AR-FAQ - #28

#28 Grazing animals on land not suited for agriculture increases the food supply; how can that be considered wrong?

There are areas in the world where grazing of livestock is possible but agriculture is not. If conditions are such that people living in these areas cannot trade for crops and must raise livestock to survive, few would question the practice. However, such areas are very small in comparison to the fertile and semi-arid regions currently utilized for intensive grazing, and they do not appreciably contribute to the world food supply. (Some would argue that it is morally preferable not to live in such areas.) The real issue is the intensive grazing in the fertile and semi-arid regions. The use of such areas for livestock raising reduces the world food supply. Keith Acker writes as follows in his "A Vegetarian Sourcebook":

Land, energy, and water resources for livestock agriculture range anywhere from 10 to 1000 times greater than those necessary to produce an equivalent amount of plant foods. And livestock agriculture does not merely use these resources, it depletes them. This is a matter of historical record. Most of the world's soil, erosion, groundwater depletion, and deforestation--factors now threatening the very basis of our food system--are the result of this particularly destructive form of food production.

Livestock agriculture is also the single greatest cause of world-wide deforestation both historically and currently (between 1967 and 1975, two-thirds of 70 million acres of lost forest went to grazing). Between 1950 and 1975 the area of human-created pasture land in Central America more than doubled, almost all of it at the expense of rain forests. Although this trend has slowed down, it still continues at an alarming and inexorable pace. Grazing requires large tracts of land and the consequences of overgrazing and soil erosion are very serious ecological problems. By conservative estimates, 60 percent of all U.S. grasslands are overgrazed, resulting in billions of tons of soil lost each year. The amount of U.S. topsoil lost to date is about 75 percent, and 85 percent of that is directly associated with livestock grazing. Overgrazing has been the single largest cause of human-made deserts. One could argue that grazing is being replaced by the "feedlot paradigm". These systems graze the livestock prior to transport to a feedlot for final "fattening" with grains grown on crop lands. Although this does reduce grazing somewhat, it is not eliminated, and the feedlot part of the paradigm still constitutes a highly inefficient use of crops (to feed a human with livestock requires 16 times the grain that would be necessary if the grain was consumed directly). It has been estimated that in the U.S., 80 percent of the corn and 95 percent of the oats grown are fed to livestock. TA

I grew up in cattle country--that's why I became a vegetarian. Meat stinks, for the animals, the environment, and your health. k.d. lang (musician)