NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 28, 2006

As the human population continues to multiply -- and our biological footprint on the planet becomes larger -- so do all the things associated with us, including our livestock, says the New York Times.

For example, according to a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:

  • At present, there are about 1.5 billion cattle and domestic buffalo and about 1.7 billion sheep and goats in the world.
  • Global livestock grazing and feed production use 30 percent of the land surface of the planet.
  • Livestock -- which consume more food than they yield -- also compete directly with humans for water.

But what is even more striking, and alarming, are their effects on the environment:

  • Livestock are responsible for about 18 percent of the global warming effect, more than transportation's contribution.
  • The culprits are methane -- the natural result of bovine digestion -- and the nitrogen emitted by manure.
  • Deforestation adds to the effect; the drive to expand grazing land destroys more biologically sensitive terrain, rain forests especially, than anything else.

There are no easy trade-offs when it comes to global warming -- such as cutting back on cattle to make room for cars, says the Times. The human passion for meat is certainly not about to end anytime soon. Our health and the health of the planet depend on pushing livestock production in more sustainable directions.

Source: Editorial, "Meat and the Planet," New York Times, December 27, 2006.

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