Noam Mohr is a physicist at Queens College with degrees from Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked on global warming campaigns for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and EarthSave International, publishing a number of reports on climate change including A New Global Warming Strategy, Flirting with Disaster, Pumping Up the Price, and Storm Warning.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thanks for listening. Today we’re going to be talking about numbers. Big numbers, big, big, big numbers, inconceivable numbers. But before we do that I want to just review some of the last couple of shows we’ve had.
The last two shows we’ve talked to people who have started animal sanctuaries. Places that safely house just a small fraction of the number of animals that have escaped, escaped a very horrific life. And these sanctuaries are a place where these animals learn to be who they really were meant to be and live the rest of their lives out to the fullest that they possibly can. So these sanctuaries aren’t really changing the world. They’re not protecting all of the billions of animals that are raised for primarily for food. But they’re symbolic. It’s an opportunity for people to really get to individually know a handful of these animals. Get to know their personalities, get to know to see their emotions and see how much they really are like us. In these sanctuaries it’s a great opportunities to see animals when they’re happy, when they’re sad. You get to see who their friends are, and whom they trust, and whom they don’t like, and you can see them play, and see the whole range of emotions that they have. And bond with them. And there are so many wonderful stories if you listen to those two shows in the archives. There are so many great stories about some of these animals, chickens, and pigs, and horses. They all have wonderful personalities and we really take their intelligence for granted, we take their emotions for granted. And I’ve said during these two shows to talk about these individuals and really get to know them because that’s one powerful way for us to really see what we’re doing on a bigger scale with the number of animals that die for food. But we’re going to go to the other end today and we’re going to talk numbers. Not about the individuals that are effected but the powerful impact of the unimaginable numbers of animals that we are processing every year, primarily for food, and to do that I have a very knowledgeable guest, Noam Mohr. And he’s a physicist and he’s done a great deal of work regarding how animal agriculture affects global warming and the environment. He’s one of the few individuals who have been compiling these numbers and showing what these impacts are. Noam, you’re here with us today.
Noam Mohr: Yeah, great to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Great, thank you, thank you so much. Thank you for being here and doing the very difficult job that you do.
Noam Mohr: Thank you very much.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m somebody who loves numbers. I love data. And I love to collect numbers and see what they mean and make all kinds of charts and graphs and see how things go up and down. This is one area that I would, I would, have great difficulty collecting and processing numbers.
Noam Mohr: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: So, this is a tremendous task that you’re doing. And I imagine there are different groups that use your information in different ways.
Noam Mohr: Yeah, it’s often very complicated to figure out all the different things that impact these, these numbers. You have to go to many different sources and consider imports and exports, and animals that are slaughtered, animals that die on the farm. There are a huge number of factors to consider.
Caryn Hartglass: All right so let’s just jump into a summary of the numbers, which are totally overwhelming and none of us can really fathom what these numbers mean ’cause they’re just too huge. And then maybe we can talk about how you get some of these numbers, and then maybe we can talk about what it all means.
Noam Mohr: Sure. I work at figuring out exactly how many animals die each year to feed Americans.
Caryn Hartglass: Uh huh.
Noam Mohr: And you can use that to work out how many animals’ lives would be saved by if someone were to go vegetarian. And it turned out on per American bases, per meat eater bases, over in 2009 per meat eater each meat eater was responsible for the death of one seventh of a cow, two fifths of a pig, one turkey, one and a half chickens raised for eggs, twenty-five chickens raised for meat, forty fish, and one hundred and thirty shellfish, so altogether that’s about two hundred animals per person; over a lifetime that would be fifteen thousand animals per person, per average American meat eater. Obviously not every American is average, not average as in babies and people who eat tons of meat, but on average those are the numbers.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah that’s pretty powerful. But now those are numbers that people can understand. Those are numbers that are big but not too big for us to be able to count on our hands and visualize.
Noam Mohr: That’s right. I mean hundreds of animals a year is still a big number, and fifteen thousand over a lifetime is still a big number, but you can picture those numbers, you can imagine the animals. If you look at how many die for Americans overall in the US it was, in 2009, it was fifty-nine billion. That’s a lot harder to imagine.
Caryn Hartglass: Fifty-nine billion total animals that have died for food in the United States. Fifty-nine billion. You know we could just be loose about it and say it’s about sixty billion.
Noam Mohr: Sure.
