Conversions: Plant-Based Eating and Cattle Land Use
Earlier this month, I posted a review of Netflix’ remarkable documentary David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet. Today, I saw a news flash that another celebrity has converted to plant-based eating after watching it.
I suspect that Attenborough’s breathtaking cinematography, with image after image revealing the loss of Earth’s wild places, helped Thor star Kat Dennings reach his decision.
The documentary’s disturbing message, in David’s words, is that “We are replacing the wild with the tame.” But he also leaves his viewers with an easily implemented solution: to save our plant, we must all eat,
What we eat has an enormous impact on wild habitat loss because it determines how we use land. Our choices are:
Leaving the land in its natural state, as we do with national parks or forests, conservation areas, and nature preserves.
Developing the land as towns, cities, and avenues of transportation.
Cultivating the land to grow livestock feed or forage.
Cultivating the land to grow crops for human consumption.
Towns and cities aren’t compatible with wild places. But most of them seem to have enough room for urban sprawl. There’s simply no need to build new ones in what remains of our jungles, forests or wide-open spaces!
Why, then, has the Earth seen its wildernesses shrink from 65% when my parents were born in the early ‘50s, to only 35% today? Expanding agriculture has played a major role in the decrease.
The same land that grows crops to feed livestock can grow them to feed us!
If livestock ate less than we do – or less than their carcasses provide us – perhaps raising them wouldn’t have such a big environmental impact. But they don’t consume less than we do.
Let’s take a look at the difference:
Human Population: 7.8 billion
Daily dry food (no moisture) consumption per person: 1.3 lbs
Total: 10.14 billion pounds of dry food daily.
Cattle Population: 1.7 billion
Daily dry matter consumption per cow: 19.2 lbs
Total: 32.64 billion pounds of dry food daily.
With each passing day, the Earth’s cattle eat triple the amount of food we do. If our ultimate choices are plant-based food or a meat-centric diet, why would we choose the one that uses so much more land?
And that’s where today’s second “conversion” comes in.
This Animal Care Practice website breaks down the beef industry’s Feed Conversion Ratio, which determines how much weight a cow will gain from a specific amounts of food.
Chickens, they say, convert crops more efficiently than cattle, because they need less food to gain 1 pound of weight. Cows are “inefficient” land converters:
“Inefficiency is considered as a more suitable and accurate term for this, considering the loss of natural resources and crops that are involved in the production of beef and other animal-sourced foods (ASF).”
Of course, we humans consume the beef converted from a crop food. What does our rate of conversion look like?
An average cow will need to eat around 10,000 pounds of dry plant matter before slaughter to provide us with 500 pounds of boneless beef. But this beef has a moisture content of 73 percent!
The dry weight of jerky (beef protein/fat with no moisture) the cow provides is closer to 135 pounds, just 1.3 percent of the 10,000 pounds of feed it consumed.
Put another way, a person can live for 27 years with 10,000 pounds of dry plant matter, but only 4 months on 125 lbs of beef. From a land use standpoint – raising cattle is an inefficient conversion to say the least!
The meat industry’s argument is that since we don’t “need” the land, we might as well use it for cattle. With the world’s population fast approaching 10 billion, however, we most certainly DO need the wilderness.
We need to cut out the middle cow!
Unless we adjust our agricultural practices, we’ll completely destroy the jungles and other wild places. And our payback will be untold consequences on our environment!