MYTH #1:

Meat consumption contributes to famine and depletes the Earth's natural resources.

Some have argued that cows and sheep require pasturage that could be better used to raise grains to feed starving millions in Third World countries. Additionally, claims are made that raising livestock requires more water than raising plant foods. Both arguments are illogical and simplistic. The pasturage argument ignores the fact that a large portion of our Earth's dry land is unsuited to cultivation. The open range and desert and mountainous areas yield their fruits to grazing animals (1).

Unfortunately, the bulk of commercial livestock are not range fed, but stall fed. They do not ingest grasses and shrubs (like they should), but are fed an unnatural array of grains and soybeans. It is true that these foods could be fed to humans. The argument here, then, is not that eating meat depletes the Earth's resources, but that commercial farming methods do. Such methods also subject livestock to deplorable living conditions where infections, antibiotics, steroids and synthetic hormones are common. These all lead to an unhealthy animal and, by extension, an unhealthy food product. Organically raised livestock, then, is a healthier and more humane choice (see myth #15 for more on this topic).

As for the claims that raising livestock requires more water than raising plant foods, water that livestock drink would be drunk by them anyway, even if they were not being raised for food. Additionally, the urine of grazing animals, which mostly comprises water, is rich in nitrogen which helps replenish the soil. Much of the water used in commercial livestock farming, however, is used up in growing the various grains and soybeans fed to the animals. If a concerted effort were made to return to the ecologically sound "mixed farm," (described below), then such huge expenditures of water would be unnecessary.

A far more serious threat to humanity, and the Earth, is the monoculture of grains and legumes, advocated by some vegetarian groups, which depletes the soil and requires the heavy use of artificial fertilisers and dangerous pesticides; pesticides that must first be tested on animals for safety (2). The solution? Astute writers on this dilemma have pointed out:

The educated consumer and the enlightened farmer together can bring about a return of the mixed farm, where cultivation of fruits, vegetables and grains is combined with the raising of livestock and fowl in a manner that is efficient, economical and environmentally friendly. For example, chickens running free in garden areas eat insect pests, while providing high-quality eggs; sheep grazing in orchards obviate the need for herbicides; and cows grazing in woodlands and other marginal areas provide rich, pure milk, making these lands economically viable for the farmer. It is not animal cultivation that leads to hunger and famine, but unwise agricultural practices and monopolistic distribution systems. (3)

The "mixed farm" is also healthier for the soil, which will yield more crops if managed according to traditional guidelines. British organic farmer and dairyman Mark Purdey has accurately pointed out that a crop field on a mixed farm will yield up to five harvests a year, while a "mono-cropped" one will only yield one or two (4). Which farm is producing more food for the world's peoples? Purdey well sums up the ecological horrors of "battery farming" by saying:

Our agricultural establishments could do very well to outlaw the business- besotted farmers running intensive livestock units, battery systems and beef-burger bureaucracies; with all their wastages, deplorable cruelty, anti-ozone slurry systems; drug/chemical induced immunotoxicity resulting in B.S.E. [see myth # 13] amd salmoella, rain forest eradication, etc. Our future direction must strike the happy, healthy medium of mixed farms, resurrecting the old traditional extensive system as a basic framework, then bolstering up productivity to present day demands by incorporating a more updated application of biological science into farming systems. (5)