Tag Archives: endangered species

Biodiversity and Food Choice: A Clarification

ImageThere needs to be a correction, and also modification of a particular concept, to the recently published article I had written for the North American Vegetarian Society (“Meat: no longer just a factory farm issue” in Vegetarian Voice 2012) regarding biodiversity loss. The “30,000 per year” extinction or loss of species statement I made is actually referring to species of animals, plants, insects—not simply animals (although the “animal” kingdom technically includes insects). This figure was first brought to light by Harvard naturalist and emeritus professor of biology, Edward Wilson (The Diversity of Life, Harvard University Press 1992) and supported by Niles Eldridge (Life in the Balance, Princeton University Press 1998). Others such as Georgina Mace, Paul Ehrlich have extinction estimates as high as 70,000 to 130,000 species per year (7,000 to 13,000 times the background rate).

After speaking with and interviewing numerous researchers with the Species Survival Commission of IUCN (The World Conservation Union) and COBD (The Convention on Biological Diversity), about this topic over the past four months, I now feel there are many uncertainties surrounding attempts at quantifying the exact number of species becoming extinct per year. For this reason, it is more meaningful to view our planet’s current loss of species and the impact of our food choices in the following manner:

  1. We are losing species of life as well as ecosystems on Earth at an unprecedented and alarming rate, estimated to be anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000 times the “background rate”—that which had been seen for the previous several thousands of years. Therefore, it is this massive rate of extinction rather than number of loss that becomes a more meaningful metric and cause for concern.
  2. It is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately predict the number of species loss per year because of a number of factors. One of the largest unknowns is the exact amount of species that we have on earth, which is a needed component when attempting to determine total numbers of species loss when using an extinction prediction equation. This is one of the reasons the Species Area Curve Relationship method of extinction calculation has led to speculation and wide ranges of numbers of extinct species. It is the feeling of most researchers today that although we have identified approximately 1.8 million species on our planet, there are most likely between 10 and 30 million that exist.
  3. Regardless of the exact number of species becoming extinct per year, it is alarming at best and can be most attributed to loss of habitat—and the predicted future escalation will be due to habitat loss combined with climate change.
  4. With estimates of 45% of all the land mass on Earth used by animal agriculture and 1 to 2 trillion fish extracted from our oceans each year (by fishing methods such as trawling, purse seine, long lines, explosives and other techniques that are damaging ecosystems)—eating animals (fishing and livestock production) is the largest contributing factor in habitat loss and constitutes the second largest sector implicated in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions which lead to climate change.

There has been widespread thought that marine species were more resilient to extinction and our further exploitation. However, there is finally a growing amount of evidence that fish and wildlife in our oceans are as, or more, vulnerable to extinction than many terrestrial and freshwater species. Despite continued massive harvesting of sea life from our oceans, it is generally agreed upon by researchers not affiliated with sustainable certifying organizations that the amount and distribution of threatened marine species is, at best, “poorly known.” Our demand to eat fish cannot be taken out of the equation when discussing our abuse of natural resources, eventual loss of species, and climate change.

Habitat loss is far and away the most pervasive threat to terrestrial animal species, impacting 86% of all mammals, 88% of amphibians, and 86% of all birds. One in every eight birds, one in every three amphibians and one in every four mammals is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the near future. Overexploitation of animals for consumption remains a second major factor for extinction such as can be seen in wild meat trade in Africa and Southeast Asia and all hunting endeavors on land, globally.

Current biodiversity assessments (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, IUCN Red List, and the Global Environmental and Biodiversity Outlook) now generally agree that land use change, modification of river flow, freshwater pollution, and exploitation of marine environments are the most significant drivers of biodiversity change and loss of species. Eventually, ocean acidification and climate change will become increasingly important. With overharvesting sea life in our oceans and raising livestock on land (grazing or CAFOs), our demand to eat animals and animal products remains the largest contributing anthropogenic factor to those accepted drivers of loss of species on Earth.

