Meat and the Environment

This is an excerpt from chapter two of “Divine Nature” a book which you can purchase at:


“By eliminating beef from the human diet, our species takes a significant step toward a new species consciousness, reaching out in a spirit of shared partnership with the bovine, and, by extension, other sentient creatures with whom we share the earth.” by Jeremy Rifkin



Beyond Beef

Killing animals for food, fur, leather, and cosmetics is one of the most environmentally destructive practices taking place on the earth today. The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement’s policies of protecting animals, especially cows, and broadly promoting a spiritual vegetarian diet could-if widely adopted-relieve many environmental problems.
These policies are rooted in the following philosophical and functional principles:

1. Humans should not slaughter animals for food. They should be as compassionate to cows and other farm animals as they are to their pet dogs and cats. Nonviolence extended beyond human society is known as ahiṁsā, an ancient Vedic principle still practiced in some parts of the world.

2. Cows are the most valuable animals to human society. They give us fuel, fertilizer, power (for tilling, transport, grinding, and irrigating), milk and milk products, and leather (after natural death).

3. The killing of animals violates karmic laws, creating collective and individual reactions in human society.

4. Well-documented medical studies show that flesh-eating is harmful to health.

5. Mass animal-killing for food and fashion erodes mercy, reducing respect for all kinds of life, including human life.

6. Meat diets are more expensive than nonmeat diets.

7. If the world switched to a nonmeat diet, it could radically increase its food output and save millions of people from hunger, starvation, and death.

8. Massive animal slaughter is destroying the environment. We shall now document this destruction, keeping in mind that it amounts to violence against the earth. It also has karmic consequences.

The meat industry is linked to deforestation, desertification, water pollution, water shortages, air pollution, and soil erosion. Neal D. Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (USA), therefore says, “If you’re a meat eater, you are contributing to the destruction of the environment, whether you know it or not. Clearly the best thing you can do for the Earth is to not support animal agriculture.”

And Jeremy Rifkin warns in his widely read book Beyond Beef: “Today, millions of Americans, Europeans, and Japanese are consuming countless hamburgers, steaks, and roasts, oblivious to the impact their dietary habits are having on the biosphere and the very survivability of life on earth. Every pound of grain-fed flesh is secured at the expense of a burned forest, an eroded rangeland, a barren field, a dried-up river or stream, and the release of millions of tons of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane into the skies.”





Forest Destruction

According to Vegetarian Times, half of the annual destruction of tropical rain forests is caused by clearing land for beef cattle ranches. Each pound of hamburger made from Central American or South American beef costs about 55 square feet of rain forest vegetation.

In the United States, about 260 million acres of forest have been cleared for a meat-centered diet. Each person who becomes a vegetarian saves one acre of trees per year.

About 40% of the land in the western United States is used for grazing beef cattle. This has had a detrimental effect on wildlife. Fencing has forced deer and antelope out of their natural habitats.


Agricultural Inefficiency

About half the world’s grain is consumed by animals that are later slaughtered for meat. This is a very inefficient process. It takes 16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce 1 pound of feedlot beef. If people were to subsist on grains and other vegetarian foods alone, this would put far less strain on the earth’s agricultural lands. About 20 vegetarians can be fed from the land it takes to feed 1 meat eater.

Eighty per cent of the corn raised in the United States is fed to livestock, as well as 95% of the oats. Altogether, 56% of all agricultural land in the United States is used for beef production. If all the soybeans and grain fed yearly to US livestock were set aside for human consumption, it would feed 1.3 billion people.


Soil Erosion and Desertification

Overgrazing and the intensive production of feed grain for cattle and other meat animals results in high levels of soil erosion. According to Alan Durning of the Worldwatch Institute (1986), one pound of beef from cattle raised on feedlots represents the loss of 35 pounds of topsoil. Over the past few centuries, the United States has lost about two-thirds of its topsoil.

In other countries, such as Australia and the nations of Africa on the southern edge of the Sahara, cattle grazing and feed-crop production on marginal lands contribute substantially to desertification.


Air Pollution

Burning of oil in the production of feed grain results in air pollution, including carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming. Another major source of air pollution is the burning of tropical forests to clear land for cattle grazing.

The meat industry burns up a lot of fossil fuel, pouring pollutants into the air. Calorie for calorie, it takes 39 times more energy to produce beef than soybeans. The petroleum used in the United States would decrease by 60% if people adopted a vegetarian diet.


Water Pollution

About 50% of the water pollution in the United States is linked to livestock. Pesticides and fertilizers used in helping grow feed grains run off into lakes and rivers. They also pollute ground water. In the feedlots and stockyard holding pens, there is also a tremendous amount of pesticide runoff. Organic contaminants from huge concentrations of animal excrement and urine at feedlots and stockyards also pollute water. This waste is anywhere from ten to hundreds of times more concentrated than raw domestic sewage. According to a German documentary film (Fleisch Frisst Menschen [Flesh Devours Man] by Wolfgang Kharuna), nitrates evaporating from open tanks of concentrated livestock waste in the Netherlands have resulted in extremely high levels of forest-killing acid rain.


Water Depletion

All around the world, the beef industry is wasting the diminishing supplies of fresh water. For example, the livestock industry in the United States takes about 50% of the water consumed each year.

Feeding the average meat-eater requires about 4,200 gallons of water per day, versus 1,200 gallons per day for a person following a lacto-vegetarian diet. While it takes only 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat.


The Bottom Line

Reducing or eliminating meat consumption would have substantial positive effects on the environment. Fewer trees would be cut, less soil would be eroded, and desertification would be substantially slowed. A major source of air and water pollution would be removed, and scarce fresh water would be conserved. “To go beyond beef is to transform our very thinking about appropriate behavior toward nature,” says Jeremy Rifkin. “We come to appreciate the source of our sustenance, the divinely inspired creation that deserves nurture and requires stewardship. Nature is no longer viewed as an enemy to be subdued and tamed.”




Other Reasons Not to Kill Cows

Of course, saving the environment is not the only reason it’s good to avoid eating meat, particularly beef. Further reasons, some of which we mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, are discussed at length in other books published by the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement (see the resource section at the end of this book).

During the process of converting grain to meat, 90% of the protein, 99% of the carbohydrates, and 100% of the dietary fiber are lost.

It is well documented that vegetarians are less likely to contract certain kinds of heart disease and cancer. So better health is one of the benefits of the flesh-free, karma-free diet practiced by the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. This diet is not only healthier but also more satisfying to the mind and taste buds than meat-centered diets.

Furthermore, eliminating meat-eating would release a vast quantity of food grain for human consumption, thus helping solve the problem of world hunger. And on an ethical level, stopping animal-killing would help induce a greater respect for all kinds of life, including human.


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