Caryn Hartglass: I mean what’s a billion amongst friends when we’re talking about fifty-nine billion. Let’s break it down. I’m looking at this piece that you sent me. So the majority of that number, fifty-nine billion, most of that comes from shellfish.
NM: Right, and that’s because the shellfish is very small.
Caryn Hartglass: Thirty-nine billion. Okay.
Noam Mohr: A lot of that is the scallops–
Caryn Hartglass: Muscles and clams and shrimp. And scallops, are they shellfish?
Noam Mohr: Shrimp. Yeah, those are all shellfish. And because they tend to be small they tend to add a lot to the numbers. If you break it up it’s about a hundred, in 2009, each person was responsible for about a hundred thirty shellfish and 40 fish the remainder about 28 land animals.
Caryn Hartglass: Hmm. Okay.
Noam Mohr: It’s also interesting too look at how this has changed over time. That was the most recent year, but I’ve been comparing year by year and the numbers have been going down.
Caryn Hartglass: Which is good news.
Noam Mohr: Since 2006-2009 over those three years there was a 10% drop in the number of land animals people are eating, American’s are eating. About a 19% drop in the number of fish and an 8% drop in the number of shellfish. So overall that’s 600 million fewer land animals, 2.4 billion fewer fish, and 2.4 billion fewer shellfish. To put that on a personal level, each average American is eating three fewer land animals and ten fewer fish and 12 fewer shellfish over the course of a year. It’s not perfectly clear what’s responsible for–
Caryn Hartglass: That was my question. Why is that happening?
Noam Mohr: It’s not something we have an answer to. I mean there are different things you could point to. There is a study done in the campus, which did find that when there are media stories about animal cruelty on farms that is correlated with a decrease in demand for meat. So that is at least partly responsible and has been an increase in media attention and they find that that is directly linked to a significant reduction in the consumption of meat.
Caryn Hartglass: Well that’s very encouraging and so what we need is to have on a daily bases some sort of information about the horrific cruelty that’s going on around the country. And the problem is we don’t have it enough.
Noam Mohr: The more people are educated, the more people will move in this direction.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Noam Mohr: This reduction is tends to be dominated by chickens raised for meat and by fish, probably because their numbers are so great. Among the land animals we eat 89% of them are chickens raised for meat, so any change in the amount of chicken’s people are eating has a huge effect on the number of animals.
Caryn Hartglass: You know what’s interesting about that is, and people don’t realize how we are affected by the media in terms of what we do in our lives. And, you know, people think we have free will but we are really, really manipulated by the media and by corporations. And what do I mean by that. Several decades ago the idea, the chicken was not very attractive meat and people have been taught and encouraged to like chicken more, and to demand it more. And it’s the market that has done that. It hasn’t been a personal preference. People have been taught to like chicken more and so we see it. And we’ve been, there’s been lots of different things that have encouraged people to eat more chicken. People seem to think it’s a healthier meat. Many times you’ve probably seen this
I know when I mention I’m a vegetarian to people, people say, “oh I only eat chicken and fish,” like chicken and fish are the healthier meat. “And I don’t eat any read meat.” That’s like a small dose of what people have gotten from the media over the decades, that red meat isn’t so healthy. Right? Are you there? Okay, did I lose everyone?
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. I’m here with Noam Mohr, and we are discussing some of the very incredible numbers about the animals that are grown in this country and used for food and we’ve been reviewing the change in the number of animals that have been killed for meat and food over the last four years. And, Noam, I think people, I think there’s a conspiracy out there that people don’t want this information to be heard and that’s why we had a little technical glitch there a moment ago.
Noam Mohr: Ha ha.
Caryn Hartglass: These are dangerous numbers. I was talking about chicken and how people have actually been encouraged over the years to eat more chicken, thinking that it’s healthier and marketing it for better business. In some ways it’s easier to raise chickens, and so we’ve seen that. But now you’ve telling me that over the last year we have actually seen a small but significant decrease.
Noam Mohr: Not just over the last year, over the last few years the amount of chicken people have been eating has been decreasing year after year. That is a very positive trend, not something you can explain by the recession or something that just happened in the past year.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well that’s really, really encouraging. These numbers are awful and overwhelming, but it’s definitely better to see them go down than go up.
Noam Mohr: But it is striking that when you see people eat 10 fewer fish in a year that amounts to 2.4 billion fish for the US overall. These numbers add up to enormous amounts and people don’t generally realize how many animals are involved in this industry. In order to feed us, the number of animals that we have to raise and slaughter is staggering. And so it should be little surprise that the effects are also staggering, on the environment, on the economy, on every aspect of people’s lives.
