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The meat that eats the world

The meat that eats the world


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By Silvia Ribeiro *

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), producing a thousand calories of food in the form of cereals requires approximately half a cubic meter of water. Producing the same amount as meat requires four cubic meters and for dairy, more than six cubic meters. They are barely averages since the way of raising makes spending very different: a cow raised industrially and in confinement uses much more water than a cow grazing in the open air. The same is repeated with other consumption animals: peasant and backyard farming of pigs, birds, goats, uses a minimal part of the water from the enormous volumes that are used for industrial farming facilities, which are becoming larger and larger. they are literally consuming most of the water and arable land on the planet.

It is not that animals drink so much water or use so much land: most of the water consumption is due to the fact that animals in confinement overconsume only industrially produced grains and forages, the production of which requires enormous volumes of water and energy . The vast majority of GM corn and soy produced in the world is for this purpose. According to WWF, to produce a single kg. of meat, 6.5 kg are used on average. of grains, 36 kg. of fodder and 15,500 liters of water. To this we must add that the animal husbandry industry is an important factor in the contamination of surface and underground water sources, by phosphorus and nitrates, coming from manure and fertilizers. Manure, which in free grazing is a fertilizer that helps soils and fertility, becomes a huge problem when fermenting anaerobically in large pools and facilities in confined industrial farming. Already over-fertilization is a bigger problem than lack of fertilizer. Leakages to groundwater also reach springs and wells, rendering the water undrinkable. According to the Meat Atlas, if authorities were to check nitrate levels, people should stop drinking that water, but this does not happen in many places.

The livestock industry also eats up the vast majority of the planet's agricultural land. Of the 14 billion hectares of cultivated land on the planet, a third is used to produce fodder. If oilseeds, straw, hay, silage, rapeseed, grape and soybean paste that go to feeders are also considered, three-quarters of cultivated land is dedicated to animal feed. According to the UNDP, 78 percent (!) Of all agricultural land on the planet is dedicated to animal husbandry, including the production of animal feed, forage and pasture.

On a global average - with great differences between regions - more than half of the cereals grown is used for animal feed. In Africa such a figure is unthinkable, there people consume more than 80 percent of cereals and livestock are fed on grazing land. The voracity for land for animal production is also a cause of deforestation in many parts of the world. It is considered the largest deforestation factor in the Brazilian Amazon, which is added to the brutal advance of the planting of transgenic soybeans –to feed cattle in other parts of the world– on the Cerrado, a unique ecosystem of tropical savanna, whose destruction also erodes the Amazonia.


The confined factory farming of animals uses and spreads, in addition, a huge amount of chemicals and toxins. Due to the crowded conditions and to make them grow faster, they use a huge volume of antibiotics and antivirals, the same ones that are for human use. In many cases, they add antibiotics to food to promote fattening. This use is illegal in Europe and some other countries, but by citing veterinary reasons, the industry bypasses the restrictions. The World Health Organization points to this industry as one of the main factors in the creation of multi-resistant superbugs, greater resistance in viruses and the creation of new diseases that affect humans, such as bird flu and swine flu.

The consumption of diverse, local, peasant meats, free grazing, without chemicals and in small quantities is a good food supplement. But nothing that comes from this thriving transnational animal husbandry industry and its derivatives meets these conditions. On the contrary, while it devours and poisons our lands, waters and forests, it makes us sick and impedes peasant production and healthy consumption. * Researcher at the ETC Group

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