Let’s eat plants, not animals, and inspire others to do the same. Dr. O

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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

Bizarre Foods, Andrew Zimmern, and the Head of a Octopus

ImageKnowing I would have never seen it otherwise, someone asked me to watch an episode of Bizarre Foods, the wildly popular program hosted by Andrew Zimmern, whose professed creed is “if it looks good, eat it”—leaving one to wonder what his definition of “looks good” could possibly be based on.  In any event, this is what I observed from that episode:

Andrew begins by walking into a crowded, noisy restaurant in Japan sitting down between two people on a stool at a counter—behind which, the cooking is accomplished for all to see. Zimmern states that this is why he “loves restaurants in Japan” because of “their noise and also freshness of seafood.” The camera then, on cue from the “freshness” comment, turns to capture the chef pulling an octopus out of a pan on the floor. The octopus was, of course, very “fresh” and very alive as it gracefully and purposefully moved the tips of its eight legs, gently up and down the chef’s hands and arms as the animal tried to assimilate textures, colors, and temperatures, attempting to make sense out of its new surroundings. That’s what octopuses (or octopi) do. They are quite intelligent beings with a large cognitive brain and complex sensory input mechanisms that researchers have recently found to be able to problem solve. They can gather information, process it, and then implement well thought out functions. Female octopuses are very sensitive with a strong maternal instinct—so strong that they mandatorily give up their life in the process of having offspring and protecting them after birth.

The Bizarre Foods’ camera crew then moved back to Zimmern. The person sitting in the next stool put her hand on his baldhead and said “the octopus has a head like yours”, referring to Zimmern’s shiny, hairless scalp. A good laugh ensued while the camera focused on the chef pushing the octopus down with both his hands into a pot of boiling oil over a red-hot burner in order to kill and cook the poor unsuspecting octopus.

We weren’t allowed to see how the octopus reacted to being held in oil as it was being boiled to death—portions to be then later served for Zimmern to eat.  Imagine, for just a moment, what that octopus must have experienced as it went from attempting to carefully feel, see, interpret, and adapt to the chef’s hands with the thousands of sensory receptors on its legs—sending those inputs to an intelligent and quickly processing brain—to the next moment of being forcefully held in boiling oil, scalded to death. Actually, you can’t really imagine it, because you are not an octopus.

Although we are still learning about octopuses, (while killing 2.5 million tons of them and other cephalopods such as squid each year) it is has been quite well established that they are very sentient beings that feel and think in ways we do not understand. It can also be said that like all animals, octopuses only eat what they need to in order to survive. They kill only because they NEED to and without knowing that they are inflicting pain or suffering on any other living thing—quite unlike Andrew Zimmern and 98% of all other humans on this planet who kill because they WANT to kill, and then eat whatever it was that they just killed. All this, for no nutritional reason (there are many plant based foods that are infinitely healthier for us to consume). So, no, the person sitting next to Zimmern was not correct with her comment to him. The octopus does NOT have a “head” like his.

More About the Octopus:

The common octopus (vulgaris) is found in many oceans worldwide. Although found frequently in numerous sushi restaurants in the United States and elsewhere in the world, it would be rare to know exactly what species you are eating.  All octopus species are suffering from overfishing, especially in the fisheries of Mauritania, Vietnam, and Japan. All researchers agree that octopus is a poorly understood species with no fishery management and dwindling numbers. They are also caught in large numbers as bykill with long line and other fishing methods.

The majority of octopuses are caught by bottom trawling techniques, where (in addition to loss of octopus species) further damage is done to sea beds, other species, and interdependent ecosystems. Although little is known about octopus, much is known about the detrimental impact that bottom trawling inflicts on delicate and sensitive seafloor habitats. Isn’t that a curious but commonly seen combination of factors regarding what we decide to eat as a global society—we know very little about the species we are killing, knowingly ruin ecosystems and other wildlife in the process, in order to consume something we call food. This “food” though, is in reality, vastly inferior to plants that we could be eating, from a nutritional standpoint. The highly respected Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (MBASW) places a “Good Alternative” recommendation for octopus, especially if they are captured from Hawaii or the Gulf of California, despite admitting in their Summary that octopus, “suffer from a lack of solid information and little or no fishery management.”

Given that this statement is accurate, it becomes just another frustrating example of the dichotomy created by guiding institutions that we consider to be leaders.

I am still waiting for the proper management of information to be accomplished and then disseminated by those in positions of informational power such as MBASW. Something along these lines would be nice to hear: “As with all sealife and consistent with other researchers, we at Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch admit to knowing very little about the octopus or the effects of our attempts at capturing them have on all the ecosystems and habitats involved. Therefore it is our humble opinion that we should stop all harvesting activities of octopus and any methods of fishing that affect them or their habitat such as trawling and long line operations that find them as bykill. Of course these fishing activities in pursuit of octopus are propelled by, and begin with, our demand to eat them—so it is our strong recommendation that the ordering and consumption of octopus ends.”

