask—after all, the food we eat comes from a grocery store or a restaurant.

Similar to its effect on many other species living on our planet, the beef you are eating today has a profound impact on Jane and other koalas in two ways. First, since the U.S. is the second largest importer of Australian beef in the world (following Japan), the meat you are eating may have actually come from Australia—part of the 200,000 tons ($1 billion worth) we import each year from their country. Second, even if the beef on your plate today is not directly from the grasslands of Australia, it is one of the building blocks of the meat and dairy industry that casts its ominous shadow over our planet. With every bite of beef you take, it is effectively stamping another vote of support and creating the demand for more and more livestock to be raised and slaughtered throughout the world. This then perpetuates Global Depletion (see the book, Comfortably Unaware) of our planet’s resources and creates substantial increases in risk factors for loss of our own health. As we continue to demand more meat, dairy, and fish products to eat in our country we are also closing our eyes to the true costs to produce those animal products—whether here in the U.S. or in other countries. Until we recognize the true value of the resources and health implications of eating animals, irreversible losses on many fronts will continue to occur. We need to impose an eco and health risk tax on all animal products that are produced, purchased from other countries (such as Australia), and sold to consumers who want to continue eating them. We need to make the entire chain of responsibility pay for the real cost of producing that food. Accountability needs to be established by affixing an appropriate economic value to animal products that reflects all resource (eco) cost during production and to us (health) after consumption, is long overdue and it should be translated into a mandatory tax. For instance, if the habitat and lives of koalas (or biodiversity anywhere on Earth) are lost by the production of an item consumed by humans, then that loss should be paid for by all those responsible.

As with nearly every other country in the world, Australia is a major cattle producer and consumer, expected to become one of the top beef producers and exporters in the world by the end of 2012 along with Brazil and the U.S. (among other things, we have the distinction of holding the #1 spot for beef production in the world in 2011). With the importing of over 2 million head of cattle and 800,000 tons of fresh beef and veal in 2011, the U.S. also has become the world’s second largest importer of beef, following only Russia.

Australia is considered a grass fed wonderland because most of their 200 million sheep and cattle raised annually are being pastured. Even so, Australia is seeing an increase in cattle going to feedlots and being “finished” on grain prior to slaughter, expecting this trend to grow to 31% of all cattle raised by the year 2020. In the U.S. there is heavy marketing and media coverage about grass fed/pastured livestock products, however, the USDA predicts our country will see a 4% increase this year (2012) in cattle that will be raised, or at least finished, on grain in feedlots instead of being 100% grass fed. This is largely due to the demand for grain fed meat by Mexico, the largest importer of U.S. grown beef, who favor the ‘marbled’ taste of grain fed cows and the obvious fact that grain fed cattle in confined (concentrated) feed operations are simply more efficient to produce and with much less land usage than in grass fed situations—which is still a few thousand times less efficient than using land to produce plant foods for us to consume.

As you drive the roads through any cattle district in Australia, you will see many, many cattle and sheep, a few kangaroos, and an occasional wallaby among other things. One sight that you will not see, though, is the one of miles and miles of corn or soybean feed crops as can be typically seen along any stretch of highway in the U.S. (especially in the Midwest). This is because cattle raised in Australia, do in fact, graze for most their lives—but it is with heavy land use and an irreversible toll on wildlife. The loss of biodiversity is blatant and measurable and, unfortunately, it is with an apathetic view.

