Vegetarianism As A Tool For Environmental Health

Michael Schwartz

In most cases, when people tell their stories of how they become a vegetarian or a vegan, it comes from the idea of moral vegetarianism. The meaning behind the phrase moral vegetarianism can be interpreted with a plain meaning because its definition is exactly what the expression sounds like. The basis behind the concept is that it is wrong to eat meat and immoral to produce meat. However, the thought behind moral vegetarianism may run deeper than the conclusion of not wanting to eat the meat of beings that were once alive. Moral vegetarianism can now be extended because of the positive environmental effects that take place when a person transitions from being a meat eater into a vegetarian.

            The first affirmation of a green move in a transition of becoming a vegetarian is that it gives each person a tool in combating global warming. Global warming poses one of the most serious threats to the global environment in human history. Yet, by focusing entirely on carbon dioxide emissions, major environmental organizations have failed to account for published data showing that other gases are the main culprits behind the global warming we see today. See “EarthSave Report: A New Global Warming Strategy: How Environmentalists are Overlooking Vegetarianism as the Most Effective Tool Against Climate Change in Our Lifetimes,” Noam Mohr, Aug. 2005: http://earthsave.org/globalwarming.htm (link is external) As a result, they are overlooking the fact that the single most important step an individual can take to reduce global warming [faster than any other means] is to adopt a vegetarian diet.In its 2006 report, the United Nations found that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. “Livestock a major threat to the environment,” United Nations FAO Newsroom, Nov. 29, 2006: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html (link is external). According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the FAO projects that global demand for livestock products will increase to 70 percent by 2050. Showing that this is a global hazard that will only be increasing in size.

            Not only is a switch to vegetarianism a help on a personal level in a battle against global warming, but it also may be a helpful solution in the growing problem of deforestation. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s land is already used for agriculture. But these aren’t fields of wheat, lettuce, and tomatoes. Most of that land is used to grow grains to feed livestock or support the livestock themselves. With a likely increase of food production by 70 percent by 2050, in order to feed everyone on the planet without cutting down more forests. That would mean crop yields would have to improve faster than they ever have historically. According to a World Resources Institute report, if Americans swap poultry or pork for one third of their beef consumption, their diet-related land use would go down by almost 15 percent.

            Lastly, turning to vegetarianism would reduce the use of antibiotics, growth hormones, and chemicals that harm animals through the pollution of our waterways. Across the United States, farmers inject and give hormones to animals to increase growth and productivity. A commonly used practice here, these hormones are known to cause several types of cancer and reproductive dysfunction in humans. While U.S. farmers claim that using hormones to promote growth is safe, the European Union has prohibited this practice since 1995. Furthermore, a vegetarian approach would eliminate the harms being done by fish farming. Because of the prevalent problem of parasites, some aquaculture operators are forced to use strong antibiotic drugs to keep the fish alive. Unfortunately, many fish still end up dying prematurely. Furthermore, these drugs enter the food chain through direct consumption of the farmed fish itself and through the highly concentrated feces deposits that contaminate water supplies. Reports indicate that Scottish salmon farms alone have breached pollution limits more than 400 times in the past 3 years. See Sunday Herald. ‘400 breaches of fish farm pollution limits in three years’. 1st October 2006. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4156/is_20061001/ai_n16760726 (link is external).

            With the increasing demand in livestock farming, land for livestock and resources used to help feed these livestock whose only groom is for slaughter, there are two directions being presented. We can either double down on our farming system and increase our environmental harms, or we can slowly transition into new, environmentally-friendly eating habits. This does not mean one will have to turn into a vegetarian overnight, it would be wholly unreasonable to ask for. However, with options of a plant-based lifestyle growing with companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Meat reaching fast food chains such as Burger King and Dunkin, the integration of vegetarianism has seemed to already begun. While it may help a moral compass by not eating a being that was once alive, the benefits of turning to vegetarianism is also one that benefits fellow humans on our planet and our ecosystem as a whole.

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