Vegans vs. Farms:K-State paper

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Jun 26, 2007
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I found this in the school paper. :mad: But I like the response to it.

Vegetarianism: More than just a lifestyle

Bacon is delicious. I know it, you know it, even the pigs probably know it. Despite its tastiness, however, eating meat is bad for the environment and human health and causes billions of animals to suffer needlessly.

Albert Einstein once said, “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet,” and he was right. This is especially true today as mechanized industrial farming has become the norm for poultry and swine production, and cattle feedlots have increased drastically in size and number.

Livestock agriculture is the leading cause of soil and water pollution, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This is due in part to over fertilization of food crops — there is simply too much excrement and not enough land to absorb it without causing massive runoff into the water table. Waste from processing facilities, like Tyson’s meatpacking plants, adds to the problem. A U.N. report also identified factory farms as the leading cause of anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas emissions, more so than all modes of transportation combined. Simply put, our environment was not meant to handle the massive amounts of waste produced by industrial livestock operations or the fossil fuel emissions required to ship meat from rural communities to cities.

Industrial livestock operations also pose a large risk to human health. Keeping large numbers of animals in confined buildings is a recipe for infectious diseases and forces farmers to administer subtherapeutic antibiotics to stave off infection. This means animals get medicine before they’re even sick, and it is one of the greatest contributors to antibiotic resistance. Lack of genetic diversity in factory farms makes the spread of disease that much easier — we raise the fattest, meatiest animals and that means only a small gene pool.

Jeremy Bentham, a founder of moral utilitarianism, put it succinctly when he said, “The question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but, ‘Can they suffer?’” Pigs, chickens and cattle feel pain the same way we do. Their nervous systems make debeaking and tail docking, quite regular practices, as painful for them as it would be for us. More than 10 billion animals die every year to put meat on our tables, and they all suffer. Most pigs and chickens never see the light of day or feel fresh air on their faces. Rationality requires consistency — if you wouldn’t treat a pet this way, why is it permissible to torture and kill other animals? This is especially poignant for pigs, many of which are more intelligent and personable than the average dog. Is your ham sandwich really worth this suffering?

Lastly, choosing a plant-based diet over meat can help alleviate global famine pressures. Anyone who passed Biology 198 knows the “Rule of 10” — animal flesh only gives us 10 percent of the energy the animal consumed. Massive amounts of grain go to feed livestock when that grain could be feeding starving humans. Limited arable land means there is a direct trade-off between crops for animal feed and crops for human consumption.

A vegetarian diet is ideal, but not your only option. If you just can’t stand to give up your BLT, make an effort to buy meat from local farmers. Ask your grocery store if it buys locally, and if not, why not? Small farms that spurn industrial methods do exist, though they are quickly dwindling. The best way to transition away from industrial farming is to vote with your pocketbook: Create a demand, and the supply will follow.

I might not have answered all your questions, and, possibly, I raised even more. For further reading on the issue, I would highly recommend “The Meat You Eat,” a 2004 book by Ken Midkiff.

More and more people are becoming enlightened and choosing a meat-free or reduced-meat diet. Shouldn’t you take it upon yourself to find out why?

Beth Mendenhall is a senior in political science and philosophy. Send comments to [email protected].
Industrialized Agriculture feeds the masses

“Each Kansas Farmer feeds 128 people + you,” say the billboards posted around the state. The Physiocrats of the 18th century actually believed that all material wealth was derived from agriculture. Farming moved humanity up from the wasteland-existence of hunter-gatherers and made the development of cities and modern society possible. Without farming, we’d still be wandering around with clubs and drawing on cave walls.

And yet, in recent times the agricultural community has come under attack. Animal rights activists have broken into feeding operations to “release” pigs into the “wild.” Prominent people, exemplified by Bobby Kennedy Jr., son of the presidential candidate and a prominent environmental lawyer, has made it his quest to run industrialized agriculture into the ground.

These people argue that an attack on industrialized agriculture is not an attack on farmers. As a farmer’s son, who spent his whole pre-college life in the country and has thrown his fair share of bales and run his share of cattle, I beg to differ. Sure, environmentalists could survive just eating locally food grown on small farms like mine with grass-fed cattle and cute little plots of corn, but the rest of us might just starve.

Let me start with why there is industrialized agriculture. One word: efficiency. Adam Smith - the god of modern economics - saw that people liked food, and farmers liked money, so he directed his invisible hand to tell farmers to get as efficient as they could by building economies of scale and using technology to the fullest. This means that animals get packed in large groups and cramped circumstances so that cattle feedlots can save costs and increase production. The result: you get more tasty steaks for cheaper than you would.

I’d bite into that.

Now take away that efficiency. What you’re left with is much less and more expensive food. The ramifications are pretty far-reaching.

Industrialized agriculture is the only way we can live in the land of plenty. America is blessed with great quantities of inexpensive food; our obesity index is indication enough of that.

Concerned mothers crusade all over the United States against the “obesity epidemic” happening here. Taking away agricultural industrialization would unleash a real epidemic of starvation. Right now, we have so much food that we export to the poor countries in the world, giving them a chance to eat as well.

Is it reasonable to expect food to remain affordable to low income families, even in the U.S. if they are forced to buy food that isn’t a product of industrial agriculture? Even “organic” food, which only sheds some industrial practices, is often much more expensive than the standard, industry-made, food. Would it be better to eliminate industrialized agriculture and let the poor in our cities starve?

Agriculture is one of the few industries that the U.S. actually exports more than it imports. We help to feed the 6.7 billion people of the world and there is no way in hell to feed that many without industrializing agriculture. And why would we want to try going without these exports to the hungry world? With the current economic situation, it would hurt us greatly to cut out that valuable export industry. Cargill is the second-largest privately-held corporation in the U.S. and employs 160,000 people.

If that company were to disappear tomorrow and take those employees with it, the entire country would feel it immediately right where it hurts: in the stomach.

Now if after that, you still feel that agriculture shouldn’t be industrialized, because of moral issues about animal cruelty or environmentalism, think of this: industrialized agriculture has fed you since birth. If it weren’t for it, a lot fewer people would be eating.

Are the poor people abroad and at home less important than the environment? Are they less important than the pigs, cows and chickens they now eat?