Among the many livestock operations I am visiting in Australia, there is a region in Gippsland, Victoria that represents one of those very few areas in the world where resources such as water, land, and even their climate are considered ideal for ‘sustainably’ raising livestock. Streams and spring water are abundant and pasture can grow year round, so it has become a prime location for grass fed livestock operations such as cattle, pigs, sheep, and even goats. It is also Australia’s premier area for grass fed dairy operations. The trend seen in Gippsland and across Australia is to produce smaller cows and in less time by keeping them milking at their mother’s side in pastures and then letting them grass feed until 10 to 11 months of age and slaughtering them at an average weight of 265 kg (583 pounds). This method is, of course, fueled by demand—in this case, by Japan and the U.S. for meat from smaller, younger cattle. Interestingly, from a land use standpoint, this method of “sustainable” agriculture occurring in the most favorable conditions in Australia, and perhaps in the world, still uses minimally 2.5 acres to raise just one cow. When it is all said and done, that one cow will provide 300 pounds of meat, which results in 120 pounds per one acre of land used in one year. For reference, an organic vegetable farm, just down the road from these livestock operations in Gippsland, produces on average 5,000 to 10,000 pounds per one acre of food such as tomatoes, fast growing greens, and herbs, that are infinitely healthier for us to consume.

Although throughout Australia, the total number of farms has decreased, the size of an average farm (by “size,” I am referring to the number of livestock raised as well as acreage of land) is increasing, similar to what is occurring in the U.S. However, cattle farm operations in Gippsland remain smaller, averaging 50 to 500 head of cattle per farm and they adhere strongly to ‘grass fed/pastured’ philosophies of operational methodology and marketing protocols.

The concept of ‘humane’ is largely relegated to disease reduction in livestock, with all governmental agencies such as the Department of Primary Industries, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), Australia Department of Agriculture and Food, etc. being more concerned about the quality of meat as the end product than the true physical, mental, and emotional state of an animal. For example, the very small section allocated to the welfare of animals raised for food that can be found in Western Australia’s Animal Welfare Regulations for the Pig Industry (adopted from the Australia Department of Agriculture and Food) states that the floor space in a stall for a sow should “not be less than 0.6 meter wide by 2.2 meters long” and that a sow with piglets should “not be confined for more than 6 weeks at a time in a farrowing pen less than 5.6 square meters.” This means that a sow can have the luxury of being confined to a space 23 inches wide by 6 feet long without being ‘inhumane’ and if with piglets, can be kept up to one and a half months, without being let out, in a pen 6 feet by 9 feet with its 10-12 piglets. Try that yourself sometime (with or without piglets) and then revisit this definition of ‘humane.’ Also, there are minimal enforceable measures.  This year (2012), the MLA voiced weak concern about the method of slaughter for their transported sheep ending up in the Middle East (99% of all exported sheep from Australia end up in Middle Eastern countries). With this small exception, there is a conspicuous lack of concern or regulation about the need for humane transport and humane slaughter of any livestock—knowing, of course, that there is ultimately no ‘humane’ method for us to slaughter another living thing.

As I pointed out earlier, Australia is among the largest producers and exporters of beef. This, of course, is at the expense of the health of their country—loss and inefficient use of their resources and the declining health of their citizens.

Although beef consumption is slightly declining within our own U.S. population, we are the second largest importer of beef from Australia, which is contributing to deforestation and loss of biodiversity in that country. Grazing livestock currently use over one billion acres of land in Australia, or more than 56% of the entire land mass of this country (http://www.anra.gov.au/topics/land/landuse/index.html) The rate of deforestation in Australia is increasing as quickly as anywhere else in the world with 600,000 acres lost in 2011. The majority of this forest destruction is in areas where koalas live, or once lived, therefore the world demand for beef equates into more land needed to raise cattle which results in forest loss, turning this land into pastures, which destroys the natural habitat of koalas—it’s all connected.

Hence, Jane’s family and thousands of other koalas are killed yearly primarily from direct habitat loss but also indirectly when they are hit by cars and attacked by dogs while moving on the ground in search of eucalyptus trees that were cut down in order to raise cattle. Jane is left orphaned, ending up in a remote sanctuary fighting to regain her health and parameters of life that had gone fairly undisturbed for the previous 25 million years and yet taken away in a matter of minutes by an invisible, insidious force called food choice. Jane represents species everywhere on our planet that are being devastated by livestock operations that are fueled by our demand to eat animals.