Caryn Hartglass: And, and I want to talk more about that effect on the environment. But while we’re talking about it I want people to realize that it doesn’t take much to reduce your intake of meat by ten or twenty percent. That’s not a lot. For you, in terms of skipping a couple of meals of meat a week or something like that, but the impact on the environment is huge, ‘cause the numbers add up.
Noam Mohr: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Yes.
NM: The effect on the environment is huge in part because the effect of animal agriculture on the environment is huge. The UN said it was one of the top two or three causes of every major environmental problem we face on every scale.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, so let’s talk about some of those things. Let’s talk about our water.
Noam Mohr: Yes, it takes a lot of water to not just raise the animals but also to raise the crops necessary for it to feeds those animals. We have to grow a lot more crops to feed the animals we eat than we would if we ate the crops directly. So the result is a huge amount of water. If the live stalk in the U.S. used 35 trillion gallons of water per year, just in the U.S., it’s more water than there is in, it’s about half the amount of water in all the rivers in the United States put together. It’s a tremendous about of water. It’s the top use of water in our country.
Caryn Hartglass: And you know some would say, “oh, well okay, it’s a lot of water but it all comes back anyway as rainwater” and that’s not exactly, it doesn’t come back the same way as we got it.
Noam Mohr: The water that we use is not including rainwater ‘cause rainwater is part of a cycle. This is water that we’re using form sources that aren’t replaceable for example we’re using underwater aquifers that are being drained up and not are getting replaced. It’s a huge amount of water use that does not go back into the system.
Caryn Hartglass: My understanding, these aquifers which are layers and layers of rock housed tremendous amounts fabulously pure clean water that was created in the ice ages and in history a long, long time ago it took a long time to create this water and so now we have these high powered pumps that can pump this water out at huge rates and we’re not replacing that water with this pristine, clear water that took millions of years to make.
Noam Mohr: That’s right on the money. These aquifers collected over millions of years and we’re using them at a great pace to the point that we’re seeing water forged in many parts of the world and when you use all this water and don’t replace it you’re just getting closer and closer to a time when there’ll be critical shortages.
Caryn Hartglass: And we’re seeing shortages all over the world, not just in the United States.
Noam Mohr: That’s right the shortages are most acute in the third world where they have a harder time coping and it leads to inability to irrigate crops and inability to get water for people who need it.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, not only are we using up tremendous an amount of water and I like to repeat this we have to grow a tremendous amount of plants to feed animals to feed people. The animals don’t, you don’t just water animals and they grow and then you eat them you have to feed them and you have to feed them with a lot of plant food and it’s tremendously inefficient. We could grow a lot less plants and feed them directly to people and as a result we’d save a lot of energy, we’d save a lot of water, and we’d have a lot more landmass for lots of wonderful things.
Noam Mohr: Right. That’s where most of the water is going, to raise the plants that we feed to the animals, which we wouldn’t need if we just grew plants directly for us. The amount of water that is used to feed the average American’s meat consumption in a day is enough for them to take twenty-six showers. Which is striking when people try to save water and be responsible by saving the amount of water they use in a shower. It really doesn’t compare to the amount of water that goes into the animal products that we’re consuming.
Caryn Hartglass: Now in addition to the amount of water that we’re using, we’re also polluting a great deal of water in the whole animal agriculture business.
Noam Mohr: That’s absolutely the case. It’s the number one source of water pollution in this country. We pollute miles and miles of river in the United States. Animal agriculture is responsible for more than half a million miles of rivers being polluted and an area of polluted lakes equivalent to the size of lake Erie.
Caryn Hartglass: Whoa.
Noam Mohr: The number one cause of water pollution in this country, it just swamps anything else.
Caryn Hartglass: I recently read David Kirby’s Animal Factory. Have you read that?
Noam Mohr: I have not.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, anyway there have been a number of books on the subject of animal agricultural, all of them taking a different twist and I don’t think there, there are few out there, not enough. We need lots of books on this subject so that people will be reading them. This particular one was interesting because the author was not taking a vegetarian stance he was just talking about how corporations come into small towns and put the small family farmers out of business and create these giant agribusinesses and lots of devastating things happen as a result. People are put out of business, less people get jobs, and these corporations, which don’t care about the community, they just care about profit, and doing tremendous amount of pollution and there are these just horrifying stories of all kinds of regulations that are ignored and all kinds of excrement, the discussion of all the excrement in this book is overwhelming and how it gets into so many water supplies and kills the fish and pollutes the water and it’s really difficult reading. But it makes its point.
Noam Mohr: Well to think about it per person the animals that we raise for food produce about 5.5 tons of excrement per person so if each person, each meat eater had to think about what they would do with this 5.5 tons of excrement every year. Where is it going to end up? I mean people try to put it in these huge cesspools that are just acres and acre wide, but that ends up getting into our rivers and into our lakes and polluting the environment for all of us.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s interesting that we have very strict regulations for human waste, but the regulations for animals waste are kind of weak and the few we have are very often broken.
Noam Mohr: With special quantities of manure people acknowledge that it is impractical to treat all that waste the way we do with human waste so the answer has been to just let it be handled with lower standards, and we all suffer for it from the pollution.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I’ve seen some pictures of manure piles that look like ski slopes. Giant mountains, against, you know, a blue-sky background. Pretty scary.
Noam Mohr: Yeah, it’s nothing you’d want to ski down, but people tend to think back to times when people ate much less meat and animals would be grazing in fields and the manure would just act as fertilizer and it’d be part of a closed cycle. But that’s just not the case with today’s factory farms and the vast quantity of animals we raise. There’s no way to make that manure part of natural cycle, there’s too much of it. And so we end up being overloaded with huge amounts of manure that pollutes the water and kills the wildlife and ends up hurting us as well. We saw what happened with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and people were all concerned about the damage to water and the ocean wildlife. But we see this kind of thing happening every year due to animal agriculture but because it’s not one dramatic event in one place, it’s spread out over the entire country. We don’t feel motivated to do something about it as much, but it’s also something we can easily do something about simply through our choices.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. Do you know how the numbers compare with the oil spill to the animals we kill for food?
Noam Mohr: We do not have any good numbers on what the impact of the oil spill is going to be. Too soon to tell.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. But it’s a really good point and it’s amazing again, I said this earlier in the show, how much the media has on how we feel, and so people are swayed by what’s on the television and what’s in the newspapers at any particular time and so we kept having all of theses stories about what was going on in the gulf and it was heartbreaking, it was horrible, but imagine if we has the same number of stories every day about what would be going on around the country in factory farms people would want to do something. I want to believe that.
Noam Mohr: Yeah, I think people realize that there are issues, but they don’t realize how big the issue is. The animals, land animals we raise for food are about a quarter of the entire biomass, land animals biomass of the world. That’s the segment of land animals out there that are just raise solely for food, and they use 70% of agriculture, 30% of the land surface of the earth is all being used for animal agriculture.
Caryn Hartglass: Could you repeat that?
Noam Mohr: 30% of the land surface of the earth is being used for animal agriculture.
Caryn Hartglass: 30%, that’s tremendous. And probably the rest of it can’t be used for one reason or another, or not much of it, for agriculture. I’m not really sure.
Noam Mohr: So, there’s another 12% used for raising plants for food, the vast majority for animals.
Caryn Hartglass: The numbers are tremendous. Now, I wanted to know, I don’t know how much you can share, but where do you get these numbers from?
Noam Mohr: These numbers come from a lot of different sources. The number of animals that we kill for our consumption each year comes from various government sources for the most part, sources that give numbers for slaughter, numbers of animals on farms, imports and exports, so there’s numbers of different factors. The most difficult calculation is for sea animals, for fish and shellfish because those are not reported in numbers of individuals, they’re reported by weight. So it’s necessary to get estimate of the average weight of different species. And there’s many, many species of fish and shellfish we catch. We also have to consider the numbers of animals that are caught and then thrown overboard, many of which die in the process and then animals that are killed in order to be fed to other animals on factory farms and fish farms. So you have to get all these numbers together in order to come up with these numbers.
Caryn Hartglass: These are a couple of really important points that I think are worth talking a little more in detail. So to start with, the wild fish that are caught, there’s a number of diff they’re done today and if anyone would watch it happen it’s really pretty horrific. And you know we have this kind of romantic idea of the seaman, the man that’s out on the ship all the time in the blistering sea catches the big fish and brings it home. But today, and there is still some of that because being out on a big ship, it’s difficult, but technology and manufacturing have made it possible to go deeper and catch a lot more, indiscriminately, catch a lot more fish with these trollers these giant, giant nets that just scoop up everything in its path and not just fish but coral, it damages the reefs and the whole landscape in the ocean. And then there are all the, oh what do you call them, the long lines that have hundreds, thousands of hooks and you just run the line in the water and grab whatever you can and a lot of other animals, animals not fish, birds in particular are wounded and killed or just damaged and it’s a very ugly process.
Noam Mohr: It is. The ocean is so big that thinking about a boat going out there and catching fish it feels like it couldn’t possibly make a significant dent in what’s happening overall, but our technology has gotten good enough that we can just go back and forth and essentially empty the ocean of fish. Soon we’re on schedule for the ocean to be depleted of all the kinds of species of fish that we normally eat. In most of the world aquaculture, fish farm, are taking over the entire fish industry because there is not enough fish in the ocean left. In the U.S. we still catch most of our fish in the wild although there are notable exceptions like salmon, which are almost exclusively farmed, but in the next couple decades that will also end. It’ll all be fish farms because we’ve really just ruined the ocean for all the fish species we eat.
Caryn Hartglass: But what I don’t understand about the fish farms, how they’re gong to manage to continue. What we’re feeding the fish in fish farms; a lot of it comes from the sea, doesn’t it?
Noam Mohr: It does. It’s very inefficient compared to catching wild fish. In fact half of the fish that we catch in the U.S. is not fish that we eat but fish that we catch to feed to fish on fish farms. So it’s grossly inefficient that we have to catch so many fish. These are generally species that are not palatable to humans and they end up getting fed to these other fish that are. Of course the fish on fish farms suffer from all the issues that have already plagued factory farms for other animals where the animals are manipulated, they’re are packed in so tight that they can barely move, they suffer from starvation, cannibalism, and rampant disease, and so they have to be fed lots of antibiotics to keep them from dying. And it’s also a danger because these diseases can be spread to wild population.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah there are a handful of fish that do manage to escape their nightmare and then they can mix with the wild.
Noam Mohr: Yeah, they can escape. They’re generally kept in the ocean but in an enclosed area. So the water and the feces and everything are transferred into nature.
Caryn Hartglass: One of my favorite stories is how we make factory-farmed salmon look pink. And my understanding is the fish in the wild, the salmon in the wild have this lovely pink color because of what they eat and the farmed fish don’t have access to that same food and so they’re grey. And nobody wants to eat a grey salmon and so they’re fed these pigments and a farmer, fish farmer can actually pick the pink color, my understanding, from a card just like we pick wall paint. What kind of pink do they want? It’s not healthy because I’ve read that it affects our vision and can be very damaging to the human eye consuming salmon that contain this pigment.
Noam Mohr: Well that’s just the beginning.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s just the beginning.
Noam Mohr: Now they’ve proved genetically engineered salmon so we’re going to be eating fish that have been changed in ways that we really don’t know what the effects are going to be. And this is just the start of something that we should expect to see in the future for any manner of species of fish and eventually, you know, land animals as well. So we’re seeing a change in the nature of these animals as we increasingly find ourselves without animals in nature and having to farm them in this factory way.
Caryn Hartglass: You know I read articles from time to time about all the technology that’s been put into aquaculture, animal agriculture, and all this money invested in science in order to be able to grow more animals to feed the growing population. And there’s so many smart people involved in doing this and yet it’s like why don’t they see the obvious.
Noam Mohr: It’s hard to see the obvious when you have a personal self interest in not seeing it. We all grow up eating meat and no one wants to think about having to give up something that they like. So it’s far easier to just not think about it than to face the reality. The problem is when we don’t think about it, it just gets worse and worse. And that’s why we’re seeing such serious effects where you know the animals we raise for food are causing more global warming than all transportation put together, and we’re seeing a big source of water pollution, and loss of biodiversity, and destruction of the Amazon, and the number one source of all these things. Eventually we won’t be keep able to ignoring it forever because it’s coming back to bite us.
Caryn Hartglass: We like to think that there’s something that we can do about it today, before, if we haven’t reached the tipping point, the place of no return, which I would like to think we haven’t. There’s plenty that we can do.
Noam Mohr: Oh of course that’s one of the great things about looking into these numbers because it’s very empowering. A lot of these things we hear about that hurt the environment are things that seem beyond our control, some chemical plant somewhere, something like that. But this is what the choices we make everyday, so we personally decide what we’re going to eat and that will make a difference for the entire world. If this is such a big contributor to global warming and we’re concerned about global warming simply cutting back on the amount of animal products we eat will cut back on our impact on the planet more than what we choose to drive or the light bulbs we choose to screw in, those are all important too but this is the biggest factor. So it’s a really powerful way we can make a difference every day. If you look at just the economic cost of global warming, in order to stabilize carbon dioxide at 450 parts per million which is what people say we need to avoid disastrous consequences, estimates are that that could cost the world about $40 trillion, which is a lot. The entire U.S. economy is $15 trillion and we’re responsible for a quarter of emissions. But if we instead address it by cutting back on animal products we eat is 10% less, we go 10% livestock in the world. That will cut the cost by half, by more than the size of the entire U.S. economy. So it makes a huge difference.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. People are talking about it, but not that much. So in Great Britain there have been some reputable reports like in The Lancet and these recommendations that the whole community should reduce the amount of meat and dairy products by 30% in order to address the global warming issue and those things were encouraging but we really don’t hear about it in the United States.
Noam Mohr: Well among people who work on the issues, they hear about it a lot. The head of the UN, Inner Governmental Panel on Climate Change, he advocates vegetarianism as a way of addressing these problems, and the UN has, the Food and Agriculture Organization has published a couple of reports saying that we need to do something about this and a lot of leaders in the environmental movement on these issues are going vegetarian. Al Gore says he doesn’t eat much meat anymore, and he comes from a family of cattle ranchers.
Caryn Hartglass: You know it was huge when he came out and said that.
Noam Mohr: Yeah, interestingly former president Clinton is also nearly vegetarian.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.
Noam Mohr: So there has been an increasing amount of awareness. It hasn’t always reached the media, so maybe that’s why a lot of people aren’t aware, but in the circles that work on climate change and environmental problems and governmental policy it comes up a lot.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well that’s encouraging.
Noam Mohr: So the key is we need to inform people ‘cause it’s really the kind of thing that the government’s not going to pass a law and say people need to eat less meat. It’s something that people have to decide on their own and say this is important, the effect on the environment is important, or the effect on the animals is important. You know people have huge debates over healthcare policy in this country. This is a way to make us healthier without having to involve the government. There’s a lot we can do personally when we realize how much of an impact our dietary choices make. It’s just a huge part of our economy; it’s a huge part of what we spend on every day; it’s a huge part of what’s going on in the world and so we can direct this huge amount of resources, this huge effect in a positive way, simply by making choices that are better for the country and for the planet.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s really inspiring when the veil is lifted and you realize and you make it a part of your life when you realize that when you eat more plant food, eat an all plant based diet and you discover number one that it’s delicious and it makes you feel good and you have more energy and you have less pain and then you also realize that not only do you feel great but you’re looking better and not only that but you’re not damaging the environment as much and you’re not causing all of this cruelty. It’s just a win, win, win all around. There’s no reason not to do it but for some reason it takes, I don’t know what it takes, it’s different for every individual for that veil to be lifted.
Noam Mohr: But yeah of course the most important thing is for people to just be aware of what’s going on. Which is something that needs a lot of work, so I hope that these numbers do help people realize how much of a difference that they make individually.
Caryn Hartglass: Definitely a first step. Do you have any numbers with dairy or these are just meat related numbers?
Noam Mohr: These are for all animal products. So when I talk about the number of cows that we kill each yeah that’s both for meat and for dairy. In fact dairy cows generally end up as low-grade hamburger meat.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s something I don’t think that people realize what really happens with dairy cows, that they all end up as hamburger and their lifespan is much shorter than it would if they were able to just graze in a field and do as they please and also many of them the males calves that are born to dairy cows often become veal. So there’s a lot of death related in dairy production. I don’t know if you caught the story in the New York Times last week and I think NPR did a story on it too about the government and the dairy management office that helped Domino’s Pizza I think it was, they helped them invest $12 million of our tax dollars into a marketing campaign to encourage people to eat more cheese on the Domino pizza. And it was an interesting story because the government was doing two things so over the years the government’s put out information about how saturated fat especially from cheese and other dairy products isn’t healthy and how we should work at reducing that but at the same point as people were actually listening and consuming low fat milk and skim milk there was a surplus of dairy fat and you know the government’s really good at recycling and they want to use all the products they possibly can and so they wanted to sell that stuff and so they get another department in the government to push that stuff back on us in a different way so another group can profit. It’s crazy.
Noam Mohr: Yes, it is crazy government policy is generally not-
Caryn Hartglass: -consistent.
Noam Mohr: Is not consistent or dominated with doing what’s good for the public. Different agencies each have their own mandates some of them are just trying to help a certain industry. That’s extremely common.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, so there needs to be a big overhaul there where the health and well-being of society is put over the profit motives.
Noam Mohr: The problem is the health and well-being of society doesn’t have a lot of lobbyist arguing their case on Capitol Hill. So it’s hard for that to be heard and it’ll be heard when people start paying attention to it and caring about it and letting their legislatures know this is important to them.
Caryn Hartglass: So the point I want to make is that people often say “well why isn’t the government doing something, why don’t they make laws that don’t allow factory farming, why do they allow this to happen, how is it that all of this food is contaminated, and you know we get it, why isn’t the government doing something, why should I have to do something personally, the government should be making laws.” People want it to be easier somehow for them individually and have someone else to take care of it.
Noam Mohr: Which is understandable. But that’s not happening so we have to take responsibility for ourselves even as we do make efforts to get government involved. Government will get involved when it’s a voting issue and people in government feel if they vote the wrong way they’ll be punished. That’s really what motivates our representatives in government, but until they do we can’t just wait for something to happen. We’ve been waiting for decades. It’s something that’s in our hands and we have to make decisions every day that are responsible decisions.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, so the point is, I can’t say it over and over enough, we are responsible. We are all responsible for what we support and whether we like to acknowledge it or not when we purchase meat products, when we purchase dairy products, when we purchase fish products we are supporting the destruction of the environment. We are supporting the pollution of our limited supply of water. We are supporting the contamination of our rivers and streams and we’re supporting all of the things that if we really made the connection we really wouldn’t want to support. You’ve probably seen this where many, many people feel that they are environmentalists and want to protect the environment, right?
Noam Mohr: Of course, in polls almost everyone says they do.
Caryn Hartglass: But you can’t be if you’re consuming 198 animals per year for food.
Noam Mohr: It’s definitely something that people can do that they aren’t doing and it’s really urgent for the world that this shift happen because there’s really no alternative in the long run. The population keeps growing and the share of the diet globally even as the consumption of animal products is decreasing in the U.S. just recently, in the world it keeps growing. And as bad as things are now at 30% of the surface of the earth being used for animals and so on it’s going to keep getting worse. In the next 20 years animal consumption is supposed to increase 50% worldwide.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I keep seeing that. How do people say that?
Noam Mohr: Just looking at the increase of populations and increases in people’s dietary consumptions of animal products. That’s the way things are headed.
Caryn Hartglass: But there’s no room for those animals, it’s just not physically possible is it?
Noam Mohr: It’s not physically impossible as we increasingly industrialize the third world farms and turn them into factory farms where we pack animals into small spaces. It does have a fact, the more crops we have to raise as animals feed the less crops there are for the rest of us so prices go up. And what we can afford to pay for more expensive plant products it’s a real hardship in the third world as they see their staple food increase in prices. It does cause an increase in hunger.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that is a tremendous point. There’s two things I wanted to say, I hope I don’t forget them but number one you said that 30% of the land mass is used for animal agriculture.
Noam Mohr: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s already confining a significant amount of animals. Confining in ways you cannot imagine the tiny, small, filthy spaces that they live in. And so some people will say “well I only eat free-range meat and organic meat” and the point is we cannot consume the quantity of animals we are consuming today and in addition have that grow fifty percent in decades to come unless we confine these animals and treat them in this horrific way. There’s not enough landmass for this quantity of animals to romp around the earth. We just can’t do it.
Noam Mohr: That’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: And the other point that you just mentioned about the impact it has on the food supply for people in the third world. You know we live in abundance here and we have just about everything we want and I’m not denying that there are people that are struggling right now especially in the economy and there’s plenty of poor children that go to bed hungry in this country but in the third world country it’s worse and many of the land owners decide to grow things that are profitable. So they’ll grow commodity foods like sugar and chocolate and coffee and things that are exportable rather than growing food for the population. And then there are also those that decide to cut down rainforests and grow soybeans to feed cattle, to feed people mostly in the first world.
Noam Mohr: Yeah the animals products in our diet require an awful lot of the land, agricultural land to be raising feed crops rather than crops for food and that has a significant and visible impact on food prices worldwide and of course when food prices go up people who are poorest are hardest hit.
