Gambling isn't legal in most states, but that didn't stop the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) from taking informal bets recently on a rather morbid subject: When U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) would die. His offense? Pledging to eat more burgers and BBQ.
Grassley's proclamation came in reaction to a flap over a U.S. Department of Agriculture newsletter promoting the "Meatless Monday" campaign. It was a strange message coming from the USDA, which is supposed to support agriculture instead of attacking it. The "Meatless Monday" campaign is founded on the idea that eating meat harms Mother Earth.
The campaign has found quick allies among environmentalists and animal rights groups like PETA and the Humane Society of the U.S. The evidence, however, doesn’t have much meat on its bones.
The most common eco-argument against meat is to measure animal agriculture's contribution to greenhouse gases. A regularly cited 2006 U.N. study claimed to calculate that animal agriculture worldwide is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than even transportation!
The only problem? Even one of the report’s authors has since walked it back, acknowledging methodological flaws. “We factored in everything for meat emissions, and we didn’t do the same thing with transport,” he said. In other words, it is an apples-and-oranges comparison.
But even if these reports have some semblance of accuracy—which they don’t, at the moment—they gloss over a key fact: America isn’t comparable to the rest of the world. Our farmers aren’t exactly on par with those in Zimbabwe or Bhutan.
And that's not to mention that the doomsday proclamations about animal agriculture include in their estimates practices that would be needed to produce crops--namely, fertilizer, tilling, and so on.
Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency keeps an inventory of what’s responsible for domestic greenhouse gas emissions. And the EPA reports that animal agriculture is responsible for just 2 percent of total domestic emissions. The entire agriculture sector is responsible for just 6.3 percent of emissions, and that figure includes everything from broccoli growing to carrot farming.
Two percent. That’s a far cry from the 18 percent of global emissions as cited by the nitwits at the UN.
Transportation, by the way, is responsible for about 25 percent of U.S. emissions. So the trendy “Meatless Monday” campaign, which asks people to be vegetarian one day a week for mostly environmental reasons, is looking rather anemic. Even if the entire country went vegetarian one day a week, that would affect less than half a percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
However, if more people walked, biked, or took mass transit, that would seem to have a bigger effect on greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. (and it might help reduce the obesity rate, to boot).
But HSUS and other activists see Meatless Monday as a vehicle for their agenda. At a recent HSUS conference, campaigner Josh Balk said, “At the end of the day, what we want is just for [farm animals] to have a good life. And how can we do that? Well, as a society, we can move away from eating them as much as we do.” One way to do this, according to Balk, is to “take part in Meatless Monday.” Soon to be followed by Meatless Tuesday. You see where this is going?
It’s important to remember that eating “less” meat is just a waypoint on the journey to the vegan finish line. HSUS personnel have latched onto the rise of flexitarianism and Meatless Mondays. HSUS VP Paul Shapiro has stated that it is “helping people move from an inhumane diet to one that is a little more humane.” In other words, it’s more humane, but not necessarily 100 percent humane to eat less meat more often. Shapiro sees it as a way to “dip your toe in the water, see how the water feels.”
While the proselytizers preach, scientists study. Washington State University professor Dr. Jude Capper, who studies agriculture and environmental issues, quantifies just how much agriculture today has improved on farming from just a few decades ago. Capper finds that the dairy industry was able to reduce its carbon footprint by 44 percent from 1944 to 2007 despite now producing more milk. How? Advances in management, animal nutrition, and genetics.
In the beef industry, a quantity of meat today requires 16 percent fewer emissions than in the 1970s, 18 percent less feedstuffs, and 33 percent less land.
The answer isn’t that we need to go backwards. It’s that the rest of the world needs to catch up to our technology and standards.
You may not be able to convince the animal-rights zealots, but for those on the fence, it’ll be a breath of fresh air.
Rick Berman is the Executive Director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.