We need to think about Jane when you see beef or any other form of animal product that is considered ‘food’ for us to consume. Whether it has come directly from Australia or any other country, plucked out of our oceans, or even raised in your own back yard—meat is not ‘food’; it is a destructive human induced process.  Ask Jane.  Image

The Barriers We Confront

ImageInfrequently, I will receive an email that I feel is so far beyond comment that it should be discarded as merely written by detractors. But, it is this very type of correspondence that reminds me of the daunting task at hand, because similar to the person who contacted me with the email below, the vast majority of individuals in the world today have at least some barrier which impedes them from becoming aware and adopting the healthiest dietary regimen—consuming only plant based foods.

First let’s look at his comments posted on our Comfortably Unaware Facebook page as well as on my blog site:

John Wadford RD/PHD commented on Not Entirely Perfect in “The Land of Oz”.

“Actually Dairy and meat are healthy for us and not bad. Moderation is the key because if you over-eat thats when you get obese. No diseases are linked to meat or animal products. Thats a vegan lie and myth. Quit being a liar and saying meat and animal products are bad. I have taken numerous nutrition courses and I know whats good and bad. Limit carbs and junk food and fast food. You will be fine. Eat red meat twice a week and other days eat lean chicken and fish. Been proven very healthy. Eat veggies and fruits as sides/snacks.”

And my response:

I am pleased to see your correspondence, Dr. Wadford, because it brings to light interrelated issues for me along this journey. One is just how difficult my mission can be while disseminating information about the reality of our food choices. With your comments, we are witnessing a seemingly intelligent, learned individual such as yourself (“RD, PhD”), who somehow has missed the boat with the thousands of peer reviewed articles, studies, findings, and conclusions of scientists worldwide for the past 40 years as well as the position statements of every health organization in the world today that now recognize the benefits of a plant based diet.

Since you are an RD, and assuming that refers to a Registered Dietician (having, as you stated, “taken numerous nutrition courses” and “know what’s good and bad”), I thought I would provide you with the Position Statement of the American Dietetic Association, the governing body for licensing of at least one of your credentials, copied from their Journal published three years ago. This Position Statement is essentially the same statement they had initially made six years earlier that I’m sure you have seen, and one that every RD should certainly already be familiar with:

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Vegetarian diets are often associated with a number of health advantages, including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels, and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower overall cancer rates. Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals. These nutritional differences may explain some of the health advantages of those following a varied, balanced vegetarian diet. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. A vegetarian diet is defined as one that does not include meat (including fowl) or seafood, or products containing those foods.” J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109:1266-1282.

Some of the many obvious questions and suggestions that arise for me following the reading of your comments are (with an honest attempt at subduing any sarcasm):

  1.  What educational institutions were you attending and what subjects were you studying to have information such as found in the above Position Statement overlooked?
  2.  It seems that before you would accuse a researcher such as me, as a “liar” and “spreading vegan myths”, and you make rash and blatantly false statements such as “no diseases are linked to meat or animal products” you should do some homework on the updated subject (although even in Plato’s era 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, it was known that eating only plant based foods was much healthier than the raising and killing of animals for their ‘Republic’).
  3.  Your comment to “eat red meat twice a week and other days eat lean chicken and fish. You’ll be fine. Been proven very healthy”, indicates to me that you and those with similar thoughts need to rethink how you are approaching your own eating habits let alone those of others, and make a solid attempt at enlightening yourselves to the origins of your food choices—and the ill effects on our planet, animals, and ourselves. This will obviously require a serious reconstructing of those factors that influence you and your decision-making—all those cultural or emotional hurdles that haven’t allowed you to see clearly or be open to what is in front of you (ie. reread the Oz blog now and try to view it more correctly as reality instead of propaganda and you will learn something valuable and meaningful).
  4.  Remember that it is not just human health that I am concerned about and therefore am conveying—it is the health of our planet, our resources, and all life we share this Earth with as well.

