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Living without Meat

2010 April 20

I used to eat meat throughout my childhood, but never really enjoyed the taste. Only after a graphic showing of a pig slaughter I witnessed in elementary school did I stop eating pig, and once I was in high-school I became of full-on vegetarian. My main reasoning for this was more that I disliked the taste of meat, but the ethics against killing animals was a reasoning as well.

I soon learned that there was another great motive to becoming vegetarian; the negative environmental effects of meat production . There are a variety of different environmental impacts that occur due to the production of meat:

  • Air pollution due to dust and liquid manures.
  • Fossil fuels, water, and land over-use
  • Rainforest erosion and destruction for pasture land
  • Water contamination due to animal waste
  • Grain and corn grown for animal feed instead of addressing world hunger

The two natural resources that are perhaps most tapped by meat manufacturing are land and water. According to the British group, VegFarm, a 10-acre piece of land can feed 60 people when used for the production of soybeans, 24 people when used for wheat, 10 people when used for corn, and only a mere 2 people when used for cattle. Similarly, the amount of water used is severely disproportional when comparing wheat to meat. In a book written by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, one pound of wheat uses approximately 60 pounds of water while one pound of meat requires about 2,500 to 6,000 pounds of water.

Another issue that the EPA is specifically interested in is the pollution that feedlots and animal wastes are causing in waterways . The runoff from feedlots and animals feces-covered fields is causing some of our waters, such as areas in the Chesapeake Bay, to become unhealthy.

Regulations can be made to help prevent the effects of meat production, but the easiest way to lessen the environmental impacts is to become a vegetarian or vegan. The vegetarian/vegan alternative can be easily accomplished in today’s markets and restaurants. Meat substitutes including tofu, seitan, and soy-based products are more easily accessible in grocery stores and especially in the rising organic food markets. Also, many restaurants are now providing vegetarian options to better suit those who do not eat meat. Making the change can be difficult, but persistence in becoming a vegetarian can lead to a more eco-friendly lifestyle

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

Editor’s note: As stated on the “About” page, “The opinions and comments expressed in Greenversations are those of the authors alone and do not reflect an Agency policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy of the contents of the blog.”

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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405 Responses leave one →
  1. LMD permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Does it ‘amaze’ you that ppl who don’t smoke, perhaps have never smoked, tobacco, think everyone in the country should follow that non-smoking practice? Sometimes, there is a benefit to generalizing, or at least an obvious reason for generalizing.

  2. Carolyn permalink
    April 27, 2010

    I agree,Nicole–thanks for initiating this discussion. And I thought you would find it interesting to note that the Farm Bureau opposed a bill in Mississippi to make cruelty to cats and dogs a felony. Connect the dots. What is it they feared? That such a law might somehow impact the meat industry? What does that tell you?

    Meat is a habit, like smoking. It isn’t a necessity for a healthy life. When folks like Mr. Bailey’s family farmed, the portion of meat eaten was very small. Animals grazed naturally. Folks worked much harder physically back then, too. With our super-sized meals and portions, we are killing ourselves with meat and fat. The suffering of the animals on a factory farm is incredible. Karma is a bitch.

  3. Bill Harshman permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Further proof that lawmakers enact laws and that 5 big, thick oaken doors back in the bowels of Washington, DC far from the voting public is a academician really setting policy. No interns don’t set policy, but they often become employees who do. Lets make these people accountable to the public.

  4. aaron also permalink
    April 27, 2010

    I just really wish these geniuses sitting in offices pontificating these lies would actually go outside to farms/ranches and see for themselves how our food and fiber is produced. Then maybe they wouldn’t “just use a figure” from a U.N. report.

  5. aaron permalink
    April 27, 2010

    You do realize that produce doesn’t just grow everywhere, right? Yes people can make a garden grow in the summer but (about 90 days), what about winter time? Oh, gosh we’ll have to TRUCK them to the cold climates, and we’ll have to burn MORE fuel pumping MORE water burning MORE fuel in order to irrigate the vegetables and use MORE pesticides and fertilizers getting the soil into shape to produce said vegetables. All this ‘no meat’ talk sounds great on paper but if you REALLY think it through it looses much of it’s glory.

    You people really whine about biotech crops but do you realize the massive drop in chemical use since the introduction of biotech vegetables and crops?

  6. aaron permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Oh Sarah, the ‘green energy’ sector is by far and away the most heavily subsidized industry bar none. GMO’s allow us to use much less pesticides, actually we don’t even have a license to purchase insecticides on our farm, thanks to BT corn we don’t have to spray for corn borers any more. Thank you technology!

  7. Anonymous permalink
    April 27, 2010

    It’s possible to grow vegetables all year round using greenhouses and/or being innovative/creative in other ways. I visited Michigan State University a year or so ago and saw hoop green houses at the student run organic farm where they grow greens in the winter!

  8. wade harter permalink
    April 27, 2010

    The Bible states, in scripture to Peter, that all foods are given by God for man’s nursement.

  9. Caroline permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Thank God the EPA is finally paying attention. I am a vegan now after many years getting on and off the vegetarian lifestyle. My first reason, many years back, was because of the treatment of factory farmed animals. To this day, my reasons are moral and not health related. However, I do believe that the farming of animals on this enormous scale cannot properly be managed without pollution and destruction on many levels. I just got over a salmonella infection I got from infected celery.. I am just today better.. which magnifies the truth that not even veggies are safe from this unless we get the manure out of the water supply. Regulations are obviously not enough. We need to scale it down and people need to eat less meat.

  10. Earl permalink
    April 27, 2010

    The assumption aand stats cited here are not valid nor are they reflective of the real world. This is just the case of a opinion with heavy emotional investment being supported by selected facts and statistics and have no real substance. American food production is best, most efficient, safest, and most humane in the history of man and you want to attack it. Odd. Every bit of food you prevent from being produced by it just means more rainforest somewhere gets slashed and burnt because that becomes the only source of food for those people.

  11. HOG Killer permalink
    April 27, 2010

    To each is own, deer taste gooooood

  12. Earl permalink
    April 27, 2010

    I was recently at a vet meeting where a well menaing but emotionally biases person touting an all vegetable dog food stated that it is now a scientifiic fact that dogs aren’t carnivores and can live on vegetable diets naturally. This so typical of the whole vegan perspective, they selctively find proof for obsurd postions. To be true vegan you must be a wealthy urbanite from a highly technological culture to get the nutrients you need. Man evolved to be an omivore, in fact he very poorly equiped to even eat grains unless highly processed. There is nothing natural about being vegan, just the opposite. It is a case of emotion and misplaced desire being constued as science and truth. Look at your teeth, your digestive system with the cloud of bias and it quit clear we need meat. Just like the poor misimformed dog food person saying that it is now proven that obligate carnivores, dogs, aren’t carnivores. Wishful thinking just doesn’t make it so. But the number one issue is tha I’ll bet that 95% plus vegan have never lived on a farm or been involved seriously with food production. They think they know, but have never reallye expereinced any of it.

  13. Roy permalink
    April 27, 2010

    This blog seems to be missing a critical point. The numbers and the discussion appear to assume that all meat is grain fed. I agree that feedlots pollute. And ruminant animals (i.e. beef) are not adapted to feedlots. Beef cattle have multiple stomachs which allow them to efficiently digest forage material such as grass; however, they are not good at digesting grains, such as corn, so keep the corn for people. Another option is to eat grass-fed beef which can be raised with virtually no fossil fuel inputs (no diesel, no fertilizer, etc). In addition, raising beef on grass allows us to produce food on a large portion of the western United States that otherwise would not be producing food due to poor soils and lack of rainfall. Raising grass-fed beef is sustainable due to the minimal inputs.

  14. Julie permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Those who have “thought it through” and studied this issue have shown quite definitively that a vegetarian based system has much less impact on the environment.

  15. Zino permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Good for Nicole to say what NEEDs to be said! Still, I eat meat! I don’t eat a lot, and do get a lot of fish and vegetables, but once or twice a week we have some kind of local beef.

    What needs to be said more realistically is to stop buying FACTORY FARM MEATS. Those are bad in almost every possible way; pollution, mad-cow, hormones and antibiotics, labor practices and unfair competition by having bought-and-paid for politicians running interference in Washington.

    America needs a new agricultural paradigm that assesses the true costs of factory, corporate food production.

  16. Julie permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Thanks so much for bringing more light to this issue. I think it’s really important to take oppurtunities to talk about the benefits of a veg based diet when ever possible.

  17. aaron permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Very true Roy, the only problem is the massive amount of acreage to raise the cattle. Here in Kansas we run between 8-12 acres per head of feeder steer or heifer depending upon location. In the Western United states it takes three or four hundred acres to sustain a single animal. That and grain feed beef is much more tender and tastes better!

  18. Jonathan Maxson permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Adoption of a well-planned vegan diet is a scientifically valid way for Americans to reduce the amount of land and water required to raise their food and to reduce the cost of government environmental regulation of the meat industry.

    This is verifiable by any competent student who examines the issue in light of the consensus science universally accessible through the curriculum and library of any accredited U.S. institution of higher education.

    It takes less land and water to raise a vegan diet, and a smaller livestock industry costs less to regulate.

    The U.S. population is on track to double in about 80 years. We need to reduce average per capita livestock product consumption by fifty percent over 80 years just to keep the industry’s impact from getting any bigger than it already is.

    But the livestock industry is already much too big. Fifty percent of the total U.S. land base is now used to raise livestock. We need to get as much of that land into forest and perennial biomass as possible in order to mitigate global climate change and improve our national soil, water, and energy security.

    I am ashamed that EPA editorial leadership is not providing more support to Nicole Riesing. It should not be up to an intern and a university sophomore to show the world how the EPA should be doing its job.

  19. April 27, 2010

    Earl, you’re the misinformed one. Dogs are not obligate carnivores, as are cats. Dogs are ominivores. And I have lived on a farm. I do know what it’s like. I will choose not eating dead animals any where I live.

  20. April 27, 2010

    “Man’s nursement”? Just goes to show Bible thumpers aren’t the most educated bananas in the bunch.

  21. April 27, 2010

    Proud, I guess you’re not aware that we do actually have rainforest in North America, in the Pacific Northwest. It would be destroyed by beef cattle, just as it’s being destroyed in Central and South America.

    Your contention that ranchers conserve better than farmers is laughable. How ya doin’ “conserving” all those natural predators you guys so love to kill off?

    Yourr 2000 page book of restrictions is only as good as the enforcement that should come with it, and that is minimal. Admit it, no one’s watching you break those rules. You don’t want rules. You want it to be like the wild west days, when ranchers were the real men. Those days are gone. There are too many humans on the planet now to even begin to supply them with meat in any kind of sustainable fashion. Too many people eating too much meat…that’s the reality of today, whether you’re ready to accept it or not.

  22. aaron permalink
    April 27, 2010

    For singular use I normally use calf.

    Cow is a bred female, for an unbred female use hefier.
    Bull is any male that hasn’t been castrated and a Steer is a castrated bull.

  23. aaron permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Food Inc is a joke. A suffering animal is not a happy animal and if our cattle are not happy they don’t gain weight, simple as that. Our animals eat before we do, we don’t go on vacation and trust them to our neighbors or haul them to a kennel. Animals are our way of life and have been for generations. You farm critics celebrate earth day once a year we celebrate it every single day and have done so for generations, it’s our life blood the only thing we have to make a living from why would we destroy our most precious resource? I’m sick and tired of you people trying to tell us how to farm when most of you have never left the city.

  24. Lindsey permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Thanks to the EPA and Nicole for this post. I’m glad for the attention it has attracted. All of us, producers and consumers both, have an obligation to question conventional agriculture and consider the real cost of food production.

  25. This topic has taken over my brain permalink
    April 27, 2010

    great feature… I am currently doing extensive research on this issue which is why I now am another voice to this post. Really I just wanted to say that after “The Meat!” spelled ‘ridiculous’ wrong, I stopped reading…

  26. April 27, 2010

    Do both, as we have, and your bases are covered. All the recycling in the world can’t begin to equal the reduction in impact from not reproducing and not eating meat.

  27. April 28, 2010

    Well, Kansas folk, I’m one of you. Born and raised in Kansas farm country. But I’ve been away from it, and have seen other ways of living. I can no longer pretend that producing meat is anything other than destroying the future of our grandchildren. The planet simply cannot sustain the massive numbers of cattle needed for almost 7 BILLION people. You’re living in dream world if you think otherwise. Take your own advice and explore outside your own experience. Your view of reality is very, very limited.

  28. Kay permalink
    April 28, 2010

    Current issues with the animal industry: land, air, and water pollution; disease (such as Swine Flu); chemical use (higher in animal industry than in vegetable industry); the rise of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes (all have been directly linked with meat consumption, and there are others); antibiotics, growth hormones, and other chemicals that WE EAT when we consume animals; deforestation (largely due to increased cattle grazing in the rainforest); loss of biodiversity, famine (it takes more grain to make meat than if you just fed people the grain directly); animal cruelty, general global destruction (per the United Nations and other credible scientists – animal agriculture is the number one cause of global warming); increased incidents of food poisoning and meat recalls that have been tainted with E.Coli, Salmonella, Listeria, etc (these organisms come from animals farming specifically!); and the fact that the run-off from CAFOs has gotten into our food supply and caused the “Spinach Outbreak” and other food contamination.
    Isn’t this enough for us to realize the “cost” of animal products FAR outweghs the benefit?

  29. HaydnsMum1 permalink
    April 28, 2010

    Just wanting to show my support of the site. My son and I have recently gone veg. are on our way to vegan.

  30. Anonymous permalink
    April 30, 2010

    it’s called eating in season – preserving the harvest in season for eating in the winter, and eating storage vegetables in the winter, just like people did for thousands of years before someone created this backwards economic system where we need to import and export food.

  31. Louise permalink
    May 1, 2010

    Well the cows have to be fed something during the Winter months, too. I’m sure we can manage to do the same for ourselves.

  32. Louise permalink
    May 1, 2010

    Come on, guys. Let’s be straight about this.

    The people getting all riled up about this article are doing so for selfish reasons. Either they are livestock farmers and want the money, or they eat meat and don’t want to feel bad about it.

    The fact of the matter is, it’s just common sense that the most sustainable, environmentally friendly and healthy diet is vegan. It’s glaringly obvious, even aside from facts and figures.

    Enough of the food chain debate. Feeding your cat beef and pork hardly supports your argument now, does it? If you want to go back to the “natural” food chain, then be my guest. Go out into the wild and hunt the food to sustain you and your family. But don’t go and buy a skinned chicken breast and then give me that that it’s natural.

  33. Anonymous permalink
    May 3, 2010

    simple solution, allow predators to live in their natural habitats and there will be no overpopulation of any species…..except man.

  34. Anonymous permalink
    May 3, 2010

    The Simplot livestock are crammed into barren, smelly lots where the cows lay and stand on their feces, even climbing to the top of manure pile to get some fresh air or room to stand by themselves in one town (contaminating the air of surrounding towns), while the Simplot office is in a big city far away from the stench 40 minutes away.
    Idaho farmers/ranchers are so not eco-friendly as they constantly poison the fields with chemical pesticides, fertilizers and poisons to kill wildlife. And how is their cry for eradicating the wolf, the bear, the mountain lion eco-friendly.

  35. Anonymous permalink
    May 3, 2010

    Catherine and John are very ignorant on the production of meat. The livestock are not kept in a serene environment and are not disease free. The animals are tortured daily by the workers. Their tails twisted off, to help keep the manure from clinging to them….but fails due to the lack of cleanliness on the property. If the newborn calves are kept alive long enough to put feed into, their horns are burned off, with out medical care, only a finger in the eye to help hold it steady for the painful procedure. They are constantly kicked head to gentiles. The animals are hit with tools. The newborn calves are dragged away to where they are starved to death. The females often have their uterus fall out of them. And they all receive antibiotics to help keep the infections down, but fail as all the cows end up with open wounds, red, irritated, enlarged, and oozing with puss.
    The meat is contaminated with heavy metals. The US has no standards for this contamination, but other countries do, like Mexico, so our meat is not sold to other countries.
    If they were so happy and healthy, why are we so concerned with illnesses like ecol i, mad cow disease ?
    You are consuming hormone growth, infection puss, and antibiotics….how is this healthy for anyone?

  36. Anonymous permalink
    May 3, 2010

    actually most of the livestock would die quickly, they have lost the ability to reproduce and care for themselves.

  37. Karen permalink
    May 3, 2010

    Don’t where you got your information regarding Brazil’s deforestation, but most of the deforestation has been so they can plant crops.

  38. Karen permalink
    May 3, 2010

    There is some runoff but not nearly as much as there is from public municipals. If a farmer has an equipment breakdown and has a spill he is slapped with a fine. If a public sewage plant has a breakdown or is flooded there is not so much as a slap on the hand. Then there are also all the towns people who have their lawns sprayed to keep them weed free and looking so good. When it rains where do you think all the chemicals go. Down the sewer system and into treatment plants. There are numerous plants that once the water is treated it goes into streams and rivers. Only trouble is treatment does not kill the chemicals. Again the municipals get a free license to pollute. The good conscientious farmers would never consider dumping into stream, rivers, etc.

  39. Karen permalink
    May 3, 2010

    My family stands with your on your comment.

  40. Karen permalink
    May 3, 2010

    For those look at spellings and grammer, tt should have said: My family stands with you regarding your comment.

  41. Steve permalink
    May 3, 2010

    Really. Where did you get this “truth”. I have been a farmer and rancher all of my life and out here in the country on our so called “factory farms” the air and water are clean. Our animals are treated humanly and we love our stock. I wish that city folks would visit a real farm and quit blindly believing the propaganda and garbage spewed by peta and hsus. When I go to the city, I see millions of people driving cars and trucks belching pollution. The air is fiflthy and there are numerous sewage plants, people are dumping tremdous amounts of chemicals and fertilizer on their lawns. You people are blind to the real world. Get out from behind that computer screen and go out into the real world. Enjoy life, enjoy a good steak and quit worrying about what other people are eating. We are all living longer and happier lives than they did in the good old days. I know I don’t want to go back to eating the same few boring things every day.

  42. Louie permalink
    May 4, 2010

    HEADLINE: INTERN OUTSMARTS THE CATTLE INDUSTRY!!! One of the cattle industry’s hopes is that their “dirty little secrets” (pun intended) will not be exposed. By taking Ms. Reising’s bait and hook, they have succeeded in exposing themselves to more scrutiny. Congratulations Nicole!!!! Since the cattle industry has responded with such vigor to this blog, they have forced the public spotlight back onto their practices.

    Who knew a little ‘ole intern from Indiana could so easily outfox the cattle industry–CONGRATULATIONS! You make us all proud!

  43. Beef producer and farmer permalink
    May 4, 2010

    So when people say they are vegitarians due to the fact that they simply don’t like the taste of meat I can whole heartily respect that but when people try to use the excuses such as water contamination and the inhuman treatment of animals to back their claims is when i start to lose faith in them. First of all the videos the humane society likes to show that is a rarity and those who do that should be punished but not those of us who extremely care for our animals. Secondly, when they say that the animals are polluting the air and water and consuming grains that should be used for human needs, I would have to say that if everyone in the world stopped eating meat, that the world would become so over populated that the waste from so many added animals would result in a fast and wide spread pandemic of new diseases and viruses. You say that today’s animal producers contaminate the water and air but we are designing new and more ecofriendly ways of disposing of the water such as manure run power plants. The vegans go as far as to condemn us for giving our animals antibiotics and vaccines to stop the spread of disease and keep our animals alive. Its ironic how we as animal producers get condemned for killing animals but also trying to keep them alive with the same medicines we give ourselves every day….

  44. steve permalink
    May 4, 2010

    Greenhouses are made of petroleum products, use huge amounts of power for heating/cooling, use lots of water since it doesn’t rain in a greenhouse, and apply massive amounts of animal waste which exploits creatures with a face and that wouldn’t be right.

  45. Renee permalink
    May 8, 2010

    Ive been vegetarian for over a year now. I’m amazed at all the really good foods there are. We get a lot of the morning star products. Also plenty of fruits and veggies. And I agree, I became aware of factory farms its just sickening and shouldn’t be allowed to happen. The people that work at those places are desensitized to suffering its scary to me that there are people like that out there.

  46. Aaron permalink
    May 11, 2010

    We open ourselves to scrutiny, I wish the people who are in charge of ‘climate change’ would be just as open about their data and political agenda. We invite city folks, non farmers and school children to our farms every day to teach them about agriculture and how the industry has changed for the better over the years. Less then a hundred years ago nearly the entire population of the United States raised their own food, today it’s less then two percent. Why? It’s hard work, high risk and low financial reward. We are one of the most regulated industries in the nation, Louie we make our living from the land, it is our only resource why would we ruin it?

  47. Aaron permalink
    May 11, 2010

    Again, please research how many hormones are in your Soy Latte’ or in a cabbage salad…I’ll give you a hint, there is nearly as much estrogen in a head of cabbage as there is in a birth control pill. And how is the chemical use in the Animal Industry higher then in growing vegetable industry?

  48. five fingers shoes permalink
    May 24, 2010

    good post,thank you for share
    I think your post is ok

  49. kamina permalink
    May 30, 2010

    pig should not be eaten.
    meat is provided by Allah so we should try to eat it.

  50. islander permalink
    June 8, 2010

    Congratulations Ms Reising! The backlash to your post is an indication of just how deep denial runs in this country. The mess we’re in with animal centric agricultual practises is indeed global, but the influence the US has on the rest of the world demands that we demonstrate true leadership and lead the way forward with the courage to change.

    You have succeeded indeed in activating an important conversation. Do not take the negativity personally, as it has nothing to do with you but the fears of others who sense that their way of life is threatened and don’t yet understand, obviously, why things must change.

    Howard Lyman is a great example of a career cattle producer who finally woke up and realized the seriousness of the problems he himself was a part of. Today this former fourth generation Texas rancher advocates a vegan diet and speaks out candidly about his insider knowledge of animal agribusiness. He wrote a book called ‘The Mad Cowboy’ and there is an excellent documentary by the same name that tells his story.

    There is no time to waste in addressing the seriousness of the problems facing us on this planet (from global warming to widespread hunger ). In the UK, other areas of the world, and a few places now in North America stockfree farming is a growing movement proving the viability of food production free of all domestic animal inputs, and their inherent problems.
    Visit the Vegan Organic Network online for further information on this critical topic .

    Just a few days ago a new UN report announced the necessity of moving away from meat and dairy wherever possible. Contrary to what one poster here has tried to pass off as the truth, the contribution of animal agribusess to global warming exceeds the impact of all vehicle transportation COMBINED.

    UK Gaurdian article:

    Full report:

    Oh, and I should mention that I’m a healthy vegan going on thirty meat and dairy free years. keep up the good work and remember that caring about animals and the environment the way you do is a STRENGTH, no matter who tries to pull you down.

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