Yes, wouldn’t that be nice. And, appropriate.

More About Andrew Zimmern:

I need to somewhat apologize if this blog seems to weigh too heavily on the animal rights or animal sensitivity theme and if it appears to be too harsh towards Zimmern. However, he and his show are manifestations of our generalized lack of awareness and greater lack of compassion. This is more than worrisome to me. It’s time we convey the true sad state of our media—who it is that is awarded platforms and what they have to say about the food we eat. It is critical that we speak out about this imbalance of public information.

Zimmern is an award winning monthly columnist for magazines, a journalist with numerous national and international publications, spokesperson for large corporations, an acclaimed author of many books, and now has a highly popular television program for which he is the producer, writer, and host. In 2010, Zimmern even won the prestigious James Beard Award for ‘Outstanding Television Food Personality.’

With all those accolades comes the stark realization that we are a society of skewed virtues and archaic behavior, if not a collective intellectual void. I am struggling to find other ways to describe this.

Zimmern’s pilot show on November 1, 2006 (the ‘test’ show where it is either accepted as a potential hit or quickly discarded as another flop) was a solid indicator of what was to come. That first show highlighted Zimmern eating what he and the indigenous people considered ‘food’ from Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand. He proceeded to eat fish bladder, turtle (most likely an endangered species), frog ovary, and even the beating heart of a frog –sashimi (fresh). He revealed all of this in a positive, enthusiastically supportive manner as he does in all of his subsequent shows because this very first one was so successful, it served as the catalyst. In the next two episodes, Zimmern showed his growing audience how acceptable and enjoyable it was to eat lamb tongue and eye, soup made from a bull’s rectum and testicles, a pie made of pigeons, a calf’s brain and a cow’s heart, stuffed pig pancreas, more frog, and even balut—a duck embryo (pre hatched chick) that was boiled alive in its shell. Somewhere buried in each of these segments, he will throw in a brief comment about a unique fruit. For instance in the first three full episodes, he spent a conciliatory minute or so introducing the calamondin and durian.

I am writing this in complete amazement, utter disbelief, and true embarrassment of how we as a society can place this person and his work in such high esteem for not merely perpetuating, but essentially sensationalizing the gruesome, medieval act of torturing, slaughtering, and eating creatures that, if they had a choice, would certainly run, fly, or swim in the other direction—away from this predator. But, it is not Zimmern who is at fault here for doing anything wrong, it is clearly us. We are the ones condoning this and that are more interested in seeing the “bizarre” as it relates to killing and eating animals or body parts of animals than we are in perhaps learning about bizarre or unusual plants—plants that are not only unique (‘bizarre’) but also that are healthy to our planet or to us. Why can’t we be interested in hearing about plants such as the sacha inchi seed or acai berry that can be grown in the rainforests sustainably and provide some of the most powerful phytonutrients and healthy micronutrients found in the world, or how teff an ancient grain from the highlands of Ethiopia might be grown to help reduce world hunger and poverty in that region and elsewhere, or unique plants that can be eaten to cure diseases—but then, I almost forgot…this would be considered ‘educational’ instead of simply mindless entertainment and therefore most likely not tolerated or even accepted by the populace.  After all, Zimmern knows what the audience wants to watch and that’s why he is successful—at least from an economic and popularity standpoint. This fact, and of course the shows themselves (now that I’ve seen a one or two of them), make me so very sad on many levels. Please no offense to Andrew Zimmern himself, but my thought is that we, as an intelligent, compassionate society with a conscience—a society deeply concerned about all living things that we share this planet with—should have taken that very first Bizarre Foods ‘pilot’ show and buried it swiftly and deeply in a hole in the ground so as to not ever have to admit that one of our kind produced it.

Please stay tuned as we return to more topics of Comfortably Unaware soon, inspiring others to become aware—and compassionate!

The story behind the scenes: about Bluefin Tuna, about us.