Even the overtly sluggish and highly political USDA has had to succumb to the preponderance of evidence of the many health benefits of a purely plant based diet. On June 2, 2011, they introduced a version of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine’s vegan dietary guidelines with the Food Plate—leaving “dairy” off the plate, demoted to a small peripheral position, and completely replacing “meat and seafood” with the section called “protein” which more appropriately guides U.S. citizens toward healthier plant based alternatives.

Remember, Dr. Wadford, that the evidence had to be so overwhelming for the USDA to ignore its strong political ties to the meat, dairy, and fishing industries in order to recommend this new plant based food plate.

Yet, somewhere along the way, you and all other like minded registered dieticians, physicians, educators, authors, politicians, organizations, media, and general public have allowed some other form of influence—most likely cultural, social, and psychological—to suppress the overwhelming abundance of facts and findings that from a human health standpoint, eating animal products carries with it a significant risk of contracting any or all of the four most common diseases in our country (coronary heart disease, malignancies, cerebrovascular disease, and diabetes) as well as any one of the five most common cancers (colon, lung, breast, pancreatic, and prostate) as well as numerous other disease states and precursors such as hypertension and obesity.  Once again, this is not my opinion—it reflects the findings and opinions of every major health organization in the world.

The blog I posted about Dr. Oz that elicited your comments also made it clear that even if eating animals were healthy for us (which, obviously is a myth), it is not healthy at all for our environment—grass fed/pastured or not. It is also not healthy for the other species of living things lost along the way (livestock are implicated in over 50% of all lost biodiversity including 30,000 newly extinct animal species per year) or for the animals raised in the process.  Even if livestock are raised “humanely,” they are still slaughtered—which, for all but the anthropocentric, could only be considered entirely inhumane if not barbaric.

Since there are very few who understand the argument of how our demand to eat animals—whether in factory farm settings or not—adversely impacts our planet, it becomes more of the focal point of my lectures, blogs, and books. I happen to call it Global Depletion, but it is essentially about sustainability. Eating animals is simply not sustainable. I have recently introduced and am now advocating use of the term relative sustainability because raising, slaughtering, and eating billions animals factually uses resources, some irreversibly, that we can ill afford to lose—and there are many plant based options that are much kinder to our planet. So while I pointed out that Dr. Oz needs to reevaluate his advocating beef and fish from a human health standpoint, it was also from an ecological point of view that he has never favorably or correctly positioned in the equation. All the facts and figures related to Global Depletion can be found in my first book, Comfortably Unaware and in my lectures, found at www.ComfortablyUnaware.com, –which, once more, are factual reflections of the state of our planet—not simply my opinion.

And lastly to what can be seen as your lack of understanding or appreciation for the overall intent of the Dr. Oz blog, as being one component of the larger picture of my incentive to increase awareness. My objective with that particular blog and in general is quite simple—to provide a healthier and more peaceful food choice path for everyone. It is not about creating arguments or debates. However, it is also not about supporting an archaic animal based food production system purely because of universally found and culturally influenced myopia. Quite simply, eating animals IN ANY FASHION uses too much land, energy, and water, creates unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, is responsible for a massive loss of biodiversity, plays a significant role in world hunger, and justifies the inhumane slaughtering of billions of animals annually—all while increasing the risk of contracting many disease states after consumption. This is not about generating debates where one faction is ill informed and emotionally driven, it’s about perpetuating a better way for all of us, including you, to eat and live.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to further assess the barriers we confront while inspiring others to become aware.

Dr. O

Be Aware the Myth #1

ImageOccasionally, I will encounter individuals who have difficulty comprehending the concepts and facts about food choice that I relate in my lectures and book, or perhaps even question my intent. This is normal, in that I am presenting perspectives that are in direct conflict with what 98% of the world has mistakenly learned to accept as truth regarding this topic.  Unfortunately, these are the very same individuals who are wrapped in a complex and substantial layering of influences—cultural, social, psychological, economic, and political. These individuals are collectively consuming massive amounts of our planet’s resources while raising and slaughtering billions of livestock and fish, and thus are the primary contributors to Global Depletion.  We need to change that.

