How many pigs, cows and chickens live among us, and is it time we asked why they do?
Is raising livestock in such abundance sustainable for the future of the human race?
If we no longer required the presence of domesticated animals for food, what would we do with them? Would we still care for them? House them, feed them, take care of their medical needs, their need to socialize with others of their kind, and to be able to spend time in nature? Would we sterilize all of them so they could no longer reproduce?
This is no small matter to consider, because most of the crops we grow worldwide go to feed these animals and great investment is put into raising and caring for them. In the United States alone, only 12% of the corn grown (and we grow more corn than any other nation) goes directly into human food. About 80% of it goes to feed livestock (http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/cropmajor.html).
If we stopped using domesticated animals as food, would chickens, pigs, cattle and even some forms of farm-raised fish and other seafood go extinct in short order? It is estimated that there are 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cows, and about one billion each of pigs and sheep in the world today (http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/07/global-livestock-counts). In a sense though that is just the tip of the iceberg, because the most common kind of meat consumed by humans does not come from these animals. It comes from goats. There are also over one billion goats being raised as we speak around the globe as a human food source, and many other kinds of animals both semi-domesticated and wild, from turkeys and ducks to rabbits and a wide array of seafood bred in captivity.
There is also the occasional experiment with eating other exotic kinds of animals as a steady food source including eels, various reptiles and amphibians, insects, horses and dogs. If we still required our protein to come from living things as part of our diet, one of these species might become a dominant substitute if we made a commitment to get rid of the factory farming of others.
If everyone voluntarily went vegetarian, we would have an abundance of grain crops in a year’s time, far more than the human population of the planet had a need for, and we’d also make much less use of fresh water. Currently about 93% of all the fresh water used by the human race goes to the needs of irrigated agriculture, and 2/3 of all land under irrigation is dedicated to generating livestock feed. Despite this vast cost in the use of natural resources to raise food animals, the practice is on the rise instead of the decline with estimates that global consumption of pork, beef and chicken was due to double globally between the years 2004 to 2020.
So if cutting this practice back could be such an incredible boon to mankind in terms of an abundance of fresh water (an increasingly scarce commodity, especially in volatile regions like the Middle East) and if it could bring a rapid end to human starvation, why don’t we do it? About 2% - 4% of the world’s population considers itself vegetarian and these ranks are growing up to 10% or so a year, but the increase is only a gradual one if that.
Humanity has been living on meat for centuries, a practice that was practical and economical when the population was small. I know what the popular argument is for continuing the status quo (I’m not a vegetarian myself, at least yet). Meat consuming people will often tell you that in truth, they “love all animals, especially next to the mashed potatoes on the dinner plate.”
Just how true is this though, really? Is it right to let fellow human beings starve so we can have cheap and easy access to a hamburger or a hot dog, or your favorite goat patty melt? There's also the growing issue of chronic obesity, with 1/3 of Americans now classified as obese. Wouldn't this problem disappear overnight if we all stopped eating so many furry little creatures? We can't blame all our fat problems on high fructose corn syrup, can we? Something to think about.