In this post I’m going to talk about feedlots and the positive and negative sides of it’s practice.

I’d like to make it clear that my goal here is not to make apology to vegetarianism, I don’t want to convince anyone to give up on eating meat, that’s not my place. That being said, let’s start!

Feedlots are also known as factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and they’re essentially huge waterhouses or pens designed to deliver energy-rich food to animals living at extremely high densities. Nowadays, over half our pork and poultry come from feedlots, as does much of our beef.

The positive side of feedlots are:

  • Allow for greater production of food. This is necessary for a country with a level of meat consumption like the US – without entering the merit if the country consumes more meat than they should, let’s try to only deal with the facts;
  • They have one overcharging benefit for environmental quality: when cattle, sheep, goats, and other livestock are taken off the land and concentrated in feedlots, there is a reduction on the impacts they would otherwise exert on large portions of the landscape;

The negative side of feedlots are:

  • It’s waste can emit strong odors and pollute surface water and groundwater, because livestock produce prodigious amounts of feces and urine;
  • Poor waste containment practices might cause outbreaks of disease like Pfiesteria, a microbe that poisons fish;
  • The crowded and dirty conditions under which animals are kept makes the heavy use of antibiotics necessary to control disease. These chemicals can be transferred up to food chain and we don’t know if they might cause us harm;
  • The overuse of antibiotics can cause microbes to evolve resistance to them;
  • There is the ethical issue among cruelty to animals, because the environment they live their whole lives are very stressful and dirty, and the way theiy’re killed is not the least pain possible;
  • There is the controversy wether if it is healthy or not to eat meat. Environmentalists say it is not, but some doctors say it is;
  • If we eat meat, we consume much more energy, water and soil resources, and therefore, we increase our carbon footprint. In fact, researches estimate that beef requires 16 times more fossil fuel energy and creates 24 times more greenhouse gas emissions than a mixed diet of vegetables and grains.
  • Some animals require more resources than others. Producing eggs and chicken meat requires the least space and water, whereas producing beef requires the most. In fact, to produce 1kg (2,2 lb) of food protein for milk, eggs, chicken, pork and beef; beef needs 20kg of food, 245 m² of land, and 750 kg of water; pork needs 7,3 kg of food, 90 m² of land, and 175 kg of water; for eggs production, chicken needs 4.5 kg of food, 22 m² of land, and 15kg of water; chicken needs 2.8kg of food, 14 m² of land, and 50 kg of water; and to produce 1 kg of milk, a cow needs 1,1kg of food, 23,5 m² of land, and 250 kg of water. Therefore, when we eat meat, we don’t eat just the meat, but also the resources necessary to produce them.
  • Meat is less energy efficient than a vegetarian diet, and pyramids of energy explain that. Each time energy moves from one trophic level to the next, as much as 90% is lost. In a few words, if we feed grain to a cow and than eat beef from the cow, we lose most of the grain’s energy to the cow’s metabolism. Energy is used up as the cow converts the grain to tissue as it grows, and as the cow uses its tissues and respires on daily basis. The lower in the food chain we take our food sources, the greater the proportion of the sun’s energy we use, and the more people Earth can support

Scientists developed lab grown meat, a new way to produce artificial meat. This way, people will still be able to eat meat and there will be no animal cruelty or use of natural resources. However, some questions still remains… who would eat it? Many people say their not comfortable with the idea of eating something that is not natural… in this way of thinking, is transgenics being considered natural food?

Read an article at the New York times about this.