Why should you care about this story? After all, we are just talking about a fish, right? I believe this is much more than a story about a fish or specifically the Bluefin tuna—it’s a relevant indicator of how far we possibly have fallen from a rational, caring, sensitive, and respectful society with regard to other living things that we share our planet with. This year, 30,000 different species of animals will become extinct (as well as numerous insects and plants). And, although pollution and poorly planned urban sprawl are factors, the largest single contributing force is your choice of foods as it involves animals—which creates pastured or grazing livestock on land and unsustainable fishing practices in our oceans. You most likely aren’t aware of these statistics or reasons because there has been suppression and mismanagement of information of this type as well as general indifference. I strongly believe, though, that it’s time to increase our collective understanding about topics such as this and begin to effect positive change.

It was announced last Friday (May 27) by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), that Bluefin tuna would not be listed as endangered despite losing 90% of its numbers. This endangered status would have provided the much-needed legal protection in hope of recovery. The tragic decline of this beautiful fish is due to overfishing and illegal practices, poorly designed and ignored ‘quotas’ and false reporting, lack of understanding the species’ complex life, and of course our inappropriate choice of food and the demand for sushi. Even though numerous countries including the U.S. actively harvest Bluefin tuna, Japan purchases 80% of the world’s supply and vehemently opposes any ban or restrictions on tuna. This is a very sad day for these majestic fish, but even a sadder day for all of us in making this illogical decision as stewards of our planet. I, for one, am deeply embarrassed. Embarrassed on two levels. One is that we have relentlessly caught and killed Bluefin tuna to the point of near extinction, strictly because we want to eat them—essentially due to an unnecessary, acquired taste and habit. There is no ‘need’ anywhere in the equation here. And, second, without granting an “endangered” status, we have failed at an opportunity to right a wrong—oblivious and apathetic to what we are doing to another living species on Earth.

There are a couple of key aspects to understanding the full story. First, is a review of why there has been such a massive loss of Bluefin Tuna, and second is how we have managed the problem. Let’s look first, then, at why this fish species has all but disappeared. The story begins with the fact that humans enjoy eating fish, especially tuna. And, similar to many other stories regarding our eating habits as it involves animals, that “enjoyment” or demand creates a powerful economic motive, which then manifests itself in cultural, social, psychological reinforcement as a dietary “need.” This eventually creates skewed, and often illogical policy making to ensure that dietary demand is met with supply. These policies are typically tunnel visioned and multi national in nature because no one country could be seen stepping outside of the box of convention.

Bluefin Tuna grow up to 14 ft in length, weigh up to ½ ton, and can swim 50 mph for long distances, which is why their stocks are governed by an organization composed of many countries, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, based in Spain. The tuna are managed as two stocks—the western Atlantic and eastern Atlantic which includes Mediterranean Bluefin tuna. For the past 40 years, Bluefin tuna have been caught and eaten without regard to potential extinction. Although many are harpooned and caught by big game fisherman, most commercial vessels catch them by using long line and purse seine techniques (dropping a mile long net and circling a large school of tuna with a boat, catching the entire school and all other sea life that happen to be present-dolphins, sea birds, endangered turtles, etc.). Many more Bluefin tuna have been killed each year than are reproduced—with up to 150,000 tons of total tuna killed in just one year alone. Annual cumulative ‘declared’ catch amounts by tuna fishing vessels from 2006 through 2009 ranged from 21,000 tons to 35,000 tons although the ICCAT admits now that “catches of Bluefin tuna have been seriously underreported” with catches in the Mediterranean area alone now being more realistically estimated at 61,000 tons per year.  The current recommended yearly “sustainable” catch rate by the ICCAT, is 13,500 tons, which is absurd, since there already has proven to be no accurate reporting methods and no enforcement protocols—thus leading to the decimation that is seen today. Committee members admit that “given the quantified uncertainties, the Bluefin tuna stock would not be expected to rebuild by 2019 even with no fishing”, and some scientists predict without protection, the species will become extinct in the Mediterranean by the end of next year (2012). They have already been fished to extinction in the Black and Caspian Seas. Most researchers without economic ties to the tuna fishing industry agree that they do not fully understand the complex life of the Bluefin and associated ecosystems. Many are concerned that their numbers are under further duress because of the BP oil spill and long line activity throughout the species’ spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico. Many long line fishing in that area use multi barbed nets that can extend up to 25 miles long catching blue fin tuna and other sea life as bykill. Despite all of the facts, the ICCAT and NOAA feel that this fish needs no protection—hence, the fateful decision last Friday. For the past few months, a review process had been established to help determine whether to grant an endangered species status to the Bluefin tuna. This review was conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and then submitted to the NOAA for final determination. Much of the final decision was based on the result of interviews requested by the NMFS of the tuna fishing industry itself—those fishermen whose livelihood depend on catching these fish. Those who, no doubt, eat these fish themselves. The following is an excerpt taken directly from the formal correspondence to all commercial tuna fishermen, for a determination meeting about the Bluefin tuna:

Questions attendees may consider include the following: What are your general impressions of the abundance and distribution of Atlantic bluefin tuna over time? If you have experienced a decline or increase in bluefin tuna catches, what do you attribute this to (abundance, distribution, availability, gear changes, regulatory effects, etc.)? Are there particular areas where you typically encounter larger numbers of bluefin tuna? If so, where are they (e.g., inshore or offshore)? Do these areas change on an annual basis? What is the average size of bluefin tuna being caught by different gear types or fisheries? Written comments may also be sent to: National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Regional Office, Protected Resources Division, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.

Unbelievable, isn’t it? Let’s ask the Bluefin tuna fishermen a series of questions to see if they think what they catch everyday for their income and food, should be taken away from them. Brilliant.

One single Bluefin tuna—just one of these fish—may be sold for up to $50,000-$100,000. What can be said about a society or a world that facilitates and then condones extinctions because of greed? In the case of Bluefin tuna and most other endangered animals that we eat, there is no physiologic need whatsoever for us to consume and therefore kill them—it is a fabrication of our culture. The protein and omega three fatty acids everyone expects to get by eating sliced tissue from one of these great fish can easily be found in plant foods and without inflicting pain, suffering or devastation of a species or loss of other interrelated ecosystems. Chia seeds, ground flax seeds, spirulina, and chlorella all have more omega three content per ounce than fish. And, all plant foods will provide you with much-needed fiber and phytonutrients—neither of which can be found in any fish.  Also, every fish has unwanted cholesterol and saturated fat.

Rich Ruais, executive director of the American Bluefin Tuna Association stated, “There are over 5,000 commercial and 15,000 recreational tuna fishermen just in the U.S. stretching from Maine to Texas, and they are relieved NOAA didn’t give the fish an endangered status.” And in the event any one still wonders if politics ever play a role in decisions about food choice and eventual loss of biodiversity, I present the following: “Listing the Bluefin as threatened or endangered would have jeopardized the livelihood of tuna fishermen,” said Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. What else needs to be said?

It’s time we increase the awareness of others, write our senators and members of congress, set up and sign petitions, align ourselves with organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and others that truly care about our planet and other living things—it’s time to make a difference! 

Biodiversity Loss and More Rainforest Thoughts

Depletion of our land on Earth due to our choice of foods encompasses a number of topics—direct and inefficient agricultural land use, feed crops produced for livestock, and even depletion of our food supply, or world hunger. (Please refer to Chapter V, Comfortably Unaware, “Whose land is it anyway?” Global Depletion of Our Land)