If you grew up being told by your family, and later on by society, that blood letting would cure an infection (which was the case for nearly two thousand years until the late nineteenth century), the chances are quite high that you would not understand or believe a person who came along trying to explain to the masses that a simple antibiotic pill would cure you—while blood letting may, on the other hand, kill you. How could that be?

It’s time I address all those believers in blood letting that I have encountered or will encounter, by responding directly to one of the more recent communications we have received below. The subtopic is about grass fed livestock, however his remarks and tone strike a bit deeper, displaying perpetuated belief systems that tend to foster barriers to finding reality, combined with a pronounced reluctance to change—all too commonly found in our global society.

The following is from “Tom”, as posted on You Tube and our Comfortably Unaware Facebook page and copied for you to see below:

“This isn’t a lecture, it’s a sermon. No facts just a totally disorganized clinging to his uninformed biased self-evident beliefs. Livestock’s Long Shadow didn’t address pasture raised beef at all but focused on modern conventional industrialized chemically fertilized feed crop production that raised animals in CAFOs, the total opposite of pasture raised operations that sequester tons of carbon on pasture every year. His example of raising a cow on 2-20 acres assumes that the cow is on a lot.”

And, my response:

Tom, I am truly sorry you feel that way, having essentially missed the entire central theme of my lecture, book, and message. It is NOT about the 2006 United Nations L.E.A.D. Committee’s report, Livestock’s Long Shadow (which actually did account for grazing livestock, but underestimated their methane and respiratory carbon dioxide production and therefore minimized their contribution to global anthropometric greenhouse gas emissions). My message is about the foods we choose to eat and the effect is has on Global Depletion. It’s about aspects I have uncovered over the past 40 years researching this subject, beginning with the fact that our planet is unhealthy and so are we. My intent is to simply relate these facts to audiences in order to increase awareness, which will ultimately lead to better health. For better context, please see a full lecture at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drS5hHdelR8&feature=related

And, then, perhaps listen more carefully to the one section “The Myth About Grass Fed Beef: Is it Sustainable” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoqHmd32XxI&feature=channel_video_title or read my book, “Comfortably Unaware.”

Global Depletion is a term I use to describe the loss of our primary resources on Earth as well as our own health due to food choice. It’s still about sustainability, just from a different direction. The single largest contributor to Global Depletion is the raising, slaughtering, and eating of animals—over 70 billion livestock animals and 1-2 trillion fish (some researchers have estimated as many as 1.7 trillion chickens are raised and slaughtered in one year). I speak and write about how eating animals is negatively, and in many cases irreversibly, impacting world hunger, water scarcity, agricultural land use inefficiencies, loss of biodiversity, loss of our own health, and the ravaging of our oceans and fish. This stark reality is well documented by numerous organizations and researchers. Scientific literature is now replete with articles in each area I discuss, and easily accessible for those who wish to open their minds or take the time to hear it.

Regarding the grass fed argument of yours and other individuals, I have researched and visited over 150 various grass fed/pastured animal operations in the U.S. and many other countries. The numbers are always quite consistent, in that you cannot raise one grass fed cow on less than 2 to 20 acres. Even Polyface Farms and agriculture educational institutions with their “mob grazing” and “juvenile growth rotation” techniques cannot extract more than one cow per acre of land, which then produces not more than 480 pounds of an end product (“edible carcass weight”), that some consider food. During the 2 to 2 ½ or even 3 years required to raise that cow, you will need minimally 20,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of water (20,000 gallons for drinking and up to 1 to 2 million gallons for irrigating portions of your pasture which is necessary in many areas of the world), and you will have produced 3 to 4 tons of methane and carbon dioxide by way of enteric fermentation and respiration. After consuming this end animal product, you have created for yourself a 20-30% increased risk of contracting coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, any of the five most common cancers (colon, lung, breast, prostate, pancreatic and many more), diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, kidney and gall stones, diverticulosis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and many more diseases. This risk is from eating animal products and animal protein, which does not change if it is grass fed.

