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Too Much Meat Reported Harming Environment, Health

July 13, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Too much meat may be bad for your health, and a new report says it’s bad for the environment too.

The Worldwatch Institute, a private study group, blamed livestock for miles of trodden sand that surround wells dug for cattle in Soviet Turkmenia and the African republic of Botswana, for wilted wildflowers in the Netherlands, for forest fires in Costa Rica and declining water supplies in this country.

Worldwatch researchers Alan B. Durning and Holly B. Brough wrote ″Taking Stock: Animal Farming and the Environment,″ published Saturday. They reported that the world now has three times as many domestic animals as people. China alone is home to an estimated 2 billion chickens, almost twice its human population.

Last year China produced 23 million tons of pork, three times as much as the United States. Much of it was raised on grain imported from this country.

In old-style farming, animals furnish not only food and clothing but fuel, fertilizer, transport and draft power. In India they still carry about half of all goods to market. Worldwatch said trouble comes when they are raised factory-style, almost exclusively for meat.

So much manure gets produced that it generates methane gas, an element in global warming - 35 million tons of gas a year. In the Netherlands manure saturates the soil in some areas and contaminates water. Belgium and France are also officially designated ″manure surplus″ countries, producing more than they can absorb.

Japanese and American agencies for environmental protection have estimated that methane from animal belches and flatulence around the world account for another 80 million tons of methane annually.

Animals are heavy users of water. A researcher at the University of California has calculated that it takes about 375 gallons, as well as 4.8 pounds of grain, to produce a pound of beef.

Cattle crowding around wells in Botswana have stripped areas around deep wells and in one district have left rings of sand for over six miles around.

The report said farmers and ranchers in Latin America have converted more than 50 million acres of tropical forest to cattle pasture. Ranchers often clear land by burning the trees. Nearly 70 percent of the deforested land in Panama and Costa Rica is now reported to be pasture.

The authors argued that ambitions in other countries to match the heavy U.S. diet of meat can not be attained. The average American - including babies - ate 246 pounds of meat last year, the average Indian about 4.4 pounds.

They proposed a system of taxes, based on costs to the environment. That would make coal, oil and natural gas more expensive, so that synthetic fertilizer and pesticides would cost more and farmers would be encouraged to use manure better. Depletion of water supplies and pollution by chemicals from pesticides used on feed grains should also go into the tax bill, they said.

″You could tax the methane from the animals,″ suggested Lester Brown, president of the institute, at a news conference on the report.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Bryce Neidig criticized the report.

″It seems absolutely ridiculous to blame problems in the environment on too many cattle,″ Neidig said Saturday.

Much of Nebraska’s land is used for raising cattle because it is too dry to irrigate effectively for farming, Neidig said. Irrigation would use much more water than providing drinking water for cattle, he said.

″I would bet almost anything it would take ages to see any difference in water supplies except for massive (reductions in cattle),″ Neidig said.

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