Millions of people throughout the world were transfixed to their television screens as the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded killing 11 crewmen and creating the worst oil spill in world history. Many protested against BP for allowing this valuable ecosystem to become a oil slicked disaster area, but how many have taken that protest to the supermarket by abstaining from the meat products that have been polluting those same water ways for decades? As the world's desire for meat has grown exponentially in recent years, so has industry's avarice in meeting this demand. The days of family farms have long disappeared as the majority of the meat that feeds (and simultaneously starves the world, see Somalia) is grown in factory farms also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These viral operations have consumed Middle America, leaving the immediately obvious environmental impacts of damaged and degraded land, lagoons transformed into manure swamps, etc. To facilitate the disposal of the millions of pounds of methane producing waste from the abused livestock, CAFOs are traditionally located near major rivers, thereby exporting their damage throughout the nation and into the tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Mississippi River drains 41 percent of the contiguous United States into the Gulf, a drainage basin that includes almost all the country's industrial livestock farms and livestock feed production. Rainwater runoff, treated sewage, and other wastewater add to the river's nutrient load. When dumped into the Gulf, these nutrients are consumed in explosive algal blooms, driven largely by nitrogen and phosphorous. When the blooms die and sink to the bottom, they are decomposed by bacteria on the ocean floor. In the process, these bacteria drain the water of its dissolved oxygen, forcing fish, shrimp, and other marine life to relocate to survive. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is now the biggest in the world, comprising 22,126 square kilometre (8,543 miČ) where the dissolved oxygen is so low that the water that marine life cannot be supported. This is the equivalent of the size of New Jersey. In 2006, when the UN Environmental Programme published its first Global Environment Outlook Year Book, it reported 146 dead zones in the world's oceans where marine life could not be supported due to depleted oxygen levels. As of 2008, there are 405 dead zones worldwide.
Even the BP rig disaster wasn't pervasive enough to effect an impact of this nature, but it turns out that the very nature (or lack thereof) of meat production leads to the necessity of the rig and the thousands like it, due to its misappropriation of fossil fuel. More than 1/3 of fossil fuels produced in the United States alone go towards animal agriculture. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1), the production of one calorie of animal protein requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein. Each animal that is slaughtered for food must be fed with grains, soy and other crops. The production of these crops requires energy consumption. This feed must then be harvested, transported to feedlots. From the feedlots, animals are then transported to a slaughterhouse, the carcasses are often trucked (in refrigerated trucks another energy consumer) to yet another processing plant before the meat is ready to be transported to a grocery store. Next time you're driving the interstate, take a look at all the trucks around you and think about all the emissions and fuel consumption each one of those trucks is using to transport materials from one location to another. Many of these trucks are transporting food for animals, or the animals themselves. Take a stand by sitting down to one of Soul Vegan's environmentally friendly meals. X