Environmental Cost of Meat

The U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock consume say Cornell University ecologist researchers. If the grain were exported, it would increase the U.S. trade balance by $80 billion per year.

The American system of feeding livestock grain rather than allowing cattle to feed on pastureland consumes resources far disproportionate to the yield. What’s more it accelerates soil erosion, uses huge amounts of water, and affects world food supply in a negative way.

Grass-fed livestock yields more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of meat and dairy protein. While it’s true that the protein yield of beef is greater than that achieved by high-protein plants in the human diet, it is only 1.4 times more nutritious in comparable amounts. And with the quantities the average American eats in a day, the protein yield is more than enough to meet the RDA.

According to animal production data that tracks use of fossil energy from the feed trough to the dinner table, broiler chickens provide the most efficient use of fossil energy—beef the least. Producing chicken meat consumes energy in a 4:1 ratio to protein output, whereas the ratio is 54:1 for beef. Mutton is nearly as inefficient at 50:1.

Animal agriculture is a leading user of water resources in the U.S. For every kilogram of meat produced by grain-fed beef production, 100,000 liters of water are required, Chickens take dramatically less to make a kilogram of meat: 3500 liters of water per kilogram. In contrast, soybean production uses only 2000 liters. Potatoes require 500 liters.

With severe water shortages in the Western and Southern U.S., the situation is rapidly worsening as the growing population needs more and more water to meet its needs—not only urban users, but also farmers and ranchers.


  • Livestock are responsible for much of the soil erosion in the U.S. Soil loss averages 13 tons per hectare annually on lands where grain feed is produced. Pasture lands erode, too, but at half the pace: 6 tons per hectare annually.
  • The 7 billion livestock in the U.S. eat five times as much grain as the entire population.
  • On the average, animal protein production in the U.S. uses 28 kcal for every kcal of protein produced for human consumption. Beef and mutton are the most costly in terms of fossil fuel energy input to protein output (54.1 and 50.1, respectively).
  • U.S. farms and ranches account for 87 percent of all fresh water used each year. While livestock directly consume only 1.3 percent of that water, when the water for forage and grain is included, the water use figure rises dramatically. Every kilogram of beef uses 100,000 liters of water compared with 900 to produce a kilogram of wheat.
  • The U.S. produces almost 7 million tons of animal protein per year, enough to supply every American man, woman, and child with 75 grams per day The RDA of protein for a mixed diet—meat and plant sources combined—is 56 grams per day.
  • If all the grain now fed to livestock in the U.S. were exported and ranchers switched to grass-fed beef, the average American diet would drop from 75 to 29 grams of protein per day. That plus levels of average plant-protein consumption would yield more than the RDA for adults.

Run, Molly, Run! A True Animal Escape Story

True Animal Escape Stories

Police capture Molly the heifer

A 6-month-old heifer was being delivered to a slaughterhouse near New York City when she made a bold dash for freedom.  Sensing that her life was in danger, she broke through a passageway between the cattle trailer and cow pens as workers were unloading animals.  Then she ran like the wind.

Eluding capture, she broke through a fence and took to the city streets.  The slaughterhouse workers chasing her couldn’t keep up. The pursuers called 911 for police back-up.  The calf made it about a mile through quiet neighborhoods before she was cornered by police officers in a fenced area between two houses.

After a van was brought to the site, the calf was led aboard and taken to an animal shelter in Brooklyn, where she spent the night.  By the next morning, shelter workers had given her a name—Molly.  Determined to save Molly, the shelter staff called farms in New York that rescued food animals.

The phone crew found the perfect place—a 60-acre organic farm where rescued cows, pigs, chickens and other animals live in comfort and didn’t have to worry about ending up on someone’s dinner plate.

When Molly arrived, she was fed fresh organic hay, given clean water, and put in a stall with a gentle bull named Wexler.  Molly and Wexler were free to go in and out of the barn into their own grassy pasture.

The owners of the farm, Rex and Connie Farr, rescue farm animals on a regular basis.  One day, a neighbor drove up with six crates stuffed with young chickens that had fallen from a truck crossing a bridge.  The chickens stayed on at the farm as permanent residents.  Another day, a 4-H club brought the Farrs a pony that their group no longer had money to keep.

Wexler, Molly’s boyfriend, came from a private school. He was part of an animal education program.  When the program was shut down, the school asked the Farrs to give Wexler a home.  Rex and Connie Farr also take care of goats, burros and other animals.

When reporters interviewed Rex Farr, he said, “Molly can eat and sleep here for the rest of her life. She’s not going anywhere. With us she’ll have a very good home.”

What about the cattle farmer who lost over $400 in the deal?  He said, “Molly is a gift from me.”   Maybe he figured that an animal as courageous and smart as Molly deserved her freedom.

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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Pig– A True Animal Escape Story

As a truckload of pigs was being unloaded at a slaughterhouse in England, two pigs escaped and ran away.  They disappeared into a cornfield as fast as their legs could carry them. Slaughterhouse workers pursued the pigs but lost sight of them.  The police were called and joined the chase.  Finally, reporters showed up.

These clever, spry pigs became media stars.  The British, a nation of animal lovers, named them Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Pig.  The fugitives won the hearts of the British public.  The slaughterhouse wasn’t so popular.

The getaway tactics of Butch and Sundance included squeezing under a fence that was supposed to be pig-proof. Then they swam a cold, wide river in their bid for freedom. Six days later the pigs were discovered in a family’s back yard. They’d been living on leftover food thrown in the garbage.  The family and neighbors kept the refugees’ hideout a secret so they wouldn’t be returned to the slaughterhouse.  They told reporters they would turn the pigs over to authorities only when an animal sanctuary agreed to give them a permanent home.

The owners of a British newspaper offered to buy Butch and Sundance at a handsome price.  They also found a sanctuary where the pigs were welcome. The adventures of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Pig ended there.  They were driven to a spacious sanctuary where they lived a life of ease and comfort. Because they captured so much media attention around the world, the BBC produced a 60-minute TV dramatization of their adventures.