Apocalyptic fires point to abusive agriculture

Land reform could have stopped Brazilian, Australian fires

Lilyanne Hamacher and Laila McKinley

Today, the current estimate of animals that have died in the Australian bush fires is one billion, with some calling this bushfire season an “animal apocalypse.” 


Earlier last year, Brazil’s Amazon rainforest was suffering the same fate.


The tragic statistic of the death of over half a billion animals is what has inspired many celebrities and social media influencers to speak out about the fires, urging more fundraising efforts and awareness for the issue. 


Most of this concern surrounds the deaths of mammals such as koalas, kangaroos, and even the thousands of camels in Australia — and yet, with all of this concern for animal lives, the USDA 2018 summary reports that more than 55 billion land and sea animals die every year in order to support the United States food supply.


While it is heartbreaking that these animals in both Brazil and Australia are being so afflicted by the rampant fires, the concern surrounding this suggests that the normalcy around animal consumption needs to be reevaluated.


In the lead up to the fire in the Amazon, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s pro-business policies have led to radically relaxed environmental protections, liberating illegal deforesters who are creating space for animal agriculture. Many of those performing such slash-and-burn methods are not professional, nor are such practices regulated — allowing for resulting fires to uncontrollably spread. 


To put it bluntly, the world’s extreme consumption of meat has been forcing illegal deforestors to destroy Earth’s most precious spaces. 


These fires were preventable because human dietary needs don’t demand this much meat production. In pre-colonization hunting-gathering societies, meat was a rare treat and diets were mostly made up of plants. Today, many cultures around the world, pressured by globalization, have animal-centered meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This way of consumption and slaughter is simply not sustainable nor ethical.


In 2017, Francis Vergunst of the University of Montreal and Sulivan Savuleson of the University of Oxford estimated that in 2018 alone, 50 billion land animals were raised and slaughtered for food around the world. The Environmental Working Group provides detail to the inherent detriment this creates. Growing food for livestock in the United States alone puts 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer each year into around 149 million acres of cropland. A lifecycle analysis done by the group showed that the meat production of lamb and beef emits 10 to 40 times more greenhouse gas emissions than the production of vegetables and grains.


Vergunst and Savuleson additionally stated that 55 pounds of grain and 15,000 liters of water are used to produce a mere 2.2 pounds of beef, resources that could be used to feed the 795 million people struggling with food insecurity worldwide. If all grain used to feed livestock were given to humans, an additional 3.5 billion people could be fed.


Because of how harmful meat is to human bodies, this destruction and waste could have been curbed.


The USDA admits that meat is a significant cause of foodborne illness and kills around 3,000 people every year, sickening 48 million. Humans have weaker stomach acids, comparable to those found in herbivores, making meat arduous to digest. 


Although carnivorous wild animals never develop heart disease, cancer or have strokes, humans who eat meat do. 


Heart disease is the United States’ number-one killer, and meat-eaters are more likely to develop it than vegetarians. Harvard Medical School notes a study of 121,000 people over a 24 year period where the link between consumption of red meat and life span was analyzed. At the end of the study, almost 24,000 of the 121,000 had died, and the participants who ate red meat more frequently had higher death rates than those who ate less.  


Those who justify meat-eating due to the price increase of a plant-based diet are simply not informed. The University of California Davis’s Integretive Medicine’s website cites Dr. McDougall, who is a specialist in treating Multiple Sclerosis through change in diet. He compares the cost of how much it is to be plant-based per day, versus how much animal-centered meals cost. Dr. McDougall estimates the daily cost to eat a plant-based diet averages $3, while to animal-centered diets costs around $10. It is also logical to assume that tofu, beans and rice are cheaper than meat, cheese and milk due to their less demanding production process. 

Although the repercussions of rampant fires in both the Amazon and the Australian bush are sobering, these repercussions should be outraging. The irresponsible production of meat for human consumption has led and continues to lead to environmental devastation — and we know how to stop it.