Posted by: Leslie | October 15, 2008

Official Blog Action Day post: Reduce our demand for animal products

As I’ve written on this blog before, I try as often as possible to buy my yarn and fibre from local, small-scale farms. I generally try to extend this to food as well, taking advantage of farmers’ markets as well as co-ops to buy meat, milk, and fresh produce. I like knowing that not only am I supporting local family farms, but I’m also encouraging producers to raise food animals in a more natural and humane way.

Recently I went to a panel discussion at Penn on the use of antibiotics in food animals. Representatives from both sides of the issue were there and universally agreed that prophylactic antibiotic use is, in fact, increasing the incidence of antiobiotic resistance among microbes. I went into the panel venue that night thinking that antibiotics should simply never be used unless an animal is sick, but I came out with the realisation that the issue is a lot more complicated than that. The point that stuck with me the most was made by a cattle veterinarian who works for Bayer. Since Bayer manufactures many of the antibiotics routinely given to livestock, of course he was a proponent of their use, but he talked about how routine antibiotic administration is necessary to meet the current demand for meat and other animal products. His reasoning was this: there is not enough land to raise all cattle, chickens, and other livestock in a more natural/free-range setting. Therefore, we have to rely on factory farms where animals are living indoors in very close quarters in order to produce as much as consumers are demanding. In a crowded, poorly-ventilated factory farm facility, you have to use antibiotics prophylactically to prevent widespread outbreak of disease.

Now, this vet saw the logical conclusion as being we must continue to use antiobiotics in livestock in order to keep up with consumer demand for animal products. However, I came to a different conclusion: we have to reduce our demand for animal products. The only way I see to simultaneously reduce antibiotic resistance, the cruelty of factory farm husbandry methods, and environmental devastation, is to cut back on our consumption of meat and dairy. Interestingly enough, this article in the Guardian was recently published on this very subject–reducing demand for animal products is absolutely necessary to combat climate change.

I am not a vegetarian; I was one for two years and was unhealthy and miserable most of the time, though I certainly envy people who are able to live well on a meat-free diet. I consume probably more dairy than most people and eat meat almost every day, so this is not an easy recommendation for me to make, especially when the article linked above quotes four portions of meat and 1 litre of milk as the maximum intake per person per week needed to stop climate change. However, I think when it comes to our environment as well as the welfare of the animals we depend on for food, reducing consumption of animal products–even just a little–is the only way to go.

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