These reflections are not my “beliefs”, as you charged. Sadly, they are quite factual. Nearly one thousand researchers have found similar conclusions— independent of each other.

If you are defining a person who relates facts, as one who provides a “sermon”, then fine, my lecture must be a sermon.

And, finally, the only “self evident beliefs” I am guilty of conveying are the following:

  1. that all the damage we are doing to our planet by way of eating animals will end
  2. that people such as yourself, as improbable as it may seem, will ultimately become aware

I certainly appreciate your comments and providing me the opportunity to respond, as we collectively move forward, evolving toward a healthier and more peaceful planet. Dr. O

Just Let Them Live: the simple fallacy of omega 3s

We continue eating fish and exploiting sea life for many reasons. Along with strong cultural and societal influences, the recent impetus has been for their omega 3 content. We all know that these essential fatty acids are very important (referred to as “essential” because they are necessary for proper functioning of various cells, organs, and systems and our bodies are unable to produce them, therefore having to be obtained from our diet). However, it is how and from where we obtain them that are even more important. For instance, a 3 oz. serving of unsustainable Cod as a source provides 150-200 mg. of omega 3s, whereas one tablespoon of very sustainable Chia seeds provides over 2,000mg of omega 3s. Some of you may want me to discuss conversion ratios of alpha linolenic acid (ALA, the type of omega 3 found in plants) to DHA and EPA (the two primary forms of omega 3 found in fish), and that’s fine because the numbers are still there. And, what about flax seeds with 1,200 mg per tablespoon, walnuts, or hemp? All are exceptional sources of omega 3s as well.

If you view this with a different but more accurate perspective, we all need to understand that no fish actually has omega 3 fatty acids themselves. And, therein lies the fallacy.

Not one fish produces omega 3s on their own.  Omega 3 fatty acids are found in microalgae or plants, which every fish has to eat in order to obtain them. Or, they need to eat other smaller fish that have consumed microalgae along the way.

So, in addition to finding omega 3s in plants, why don’t we just start going right to the source ourselves? My thought is that all those concerned should eat microalgae, like spirulina or chlorella, and skip right past fish and the ecological baggage that comes with producing and harvesting them, and bypass the health issues with consuming them. Just let them live.

Ninety seven percent of the world’s population eats fish. And, if you eat fish primarily because it’s healthy for you, then perhaps you should take a closer look at just what those health benefits are. Every fish you eat has saturated fat and cholesterol. Also, no fish has phytonutrients or fiber. Both are some of the most beneficial substances you could consume. Phytonutrients are those substances that will improve your immune system, reduce the likelihood you’ll develop cancer, and provide you with anti-inflammatory properties. All of these properties are extremely important and can be found only in plants. Thus far, we are not doing so well with the “healthy” aspect of fish are we? Fish higher up on the food chain, such as tuna, and those living the longest will have a large probability of containing higher levels of heavy metals, dioxin, and PCB contamination. And all fish caught anywhere in our oceans will contribute to bykill and the loss of interdependent and poorly understood ecosystems. But there are those omega 3s everyone is talking about, aren’t there? Remember though, you can get them from plants.

Forty seven percent of all fish consumed in the world today come from aquaculture (fish farms), which are growing faster than any other food sector. All fish grown on fish farms need artificial supplementation to obtain omega 3s. Typically, these factory farmed fish require a diet of fish meal, fish oil, and whole fish that were taken out of our already heavily depleted oceans in order for them to achieve appreciable amounts of both DHA and EPA. In fact, 87% of all fish oil and 53% of all fish oil produced in the world is fed to factory-farmed fish.

