When meat-eaters ask a good question

Sometimes people who defend meat-eating come up with good questions for us - even if they themselves could care less about the answer. Here's one Chris wrote about in comments to the last post:
if factory farming no longer existed, what would become of the cows that now exist?
First off, unless veg*nism were implemented all of a sudden (following a ALF coup, perhaps), the number of livestock would gradually decrease as more and more people stopped eating them and the industry lost the incentive to rapidly reproduce them. So we'd have more manageable numbers once everyone was veg*n, but the domesticated animals would still be around.

So here's my question - would keeping livestock on farms and treating them well be exploitation? I recently read a series of well-informed posts from an environmentalist arguing that the only kind of agriculture both sustainable and practicable is one built on small-scale mixed farms that incorporate raising and killing animals for food (scroll down and read the four posts November 12-18). As I pointed out in the comments on his November 18 post, his argument for meat rests on the financial necessity of these small farms surviving in a world of low-cost factory farms, and wouldn't seem to apply if factory farms were eliminated or if the economy set prices differently (under, e.g., a parecon). So killing animals doesn't seem necessary, but farms still seem more efficient if they incorporate animals.
farms work best, maximising yield and minimising inputs, with an integrated relationship is fostered between plants and animals. Our grandparents knew this to be self evident, Permaculture espouses it, and nature wouldn't function any other way. The best way to cycle nutrients on a farm is to use our microbial friends (soil and compost) and animals to make nutrients available in a form that plants can use to create surplus calories from the sun which can then feed us humans and the animals. It’s a nice tidy system. Without animals on the farm, you invariably need to import fertilizer or organic matter to make the needed tons of compost, incurring transportation costs and burning more fuel. And even then, raw manure, especially urine, is still the best fertilizer. By splitting the system we are wasting energy to poorly mimic what nature will give us for free.
If the farm animals were treated well, would this be exploitation? Even if they were used for (small amounts of) milk and eggs, wouldn't this be more of a symbiotic relationship than one of exploitation? Or am I way off base here?


Al Gore left something out

There are a lot of reasons eating meat is far worse for the environment than eating vegetarian or vegan, including the destruction of waterways from the concentrated animal waste of factory farms, pesticide pollution from all the extra crops needed to feed livestock, and the huge amount of land and water needed to sustain meat production. Now we can add global warming to that list.

A recent report by two University of Chicago scientists found that meat eating is a significant contributor to global warming (see also this article, which is a little more accessible for the layman). Using conservative numbers, they calculated that switching from the average American meat-based diet to a vegetarian diet reduces your greenhouse gas footprint by as much as an average American driver does in switching from a normal car to a hybrid.

The major impact of the meat industry on global warming is partly due to its energy inefficiency. To raise animals you have to use far more energy growing crops to feed the animals than if you just ate the crops directly. Interestingly, eating fish is also far less energy efficient because of the long distances that wild fish catches have to be transported and because fish farming is relatively energy inefficient.

The paper compares the average American diet, which gets 15 percent of its calories from meat, with three separate diets drawing that 15 percent exclusively from red meat, fish, and poultry, as well as a vegetarian diet. The red meat and fish diets tied for most wasteful and were considerably less efficient than even the average American meat diet. The poultry and vegetarian diets were most efficient, with the vegetarian diet being even more efficient depending on how low the level of animal products is in it. A vegan diet, of course, is more efficient than any of the others.

Meat and fish add a lot of carbon dioxide by wasting so much energy, but meat (and dairy) make global warming worse in another way - by producing methane and nitrous oxide.
While methane and nitrous oxide are relatively rare compared with carbon dioxide, they are—molecule for molecule—far more powerful greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. A single pound of methane, for example, has the same greenhouse effect as approximately 25 pounds of carbon dioxide.
So all those cows farting and the manure lagoons used in pig farming have a big impact.

Do we really need another reason to stop eating meat? The damage that the meat industry does to humans, other animals, and the environment is so massive that even if it had no effect on global warming, the arguments for ending meat production would be overwhelming. But as the dangers of global warming finally begin to penetrate popular consciousness, that fun fact about eliminating meat from your diet being as helpful as switching to the best car out there could be effective in illustrating how urgent it is to reduce or eliminate animal products from our diets.


US media's prescription for Ecuador: neoliberalism good, democracy bad

Doing a little research for this post, I came across a pretty extensive group of people who criticize The New York Times for being biased in favor of the Latin American left (see, e.g., the comments on this blog post - here's a taste: "bunch of bloody morons to [sic] busy enjoying chavista hospitality to see the real story. . . . you left wing liberal chardonay swilling pin head"). This is bizarre, to say the least, but I think the problem is that these over-the-top far right-wing critics just can't recognize fellow travellers who use more subtle language.

The "news analysis" on Ecuador's presidential election that The New York Times ran last week is a good example of this kind of subtle dismissal of leftist politics in Latin America. The winner, Rafael Correa, is an American-trained economist whose decisive runoff victory over the richest man in the country was based on populist condemnations of Ecuador's elites and the USA. The question for reporter Simon Romero is whether Correa will govern as he campaigned (bad) or pursue a more "pragmatic" course (good):
when Mr. Correa starts talking about his ideas, in rapid-fire Spanish interspersed with tangents in English, French and even the occasional phrase in Quechua, he conveys a more sophisticated image than the nationalists who have risen to power elsewhere in the region out of the armed forces or trade unions.
And what is it that makes him seem more sophisticated?
“Foreign investment that generates wealth and jobs and pays taxes will always be welcome,” Mr. Correa, 43, said in an interview here, sounding precisely like someone with postgraduate degrees from universities in the United States and Belgium. (His are from the University of Illinois and Catholic University of Leuven
So someone who caters to foreign capital is well-educated and sophisticated. But is this the real Correa?
Mr. Correa wears tailored suits and chats about how North American economists like John Kenneth Galbraith have influenced him. Yet before crowds, he rails against the Bush administration and the International Monetary Fund.
This is a curious formulation because John Kenneth Galbraith, before his death earlier this year, was himself strongly critical of both the Bush administration and the IMF. Yet thru the magic of journalism we are shown how the world really breaks down: on one side stand the United States, the Bush administration, all American economists, American corporations, and the "moderate leftists" like Argentina's Kirchner and Brasil's Lula. On the other side are the uneducated, irrationally nationalist Latin American poor, the opportunistic politicians who exploit their anger to come to power, and the "dogmatic" ideologues of the left.

This propaganda line, which runs steadily thru mainstream reporting on Latin America, is here destabilized by the mention of Galbraith. This is an aberration - usually reporters only quote American scholars who support US state and corporate hegemony over Latin America. Yet bringing up Galbraith - a Keynesian liberal, certainly no anticapitalist, yet still critical of the status quo - reminds us exactly how right-wing the political and media consensus on neoliberalism really is. And Romero betrays the media's habitual contempt for democracy as well, when he devotes more space to the judgment that foreign capital will pass on Correa than that of the Ecuadoran people.

Left unmentioned is what happened the last time an Ecuadoran president threw in his lot with foreign corporations and betrayed his platform of opposition to neoliberalism and corruption. Lucio Gutiérrez was overthrown by massive protests in 2005.