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Web Letter

Whittelsey's reporting on CAFO's (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) is absolutely correct. I would like to point out that there is a very viable alternative to these atrocities, and it is simply to raise animals as nature intended, on pasture. There is a growing movement, mostly among small livestock farmers, to raise their animals on grass. Grass-fed beef in particular is in great demand for its health benefits (higher Omega 3 and CLA content) as well as its inherent and significant environmental and animal welfare advantages. Furthermore, and fundamentally, ruminant animals such as cattle are not physiologically designed to eat corn--period, much less all the other junk stuffed into them in feedlots.

With regard to climate change/global warming, a well-managed grass-based cattle operation can be carbon nuetral or even carbon negative due to the significant carbon sequestration inherent in the respiration of plants--they "breathe in" carbon dioxide and "breathe out" oxygen. Further, grass-based systems use far less gasoline or diesel fuel than conventional farming practices, including CAFO's, and organic grass-based systems use no synthetic (petroleum based) fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.

Discussing the horrors of cattle raising in this country, Whittelsey appropriately writes, "the fact is all but a lucky few spend much of their lives in dismal feedlots where grass does not grow, getting fat on corn and other unspeakable byproducts." Those "lucky few" are those fortunate enough to be raised in grass-based systems.

I submit there is a perfect, natural way to have both burgers and biofuels. It is grass-based livestock production systems, especially organic ones, obviating the gnashing of teeth over both oil and "king corn." There are tens of millions if not billions of under-utilized grassland acres in this country. The cost of bringing these acres back into livestock production is minimal compared to what is spent just in government subsidies (taxpayer dollars) to grain farmers. The health, environmental and animal welfare benefits of these systems are priceless.

Fred Griffen

Cincinnatus, New York, USA

Aug 9 2008 - 10:10pm

Web Letter

Thank you for bringing renewed attention to the environmental effects of our over-meaty habits. However, just as there are no silver bullets for emissions reductions, there are also few options that are starkly black and white. With this in mid, I would like to make a clarification (not necessarily in wholehearted defense of ethanol ): corn ethanol is not destroying the rain forest.

Corn-based ethanol is grown primarily in the United States, while Brazil is the largest producer of sugarcane-based ethanol. The vast majority of Brazil's ethanol is also outside the limits of the Amazon and Atlantic Rain forests. However, land clearing in the Amazon rain forest is often done to make room for cattle grazing or soybean fields (much of which is used as cattle feed). While the expansion of ethanol production may push other agricultural sectors to further encroach on the Amazon, increased global beef consumption is already taking its toll.

Further, it is a gross over-generalization to imply that all ethanol is bad and all biodiesels are comparatively better. Ethanol made from different crops (corn vs. soybean vs. sugarcane) and grown in places with different climates and technology profiles produce ethanols with very different emissions profiles. Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is many times more efficient (and thus actually effective in reducing emissions) than US corn ethanol.

Would the transportation costs of exporting sugar ethanol cancel out its environmental benefits? Is dependence on Brazil for clean biofuel the same as depending on the Middle East for fossil fuel? Would a mass move to full US vegetarianism simply replace deforestation for cattle with deforestation for soy? Clearly, our habits must change... but the "how" is rarely black and white.

Josefine Du

San Diego, CA

Aug 8 2008 - 2:02pm

Web Letter

Just a comment to the previous comment. Whittersley's article is--if anything--very uncontroversial. Is this an attack on freedom? Well, I suggest that the person writing this commentary delves into all which is written about corporate manipulation of diets (Joan Nestle: Food Politics) and the hundreds of scientific papers that are written about the concentration of the meat business in the United States (check out with Phil McMichael at Cornell University as a starter). From these writings, it emerges that the largest corporations in the US agricultural industry have enormous impact on the choices of farmers, consumers, all kinds of business regulation (including environmental regulation) and agricultural prices. I just can't see how big business can be less repressive than big government. And--when it comes to our freedoms--there is also a health component that is not included in this article: The excessive meat eating in the US is actually deleterious to the health of Americans, as it contributes strongly to cardiovascular disease and cancer. This simple message is all too often marginalized in dietary advice and the media. Eating less meat is actually a way in which Americans can live longer and better lives, save the environment and assist in ameliorating the food crisis. Is it Soviet communism to point out this?

Sjur Kasa

Oslo, Norway

Aug 6 2008 - 4:44am

Web Letter

I can’t imagine how humans were able to survive for tens of thousands of years without the great wisdom of Frances Cerra Whittelsey and Berkeley professors. Or how our Earth, which is 4.5 billion years old, survived volcanoes, earthquakes and being hit by very large asteroids that killed off 90 percent of the planet, is now endangered because I drive my car and type on a computer. We are all doomed unless we listen to the gospel of vegetarians, tree huggers and Al Gore.

Imagine, Americans have the gull to actually feed corn to cows and complain that not more of it is going into our cars. All this time I thought feeding cows and then eating them was natural, little did I know that such an act amounted to blasphemy and a sin greater than those mentioned in the Bible. Why, by eating a hamburger I am destroying this planet, I deserve to burn in hell for this.

But the real question we should be asking is how all these people who want to control our lives get so smart that they know more about what is best for you then you do yourself. How does one become an all-knowing environmentalist? They sound a lot like Muslim imams, in that only they fully understand how the earth and things work. Only they have the keys to heaven and utopia, for whatever they say it must be as truthful as God himself spoke. You know, we could save a lot of money if we just put all these environmentalist and vegetarians in charge of our government. We could even eliminate all elections. They have an answer for everything and there is never a need to question them.

Of course the only cure, as it always is more rules, taxes, and a larger government. As the writer says, politicians need to get out of micromanaging production of food crops, by macro-managing them with government mandates and a carbon tax. If only we paid more taxes, and allowed the government more control of our life, we would truly live in a utopia. How sad that when all the restrictions and taxes hit, and we all become equal by working in the fields and living a substance existence, the politicians that are now passing laws will be out of office--except for Nancy Pelosi, who seems to be so necessary for America that she can never leave.

Robert Exton

San Fransisco , CA

Aug 5 2008 - 9:18pm

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