Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I've discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory-- disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.
According to analyses conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of fresh tomato today has 30 percent less vitamin C, 30 percent less thiamin, 19 percent less niacin, and 62 percent less calcium than it did in the 1960s. But the modern tomato does shame it's counterpart in one area: It contains fourteen times as much sodium.
Needless to say, jamming deformed, drugged, overstressed birds together in a filthy, waste-coated room is not very healthy. Beyond deformities, eye damage, blindness, bacterial infections of bones, slipped vertebrae, paralysis, internal bleeding, anemia, slipped tendons, twisted lower legs and necks, respiratory diseases, and weakened immune systems are frequent and long-standing problems on factory farms.
We know, at least, that this decision (ending factory farming) will help prevent deforestation, curb global warming, reduce pollution, save oil reserves, lessen the burden on rural America, decrease human rights abuses, improve publish health, and help eliminate the most systematic animal abuse in history.
We are not encouraged, on a daily basis, to pay careful attention to the animals we eat. On the contrary, the meat, dairy, and egg industries all actively encourage us to give thought to our own immediate interest (taste, for example, or cheap food) but not to the real suffering involved. They do so by deliberately withholding information and by cynically presenting us with idealized images of happy animals in beautiful landscapes, scenes of bucolic happiness that do not correspond to anything in the real world. The animals involved suffer agony because of our ignorance. The least we owe them is to lessen that ignorance.
As far as food is concerned, the great extravagance is not caviar or truffles, but beef, pork and poultry. Some 38 percent of the world's grain crop is now fed to animals, as well as large quantities of soybeans. There are three times as many domestic animals on this planet as there are human beings. The combined weight of the world's 1.28 billion cattle alone exceeds that of the human population. While we look darkly at the number of babies being born in poorer parts of the world, we ignore the over-population of farm animals, to which we ourselves contribute...[t]hat, however, is only part of the damage done by the animals we deliberately breed. The energy intensive factory farming methods of the industrialised nations are responsible for the consumption of huge amounts of fossil fuels. Chemical fertilizers, used to grow the feed crops for cattle in feedlots and pigs and chickens kept indoors in sheds, produce nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas. Then there is the loss of forests. Everywhere, forest-dwellers, both human and non-human, can be pushed out. Since 1960, 25 percent of the forests of Central America have been cleared for cattle. Once cleared, the poor soils will support grazing for a few years; then the graziers must move on. Shrub takes over the abandoned pasture, but the forest does not return. When the forests are cleared so the cattle can graze, billions of tons of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere. Finally, the world's cattle are thought to produce about 20 percent of the methane released into the atmosphere, and methane traps twenty-five times as much heat from the sun as carbon dioxide. Factory farm manure also produces methane because, unlike manured dropped naturally in the fields, it dies not decompose in the presence of oxygen. All of this amounts to a compelling reason...for a plant based diet.
I asked the feedlot manager why they didn't just spray the liquefied manure on neighboring farms. The farmers don't want it, he explained. The nitrogen and phosphorus levels are so high that spraying the crops would kill them. He didn't say that feedlot wastes also contain heavy metals and hormone residues, persistent chemicals that end up in waterways downstream, where scientists have found fish and amphibians exhibiting abnormal sex characteristics.