At first glance, one might not notice the connection between meat-eating and colossal environmental problems such as global warming, desert expansion, the disappearance of tropical forests and the appearance of acid rain. In fact, meat production is the main problem of many global disasters. It is not only that one-third of the surface of the globe is turning into a desert, but also that the best agricultural lands have been so intensively used that they have already begun to lose their fertility and will no longer give such large harvests.
Once upon a time, farmers rotated their fields, grew a different crop each year for three years, and in the fourth year did not sow the field at all. They called to leave the field “fallow”. This method ensured that different crops consumed different nutrients each year so that the soil could regain its fertility. Since after the end of the Great Patriotic War the demand for animal food increased, this method was gradually no longer used.
Farmers now often grow the same crop in the same field year after year. The only way out is to enrich the soil with artificial fertilizers and pesticides – substances that destroy weeds and pests. The structure of the soil is disturbed and becomes brittle and lifeless and easily weathered. Half of all agricultural land in the UK is now at risk of being weathered or washed away by rain. On top of all that, the forests that once covered most of the British Isles have been cut down so that less than two percent remains.
More than 90% of ponds, lakes and swamps have been drained to create more fields for growing livestock feed. Around the world the situation is about the same. Modern fertilizers are based on nitrogen and unfortunately not all fertilizers used by farmers remain in the soil. Some are washed into rivers and ponds, where nitrogen can cause poisonous blooms. This happens when algae, normally growing in water, begin to feed on excess nitrogen, they begin to grow rapidly, and block out all the sunlight to other plants and animals. Such a bloom can use up all the oxygen in the water, thus smothering all plants and animals. Nitrogen also ends up in drinking water. Previously, it was believed that the consequences of drinking water saturated with nitrogen were cancer and a disease in newborns in which the red blood cells that transport oxygen were destroyed and could die from a lack of oxygen.
The British Medical Association has estimated that 5 million English people constantly drink water that contains too much nitrogen. Pesticides are also dangerous. These pesticides spread slowly but surely through the food chain, becoming more and more concentrated, and once ingested, they are very difficult to eliminate. Imagine that rain washes pesticides from a field into a nearby body of water, and algae absorb chemicals from the water, small shrimp eat algae, and day after day the poison accumulates inside their bodies. The fish then eats a lot of the poisoned shrimp, and the poison becomes even more concentrated. As a result, the bird eats a lot of fish, and the concentration of pesticides becomes even greater. So what started out as a weak solution of pesticides in a pond through the food chain can become 80000 times more concentrated, according to the British Medical Association.
The same story with farm animals that eat cereals sprayed with pesticides. The poison is concentrated in the tissues of animals and becomes even stronger in the body of a person who has eaten poisoned meat. Nowadays, many people have pesticide residues in their bodies. However, the problem is even more serious for meat eaters because meat contains 12 times more pesticides than fruits and vegetables.
A British pesticide control publication claims that “Food of animal origin is the main source of pesticide residues in the body.” Although no one knows exactly what effect these concentrated pesticides have on us, many doctors, including members of the British Medical Association, are very concerned. They fear that rising levels of pesticides accumulated in the human body could lead to cancer and lower immunity.
The Institute of Environmental Toxicology in New York has estimated that each year more than one million people worldwide suffer from pesticide poisoning and 20000 of them die. Tests carried out on British beef have shown that two out of seven cases contain the chemical diheldrin in excess of the limits set by the European Union. Diheldrin is considered the most dangerous substance, as according to the World Health Organization, it can cause birth defects and cancer.