Caryn Hartglass: So when people like us are talking about this horrific treatment of animals and someone like you Noam is counting them up one by one coming up with 59 billion animals eating by Americans every year we also consider the effect on humanity and we’ve talked about how it’s affecting our environment in a very negative way and it’s also affecting people around the world who don’t even have access to simple starches, simple foods to feed their families. So it’s not just animals, it’s all life on earth.
Noam Mohr: Yeah, those people are impacted not just by the rising food prices but also by the environmental problems. Environmental problems hit them the most. And when global warming causes increases in droughts or hurricanes and so on they’re the ones who are least able to cope. When there are water shortages because so much water is being used to raise animals they’re the ones who end up suffering the most. We can cut back on showers but they’re using the water for their basic necessities. So these environmental impacts are all felt greatest among those who are most in need of help.
Caryn Hartglass: Which is really a shame and I don’t want those sorts of things to happen to us but I think if they did we would respond more quickly.
Noam Mohr: It would be hard on us but we have ways of coping. It would cost us but we’d be able to survive in ways that they can’t.
Caryn Hartglass: A number of years ago you put out this great report on global warming and you talked about it a little bit during this last hour about how expensive it is to create the technology in order to reduce the carbon emissions. Certainly we’re going to be creating more efficient cars and more efficient factories and we’re going to be reducing carbon emissions, there’s lots of great technology out there it’s really fascinating to read about, but the point that you made in your report, that I will never forget, is how costly that will be and how time consuming it will be and in order to get there to be able to have that time in order to make those changes we need to make changes today so that the environment isn’t destroyed before it’s too late. And the way we need to do that is by reducing the number of animals that are grown to feed people because it’s devastating to global warming.
Noam Mohr: It’s really exciting to see that because people are trying to find more efficient ways to create power or more efficient cars or ways to move forward find other alternative sources of energy and all that is very important, but we have a real opportunity here when we realize that animal agriculture worldwide is responsible for more global warming than all transportation put together. 18% of the world’s emissions are because of the food we eat.
Caryn Hartglass: And that may be a conservative number.
Noam Mohr: That’s right. Others have said that that number is leaving out a lot and it could be. Estimates go up to as much as 50%, but it’s a lot more than these other things that we often point at. And it’s not just the quantity, as you say if tomorrow we came up with a car that could have zero emissions it would still take years for all the cars that are on the road today to eventually cycle out. If we came up new methods of power it would still take decades for current power plants to slowly get replaced as new ones get built, but what we do with our diet can happen tomorrow. We can make a change tomorrow that makes a difference. If we all decide to cut our consumption of animal products by 10% or by 50% or by 100% we’d see those reductions in our emissions right away. Or at least within a year or two at most for the longest living animals out there as they get replaced. And not just are the effects immediate because animal agriculture effect is not just from carbon dioxide, which is the main gas people talk about, but also methane, animal agriculture is the biggest source of methane, which is a global warming gas twenty-five times more powerful than carbon dioxide and since they’re the biggest cause when we reduce this we reduce our emissions of methane, and methane only lasts in the atmosphere for about a decade so when we make cuts today a decade from now we’re going to see reductions in temperatures as a result which is different from the carbon dioxide everyone talks about that stays in the atmosphere for centuries. So they’re both important but this has a short-term effect and gives us a short-term bang for our buck which if really powerful.
Caryn Hartglass: And the great part about it is that there’s many delicious options that are made from plants and you’re not deprived, you’re satisfied, and many people find when they move towards a plant based diet and eat more plant foods they lose weight, they feel better, more energetic, they look younger and all I want to do is help people do that.
Noam Mohr: It’s great to think about that what’s good for your health is also great for the planet and reduces the cruelties to animals. And I guess one thing that is interesting from the numbers of animals that are calculated here is that if that’s your motivation in changing diet, if you want to reduce the number of animals we kill it’s best to start targeting the smaller animals like fish and chicken. People often start with cows and replacing cows with chickens only increases the number of animals that are killed but if you do what Americans seem to be doing, which is reduce the amount of chicken and fish you eat, starting there you really have an impact on the number of animals that is very large.
Caryn Hartglass: Yay, yay Americans, thank you for eating less. Let’s keep it up and maybe work a little harder at it. Noam, thank you so much, thank you for this hour, thank you for all of these numbers that you’ve put together and I’m sure they will be put to very good use.
Noam Mohr: Thank you for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: So for those 59 billion animals that die every year for food I say a little silent prayer for them and thank all of you for joining us, Noam Mohr, and I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food.
Transcribed by Katara Ziegler, 8/6/2014