These are important issues that we will continue to touch on, but I think it’s important to, once again, discuss on how our food choices are affecting the loss of other living things on earth—our plants, animals, and insects. The loss of biodiversity is happening so quickly to so many species that it can only be considered a 6th era of extinction.  But, this one is much different than the previous 5 because they were all caused by phenomena out of our control whereas this one, we are actually creating.  The question is why? There are a few primary reasons—unprincipled or poorly planned urban sprawl and pollution are certainly major factors—but certainly one of the major reasons is due to what we are requesting to eat, on a global basis. Scientists have divided our planet into 825 terrestrial “ecoregions” (as well as 450 freshwater and a number of oceanic ecoregions) each defined by its own distinct set of animal and plant species as well as climate. Of all these land ecoregions, almost ½ are reported to have livestock as a current threat. The World Conservation Union reported last year that “most of the world’s endangered or threatened species” on their “Red List” are suffering habitat loss due to livestock—not due to agriculture—but to livestock. The most recent Convention on Biological Diversity was just held in Nagoya, Japan last October as a follow up to the one held in 2002. Here were their findings: They agreed that none of their goals from 2002, for lessening the rate of biodiversity loss, were met. Then they confirmed that the main pressures for the rapid loss of species are all increasing in intensity—which are habitat change, overexploitation, pollution, invasive species, and climate change. And then lastly, all countries reworked their “targets” and strategies to meet them. Here is what they came up with: They agreed to protect 17 percent of the land area of the world that remains (as I pointed out in “Comfortably Unaware”, we now know livestock are already using 30 to 50% of the entire land mass on earth so their thought at Nagoya is to protect 17% of what’s left over for all the other millions of species of living things…) and there was agreement to protect 10 percent of all our oceans by the year 2020. So, you can see my concern. Also, there were no political or economic motives established and nations can police themselves with a “flexible framework”.  That’ll probably work. Let’s see—the Javan Tiger: extinct due to habitat loss from livestock. The Tasmanian Tiger: extinct due to habitat loss from cattle (actually the last one was killed by a farmer because it was in his “hen house”). Giant Eland, Howler Monkey, Red Wolf, and Jaguar: all endangered because of the advancement of livestock operations, and there are tens of thousands of other examples. Great Apes such as the Mountain Gorilla (only 350-450 remaining), Chimpanzee, Lowland Gorilla, Orangutan, and other primates are all endangered—in one way or another—because of the decisions made about food, which results in habitat loss or overt slaughtering of these individuals. In our oceans, pick any of the 80% of all fish species that are now overexploited, with many endangered. And the list is even longer with species of plants and insects. Nearly all concerned researchers agree that the primary causes of the rapid biodiversity loss we are witnessing on our planet today is by pastured or grazing livestock on land, and by unsustainable fishing practices in our oceans. There has been no improvement in a global resolution because we are failing at addressing the primary issue. Nowhere in the resolution from Nagoya, adopted by nearly 200 countries, is exact wording to effectively address our choice of food as it involves animals.

We need to touch briefly on rainforests again. They seem so far removed from all of our daily lives and yet so critical for our existence. Rainforests have been heavily impacted by our choice of foods, and it is time for some important updates. On average, 34 million acres of Amazon’s rainforests have been lost every year since the 1970’s. This number has declined for a number of reasons, to around 20 million acres in 2009. That’s 20 million acres of rainforests gone forever, destroyed in just one year. Certainly, this is an improvement—but it’s still far too much and there needs to be zero tolerance. I don’t think there should be one acre lost. Why? Because of the immense importance of rainforests, the primary reason for destruction is not justified, and we can’t replace them in our lifetime. Therefore, zero tolerance. About 80% of all rainforest loss is due to raising cattle with another 10% due to growing crops to feed them. It’s still happening today, the same reason, just less acreage is being destroyed. It seems like this really shouldn’t involve you, right? Well, until very recently, the U.S. has been the single largest consumer of Central and South America beef. We have many multi national companies that perpetuate the demand here and abroad for animal products or for feed crops that directly come from rainforests. Regarding crops, 80-90% of all soy grown worldwide is fed to livestock—not to us—and most of this soy is grown on rainforest-cleared land. The corporate producers of meat products—Cargill, Georgia Pacific, Unical, Texaco, etc. as well as the food retailers will continue clearing rainforest until we stop the demand for animal/livestock products. Recently, there have been millions of acres of rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia that are being slashed and burned to grow palm oil. This oil is used for alternative fuel, but also for the food industry. We do not need palm oil as a dietary requirement and the biofuels generated from these palm plants are in many ways contributing more to climate change than the fossil fuels they are intended to replace. For every acre of primary rainforest that is cleared and replaced with palm oil, there is 65 times as much carbon released into the atmosphere as can be saved annually by using the palm oil as a fuel substitute. Indonesia is losing 7 million acres of rainforest per year. This is the habitat of the orangutan and many other wonderful species of living things. There is a sickening, thick shadow of smoke that can now be seen looming over these countries from peat fires of all the acres of rainforests being burned daily. Rainforests produce 20% of world’s supply of oxygen and also serve as tremendous carbon sinks because they take carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere and sequester it into the soil, long term. How perfect. So, with any discussion about climate change or greenhouse gas emissions, we will always need to include discussions regarding rainforest management. And, therefore, with any discussions about climate change, rainforest management, or even sustaining our future life on Earth, there will always need to be specific attention given to why we kill and eat animals.

The Rainforest is home to over 5 millions species of plants, animals, insects—over ½ of all living things on our planet. They shouldn’t be lost because of our choice of foods or our collective indifference. Let’s all make a change.

Please read more about this and other areas of global depletion of our resources and our own health in “Comfortably Unaware.”