When Frugality And The Environment Clash

Written by: Seth Rogers


Frugality is something most people consider to be a virtue; spending as little as possible by finding the best bargains out there is a great way to save your money for things you wouldn’t be able to otherwise afford.  There are certain places, however, where cutting corners can end up harming the environment and hurting us in the long run.

People invest in the stock market and retirement funds because they want to ensure a long and healthy life for themselves where they’ll be taken care of in their old age.  But if you consider the impact we have on the sustainability of the planet, shelling out a little extra cash to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible is another way of investing in your future.  One area where you can reduce the impact you have on the environment is choosing where to buy your meat.

While meat is not necessarily the most environmentally sustainable choice, it is a staple of most people’s diets.  The harm to the environment comes from the unsustainability of the way animals are raised in the industrial farming industry.  If you choose meat from a higher quality source, you’re more likely to reduce the amount of impact eating meat has on the environment.

Why CAFOs Are Unsustainable

CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, are unsustainable for a number of reasons:

Deforestation.  Farm animals require much more land than crops do to produce a given amount of food energy, and CAFO’s have been responsible for clearing 40 percent of all rainforests in Central America in the last 40 years in order to feed the export market for cattle pasture.

Poor waste disposal.  Factory farms house hundreds of thousands of livestock that produce unsustainable levels of waste, more than 130 times the amount that humans do.  Improper disposal of agricultural waste pollutes thousands of miles of rivers and creates dead zones in our waterways.  These dead zones result in environmental harm such as algal bloom, deoxygenation, and large-scale fish die-off.

Massive energy consumption.  Cows need to consume a great amount of energy in order to live long enough to reach the point of slaughter.  Cows raised in CAFOs are typically fed grains grown with the use of agricultural chemicals, requiring quite a bit of energy to produce. The resources required to transport the cattle thousands of miles for slaughter and market are staggeringly high; it’s estimated that it takes 28 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of protein from meat from a CAFO.

How Responsibly Farmed Meat Is Better For The Environment

Less water impact.  The best butchers rotate their animals regularly on their farm and manage nutrient loads in order to leave no negative impact on their watershed, maintaining the health of their plant and soil life in their pastures.  A transparent, ethically run farm strives to make the water that leaves their farm cleaner than it arrived.

Reduced use of energy.  Sustainable meat farms efficiently manage energy unlike CAFOs, which require fossil fuels at amounts up to 10 times higher than other agricultural products.  The proximity of the farm to processing facilities means less energy is used to transport and market the meat, and the grass feeding of the cows eliminates the energy required to grow the grains used to feed CAFO cows.

Efficiency in waste disposal.  CAFOs produce incredibly high levels of waste for which they do not have adequate storage facilities, often requiring it to be stored in open pit lagoons and spread over agricultural fields as liquid. Sustainable butchers practice rotational grazing, moving their cattle across the land to optimize the use of forage and break parasitic cycles.  They also efficiently utilize their animals’ waste and manage the nutrient load in their soils to improve forage quality.

Health Benefits of Pasture Raised Meat Vs. Harm Of Factory Farmed Meat

Ethically farmed meat is not only good for the environment, but it’s also good for our health. Pasture raised animals contain more good fats and fewer bad fats.  They are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to decrease risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks.  They are also higher in antioxidants, minerals, and cancer-fighting linoleic acids.

Animals raised in a CAFO are full of genetically engineered hormones such as rBGH.  RBGH is injected into cows to boost milk production but has the added side effect of a significant increase in health problems in humans and cows alike.  Sustainably farmed animals always boast of being “rGBH-free” as rBGH is unfortunately still legal in the United States (although it’s been outlawed in Japan, Canada, and the EU.

The unnatural feeds, hormones, and antibiotics used on factory farms have an incredibly negative impact on the health of the human population.  Factory farmed meat has been linked to an increase in the risk of chronic disease, obesity, and drug-resistant bacteria.  Pasture raised animals are hormone and antibiotic free, which means that while they may take longer to care for and grow, the end product is a piece of meat that is healthy and nutritious.  Skimping on meat production involves cutting corners when it comes to health, and it’s not a sacrifice worth making.

When environmental impact studies are done on the meat industry, most of them focus primarily on mass-produced factory farmed meat that is responsible for massive amounts of pollution.  While their products are cheaper due to the decreased productions costs, this is not the place where you want to skimp on quality.

Spending just a little bit more on pasture raised chicken or grass-fed grass finished beef are little steps that can lead to big changes in the impact we have on our environment. It may cost more in the short term, but it’s an investment that will be well worth it for your later years and your children’s future. Splurge for a more expensive yet more sustainable butcher that raises grass-fed, grass-finished high quality beef with alower environmental impact.


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When Frugality And The Environment Clash

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