Category Archives: beef export

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!

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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