BEEF: PURE BULL
In the '60s, my mother smoked cigarettes. She fed me pork roast, meat
loaf, and sent me to school with bologna and cheese sandwiches. Most of
my friends' moms did the same things. Why didn't she put cigarettes in
with my lunch? It sounds like a stupid question now, but back then
people didn't make the health connection. Many studies showing
cigarettes as unharmful were financed by certain multinational companies
based in Virginia. This worked until the '70s, but then the evidence was
so overwhelming, it became a big issue. The tobacco companies prepared
for war. Now, 40 years later, the tobacco companies have lost many
battles, but they have won the war, mostly because there is an
ever-growing new generation of young people to get hooked on cigarettes.
Worldwide, human beings now smoke two trillion cigarettes a year. That's
one cigarette a day for every man, woman, and child on the planet.
Tobacco companies no longer fund studies to show there is no link
between smoking and lung cancer. They don't have to. They have gone on
to the next level. Nowdays, they win the war with images: by reinforcing
smoking as a cool thing to do and getting kids addicted early. They see
the cancer connection as a public relations problem. Now, the Beef Board
and the Dairy Council are learning from the past tribulations of their
friends at the tobacco groups. Got milk?
My mother wouldn't have let me smoke, but she didn't know that eating
red meat raises your risk of getting cancer almost as much as smoking
cigarettes. I claim that the red meat situation today is exactly the
same as the smoking situation was in the '60s. Not analogous. Identical.
The only reason to eat beef is that you enjoy the taste. Period.
THE CANCER CONNECTION
"Nina, who writes and distributes the nutritional material you get at
school?" The farming conglomerates have powerful lobbyists and
promotional organizations, like the Beef and Dairy Councils. These
private organizations finance the promotion of their industry, much the
same as the NRA does for handguns. Remember all those beef commercials
by James Garner? `Real Food for Real People'? He tore up his contract
after having double bypass surgery. In fact, colon and breast cancer,
along with heart disease, reduce the average meat-eater's life span by
six years compared to vegetarians. The cancer connection is well
documented, but not well publicized. The meat industries have done a
good job of counterattacking.
The beef industry is just beginning to see hard evidence of the damage
their products do to people and society. Just as oil barons manipulated
the government and markets, the Cattlemen's Association turned people's
taste for beef into the fourth largest industry in this country. Now, a
few producers dictate prices and control distribution, lobby congress,
and make huge campaign contributions to the people in Washington who can
help them. People like Senator James Exon. They're even more powerful
than the NRA.
The protein myth is a direct result of careful campaigns waged by the
USDA, the Beef council, the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research
Board, the National Pork Board, the Egg and Dairy Councils, and the
American Dairy Association. The meat industries, with their powerful
lobbies, don't want you to know 80 percent of all insecticides used in
the United States are sprayed on cattle feed and directly on cows
themselves; most of the antibiotics sold in this country are sold to
feedlot owners; there is a serious epidemic of cow AIDS, also known as
BIV; all the studies confirming beef as healthy are paid for by their
organizations; and the new Food Guide Pyramid was offered by the
Secretary of Agriculture as part of a bargain with the Beef Council.
If beef or cigarettes killed us right away, there wouldn't be much of a
market for them. These things are another way we borrow from the future
to pay for the present, because we enjoy the taste.
THE PRICE WE PAY
petroleum energy to yield one calorie of high-protein animal flesh, but
it only takes one calorie of petroleum energy to produce twenty calories
of grain for human consumption on a well-maintained organic farm. One
acre of farmland can produce 250 pounds of beef or 40,000 pounds of
potatoes. We humans do have a distribution problem: all our food is
distributed in cows!
There are now 2.2 billion cows on the planet. Half a million cows are
slaughtered daily. That's one every second in the United States. Cattle
production out-pollutes all other industries in the United States
combined. Over 70 percent of the grain grown in the United States is fed
to livestock. It takes 16 pounds of grain and 1,600 gallons of water to
make one pound of beef. It takes about 1,000 gallons of water for every
steak you eat. In California, it takes twice as much.
In South America," Laura continues, "there are as many cows as people.
The United States imports 40,000 tons of beef per year from Central and
South America. This is a tiny amount for the United States-about a day's
worth-yet it amounts to half of Central America's yearly beef exports.
The imported grass-fed beef gets ground up with excess fat from domestic
beef and sold as patties to the fast-food chains. Some of our group
members went down there and came back in shock. Their impression was
that, from an environmental and health perspective, if McDonald's would
just sell cigarettes rather than hamburgers, the net savings to human
health and the environment would be huge. The rest of the exported beef
goes to the European market. Buying hamburgers literally burns down
How many hamburgers has McDonald's sold? Care to take a guess? About
Do they use rainforest beef in their burgers? Yes. The answer is yes,
they do, though they've set it up so it isn't called rainforest beef
anymore, by the time they get it. The truth is, rainforest beef makes up
less than one percent of all the meat McDonald's sells. For people in
Central America, it's a huge number-enough that subsistence farmers,
ranchers, and multinational corporations have already burned or
harvested half of their rainforests, usually to raise cows for two to
five years and move on. All that's left is rocks. Half of the world's
rainforest endowment has been destroyed since Thomas Malthus was born,
just over 200 years ago. All for beef, timber, and export crops, like
rubber and cocaine. At the present rate--an acre a second--we'll lose
all the world's rainforests in another 40 years. The only way to stop it
is at the cash register.
THE BEEF YOU SHOULDN'T EAT
People get upset when a few people die from eating contaminated
hamburger meat. They don't think about the death of the ecosystems and
economies of Central America, not to mention 50 percent of all adult
Americans die of clogged arteries in the brain or the heart.
Let me put it this way. Suppose you and I lead the same lives,
environmentally, but you eat steak twice a week and I don't. I would
have to leave my kitchen tap running all the way open and my car idling
24 hours a day, seven days a week, just to keep our environmental
balance sheet even. And that's just the beef.