What about omega 6’s or 9’s? Do you need these? Omega 6, Linoleic Acid (LA), is an essential fatty acid as well—you need it, but in less amounts than what the typical person in our country is consuming. The healthy ratio of omega 6 fatty acid intake to omega 3 fatty acid is 4 to 1. But our current average intake is in a ratio of nearly 20 to 1, because of all the various foods we consume that have been made with heavy amounts of canola, corn, and other types of vegetable oils, and processing which tend to contain large amounts of omega 6 fatty acids. Linoleic acid is an upregulator of inflammation. Your body does need LA but not in such large amounts and not so imbalanced. That’s where omega 3s come in—which are down regulators of inflammation. Meaning, they suppress inflammation. So omega 3s help reduce your likelihood of developing chronic diseases of inflammation such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, etc. But always keep in mind that any animal products you eat actually contribute to the development of these diseases so rather than an over focus on intake of omega 3s you should be first looking at reducing intake of inflammation promoting products derived from animals. Meaning all animals—livestock, chickens, and fish.

Omega 9, or oleic acid such as found in olive oil, is another important fatty acid but your body can produce it from other unsaturated fatty acids so it is not considered essential. It’s also interesting to note that olive oil’s well documented healing properties and health benefits are from its high amount of polyphenols (antioxidants) from the olive plant itself—not from the fatty acid or oil content directly.

Here are some additional insights. When you consume alpha linolenic acid (from chia, flax, hemp, walnuts, green leafy vegetables, etc.), your body converts it to DHA and EPA at a rate of 1-9%, but 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines has recommendations of ALA at 1.1-1.6 g/day because your brain only needs 3.8 mg and your body can store and assimilate DHA/EPA (converted from ALA or otherwise) for up to 2 yrs—with a half life of two to five years. And, once again, there are over 2 grams (2,000 mg) of omega 3s from ALA in just one tablespoon of chia seeds. Omega 6 (LA) competes with conversion of ALA to DHA/EPA if omega 6 to omega 3 intake ratios are more than 4:1, therefore impeding your body’s ability to assimilate and use omega 3. Minerals such as zinc, selenium, magnesium as well as all vitamin Bs, and C also help with absorption of omega 3s from plants.

If you do skip fish and go right to the source, you could eat microalgae such as spirulina—used by the Aztecs and in Chad dating back to the 9th century. Spirulina has omega 3s in the form of DHA, EPA, and ALA, numerous phytonutrients like beta carotene and a complete amino acid profile with low amounts of methionine and cysteine (two amino acids found in all animal products that contribute to various disease states). Spirulina has shown to have strong anti-inflammatory effects, cardiovascular benefits, and has even demonstrated to slow the progression of HIV by inhibiting replication. For those concerned about protein—ounce for ounce, spirulina has four times more protein than fish, chicken, pork, or beef. It is also a source of vitamin B12 and is easily digested. It is one of the richest, most nutrient dense of all whole foods with over 2000 enzymes and phytonutrients. In terms of global growing applications and with respect to the potential for global depletion, spirulina can produce up to 1500 times more protein per acre than beef and it grows in both salt and fresh water.

Chlorella is another great choice for omega 3s, providing two to three times as much protein as fish or other animal products with all essential amino acids, vitamin B12, and many other vitamins and minerals.

The average American eats 16 pounds of fish per year but the 2010 USDA Guidelines recommends doubling the amount of seafood we eat because of “health benefits”. Health benefits to us? To our planet? To the fishing industry? Our country consumed 5 billion pounds of seafood in 2010. Perhaps it would make sense for the USDA to inform consumers of all the health benefits of eating plant based foods, the many and significant advantages these foods have over eating fish, and emphasize the continued global depletion that occurs with every bite of fish that we take. It also, then, would make sense for all influential organizations and our media to spend at least the same amount of time disseminating the reality of the negative effects of our choice to eat fish as is spent on them being a source of omega 3s. Everyone needs to know the full impact eating fish has on the health of our planet and on our own health. It is time to become aware. Instead of mass producing, harvesting, catching, killing and eating fish—just let them live.