Hold the beef, pork and lamb

Monica Engebretson is a senior program coordinator for the Sacramento-based Animal Protection Institute

At a time when many who care about their health, the environment, global famine and animal welfare are reducing or eliminating animal products from their diets, the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op is poised to start selling “red meat”—beef, pork and lamb.

Considering the co-op already carries poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy products, some might ask whether it is really such a big deal if the co-op diversifies its meat selection. From an animal-welfare perspective, I’d reply, “Not really.” Chickens, including egg-laying hens, are arguably the most-abused farm animals, both in the sheer number of animals killed and in the degree of cruelty they endure. Environmentally speaking, however, there exists a distinction worth considering.

Though most people believe urban sprawl is the most pressing land-use issue in the United States, it pales in comparison to the ecological devastation required to keep meat on our plates. Two crops, corn and soybeans (95 percent of which are fed to livestock), affect more of the nation’s land area than all urbanization, rural residential development, highways, railroads, commercial centers, malls, industrial parks and golf courses combined. Seventy percent of all grain grown in the United States is used to feed farm animals, which makes meat, especially red meat, the least efficient way to produce protein. A Worldwatch Institute report indicates that it takes two pounds of grain to produce one pound of chicken or fish, five pounds to produce one pound of pork, and eight pounds to produce one pound of feedlot-raised beef.

Some consumers have been tricked into believing that range-fed beef is ecologically superior to feedlot-raised beef. Studies show, however, that grazing has caused more damage to western public lands than any other single activity. Range-fed cattle pollute our streams with urine and feces, trample riparian ecosystems and compete for forage with wildlife. In addition, thousands of native predators, such as wolves and coyotes, are killed each year at taxpayer expense to protect the profits of ranchers.

Reducing or eliminating consumption of meat products, especially red meat, could free up massive quantities of grain and reduce pressure on land and native ecosystems. Therefore, it is hard to understand how the co-op, which claims to be committed to environmental sustainability and responsibility, can justify catering to the culinary whims of some of its customers.

Perhaps integrity is simply less profitable than red meat.