Leave it to scientists with an agenda and clueless media to come up with a headline implying that by eating meat, consumers are directly cause the death of the wild animals we love.
Let’s see: Meat is already accused of causing cancer, heart disease, obesity, global warming and by implication, hunger and starvation, since all those corn crops should be processed into human, not animal food.
But hold on. There’s more.
According to a new study that the media apparently can’t be bothered actually reading, people who consume animal foods are now responsible for killing off the world’s wildlife.
According to multiple news stories, which carried headlines such as, “Meat-Eaters Are the Number One Cause of Worldwide Species Extinction, New Study Warns,” the study concluded that livestock production is “likely the leading cause of modern species extinctions. It was published in Science of the Total Environment by researchers at Florida International University in Miami.
To pile on top of that accusation, most news reports quoted as an authority a known anti-industry researcher who wasn’t even involved in the study!
Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at Bard College and a highly outspoken critic of livestock production, managed to get his quote into news stories about a study he didn’t do.
“Now we can say, only slightly fancifully: You eat a steak, you kill a lemur in Madagascar. You eat a chicken, you kill an Amazonian parrot,” Eshel said.
The man’s got a gift for hyperbole; I’ll give him that. But last time I checked, I didn’t find Madagascar at the top of the list of countries involved in animal agriculture.
And make no mistake, as the media have done: his quote wasn’t directed at anyone in Africa, it was aimed squarely at North Americans and their ongoing guilt trip with eating a balanced diet. Even though red meat consumption has declined precipitously over the last three decades across the western world, that hamburger you had for lunch on Tuesday still makes you guilty of wiping out lemurs, parrots and pretty much every other species of wildlife anyone cares about.
Location, location, location
If someone stopped reading after the initial headline and opening paragraph, they come away thinking that the solution to the pressure on wildlife is to just stop buying meat, poultry and dairy. As if putting different foods into your shopping cart will solve global threats to native fauna around the world.
Here’s the problem, in addition to the cluelessness of most media members: The researchers first mapped areas that have exceptionally high percentages of native plants and animal species, which they called “biodiversity hotspots.”
Then they identified areas where livestock production is expected to increase in the future, and determined how much land would be lost as a result of expanding meat operations. And where do you think those areas, those biodiversity hotspots, might be located?
Let’s go to the study itself and quote the folks who actually did the research
“Both livestock and feedstock production are increasing in developing tropical countries, where the majority of biological diversity resides,” the authors wrote.
Developing tropical countries ... you know, the ones where lemurs swing from the trees and where parrots build their nests. In other words, the real problem with the eco-impact of meat production can be summarized in a single world: Deforestation.
That’s the problem. That is what’s killing off wildlife and affecting climate and damaging biodiversity hotspots. Wiping out rainforests in “developing tropical countries” is indeed a serious and potentially disastrous eco-catastrophe, one that has absolutely no connection to American agriculture.
Plus, much of that destruction the researchers and their outspoken non-colleagues decried is the result of timber harvesting, the cultivation of palm oil plantations and the production of sugar cane for biofuel, none of which has anything to do with meat-eating.
While livestock production globally is undeniably one of the driver of habitat loss, it is habitat elsewhere in the world that’s the problem … As the authors themselves acknowledged.
“Bushmeat consumption in Africa and southeastern Asia, as well as the high growth rate of per-capita livestock consumption in China, are of special concern,” they wrote. “The projected land base required by 2050 to support livestock production in several mega-diverse countries exceeds 30 percent to 50 percent of their current agricultural areas.”
Since that sentence was offered in the paper’s abstract, which preceded the actual report itself, it’s unconscionable that reporters failed to note that the problems associated with “meat eaters causing species extinction” all occurred overseas, and more to the point, are the result of so many developing tropical countries that are ill-equipped or unable to raise livestock with the modern, efficient methods common to North America.
The ultimate solution to the challenges posed by all of agriculture — not just livestock — taking over land areas formerly covered with forests is to implement greater efficiency across all of food production.
The answer isn’t to stop eating meat and replace rangeland and pasture with row crops and orchards, it’s for the rest of the world to catch up to what producers in North America have already achieved.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator.