97 per cent of the world's soya crop is fed to livestock. It would take 40 million tons of food to eliminate the most extreme cases of world hunger, yet nearly 20 times that amount of grain is fed to farmed animals every year in order to produce meat. In a world where an estimated 850 people do not have enough to eat, it is criminally wasteful to feed perfectly edible food to animals on farms in order to produce a burger rather than feeding it directly to people, especially when you consider that it takes roughly six pounds of grain to produce one pound of pork. As long as a single child goes hungry, this kind of waste is unconscionable.
Countries around the globe are bulldozing huge swathes of land in order to make room for more factory farms to house all the additional chickens, cows and other animals as well as for the huge quantities of crops needed to feed them. But when you eat plant foods directly, instead of indirectly eating bushels and bushels of grain and soya that have been funnelled through animals first, you need a lot less land.
Vegfam, a charity which funds sustainable plant-food projects, estimates that a 10-acre farm can support 60 people by growing soybeans, 24 people by growing wheat or 10 people by growing maize, but only two by raising cattle. What's more, Dutch scientists predict that 2.7 billion hectares of land currently used for cattle grazing would be freed up by global vegetarianism, along with 100 million hectares of land currently used to grow crops for livestock.
Factory-farmed animals are disease-ridden as a result of being crammed by the thousands into filthy sheds, which are a breeding ground for new strains of dangerous bacteria and viruses. Pigs, chickens and other animals on factory farms are fed a steady diet of drugs to keep them alive in these unsanitary, stressful conditions, increasing the chance that drug-resistant superbugs will develop. A senior officer with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation called the intensive industrial farming of livestock an “opportunity for emerging disease”, while the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe”. Sure, the overprescribing of antibiotics for humans plays a part in antibiotic resistance. But eliminating the factory farms from which many antibiotic-resistant bacteria emerge would make it more likely that we could continue to count on antibiotics to cure serious illnesses.