Spring Picnics Come With A Meaty Price

It’s the spring season, which means it is almost time to start slap­ping some all-beef patties on an open flame, melting some cheddar cheese on top, and smothering it in ketchup. Now imagine grilling that burger in 105-degree weather with 90 percent humidity. What if you couldn’t have one without the other? What does eat­ing a hamburger have to do with the weather?

It may not be the actual burger it­self, but the production of the cattle that has to do with the effect on the environment. Health studies profes­sor Christopher Hirschler said, “The United Nations came out with a report in 2006 that stated that animal agri­culture attributes more greenhouse gases than does transportation. That’s largely because of cows and the meth­ane that they produce.” Hirschler continued. “The vast majority of sci­entists, 95-98 percent, feel that it (the earth) is warming and it is man-made, at least in part. It is a result of all the fossil fuels and all the gas we’re pro­ducing.”

According to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), one-third of the fossil fuels in the United States are put toward raising animals for food.

According to Hirschler, cattle in the United States are fed corn that he said is not naturally what cows eat. He said, “It takes oil and gasoline to get ready to grow corn. You need water to grow the corn. So you spend all this energy and water to produce the corn and then you give it to the cow. So that in and of itself is not environmentally sound.”

According to Heidi Estes, Eng­lish professor and environmental enthusiast, the consumption of meat raises carbon dioxide emis­sions in the atmosphere. She said, “By the amount of gas that the cow emits, it is a significant contributor to climate prob­lems.”

Assistant biology pro­fessor Pedram Daneshgar went on to explain the “climate change/global warming” is­sue. He said, “You have rising CO2 in the atmosphere and that’s causing global warming.”

According to Daneshgar, trees are natural ‘sponges’ for CO2. “They’re cutting all these trees down to have cattle farms, so you don’t have those big sponges anymore. The Amazon Rain Forest, which was, at one point, the largest and the biggest sponge for CO2 is getting cut down because they’re raising cattle.”

Daneshgar and Hirschler explained how farming is typically done today in America and how these conditions are negatively impacting the environ­ment. According to Hirschler, the days of family farming are long gone and the meat industry has turned to what is now known as “factory farm­ing.” Daneshgar explained the pro­duction process of cattle in the United States, which he described as “in­humane.” He said, “We jam pack as many animals as we can in one place and you get a lot of waste in a small area.”

Hirschler described the feeding lots nicknamed “manure lagoons.” He said, “Because there are such large concentrations of animals, instead of it being a fertilizer now it’s waste.” Hirschler explained the animals are given antibiotics to keep them from getting sick in such harsh conditions. He said, “In the U.S. about 80 percent of antibiotics go to animals raised for food.”

Both Hirschler and Daneshgar stressed that factory farming nega­tively impacts the environment, par­ticularly the water supply and quality. “It’s one of the most damaging pollut­ants of water, partly because animal agriculture is so intense now,” said Hirschler.

Daneshgar explained how the diet cattle are fed direct­ly affects the water supply. According to Daneshgar, cattle in the U.S. are pri­marily grain fed.

He said, “So they’re not even feed­ing on grass or something that would take up nutrients that come from the waste.” He continued.

“As a result it ends up going direct­ly into the water table that’s below or it runs off. Because they’re (the cattle) heavy walking around they put a lot of compaction on the ground so the soil gets really tight and the water can’t penetrate the soil and everything runs off the surface.”

According to a statement issued by Environmental Defense, if ev­ery American substituted one meal a week with a vegetarian meal, the carbon dioxide reduction would be equivalent of taking over half a mil­lion cars off the road.

Daneshgar said that he does believe that one person who refrains from eating meat will make a positive im­pact on the environment. He said, “If you actually look at how much (meat) people consume over the course of the year and all of the things that go into consuming beef it actually makes a difference.”

Hirschler said for there to be any significant environmental change there would have to be a big shift in the meat production industry. He said, “If there is a McDonalds, there will be intensive agriculture. The whole sys­tem must change and it will change. It might be 50 years, might be 60, who knows how long it can hold on?”

Brett Gilmartin, President of the University’s Environmental Club, said, “From an environmental stand­point, cutting meat of out one’s diet would be ideal for the preservation of the environment and increasing food security.” He continued, “Many aspects of the environmental world are nearing their breaking points. If continued along the same path we are going now, future generations will suffer from our mistakes.”