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Prior to the publication of Meatonomics, the publisher deemed the three paragraphs below “overly sentimental” and insisted on deleting them. Reprinted with appropriate sentimentality.

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The most heartbreaking feature of today’s hellish, industrial meat production systems is that none of the billions of animals who spend their entire lives as prisoners will ever experience the slightest affection from, or fellowship with, another living being. They’ll be stripped from their mothers just when the maternal relationship is most craved by mother and child. Some will never know a mother’s touch or call, nor taste a mother’s milk. The one truly valuable asset they possess, a sense of personal dignity, will be stolen from them and tossed away without a care. They’ll be jammed into such close spaces with others of their own species that rather than develop healthy social networks, they’ll live in a state of constant hostility and fear. They’ll be forced to compete daily with their comrades for food, space and other scarce resources. Some will be pecked or bitten to death by their fellows. They’ll all lead lives of misery in painful parallel, in a kind of solidarity of time, place and debilitating stress.

As to their unhealthy relationships with the humans who cross their paths, these will be the schizophrenic nightmares of a Jekyll and Hyde story. Sometimes they’ll receive food or water from their captors, sometimes a kick or a punch, and sometimes an excruciating mutilation like a castration, beak amputation, tail docking or broken wing or limb. They’ll never receive the slightest caress or caring touch from their minders, never the slightest show of kindness or concern. Stuck in pathetic dependence on those they fear, they can only come to see humans as unpredictable and untrustworthy. Imagine a psychopathic kidnapper offering you a sandwich one minute, and beating you the next.

There’s no humanity whatsoever in these factory systems – that is to say, there’s no evidence of any human attribute other than the shallowest desire to make a profit. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect hell for the animals we debase and insult in this manner. It’s an embarrassment to humankind that in our treatment of our fellow planetary voyagers, we’ve forsaken the best qualities of our species – compassion, mercy, and kindness, for the basest – greed, cruelty and violence. Unfortunately, that’s simply the bleak nature of the factory farming systems that produce almost all the meat, eggs and dairy consumed in the industrialized world.

We love this new video – and it’s a great way to share this important issue with anyone who needs to know:

By Marya Torrez[1]

A lot of weird ideas have been proposed to reverse climate change, including wrapping Greenland in a blanket, launching a huge sun shade into orbit, and forming clouds from salt. But here’s one down-to-earth idea that policymakers should take up: tax meat to reduce consumption, thereby lowering emissions associated with production.

cowspiracy_quoteOf course, it will be challenging to get this idea into the mainstream. Despite the fact that animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to global climate change, large environmental organizations and policymakers have largely ignored its impact – a phenomenon explored in detail in the movie Cowspiracy. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization calculates that animal agriculture contributes about 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation combined. Other experts place the number at about half. While there is debate regarding the exact contribution of animal agriculture, the fact that its impact is considerable is widely recognized in the scientific community.

CDCSome scientists even draw attention to the impact that global meat consumption has on the planet and propose measures such as a tax on meat to address some of these negative externalities. Most recently, a number of interesting proposals were discussed in relation to the UN Climate Change Summit that took place in Paris at the end of 2015. Such measures reflect the belief of many scientists that “reductions in … meat production would simultaneously benefit global food security, human health and environmental conservation.” Carbon taxes imposed by legislators on the energy and transportation sectors have largely succeeded in reducing carbon emissions.

In 2014, I wrote a law review article that explored the potential obstacles and benefits of implementing a greenhouse gas emissions tax on meat. Clearly, one of the largest obstacles is political palatability. But another obstacle would be how it interacts with the United States’ international trade law obligations, as I will explain. The complete legal analysis can be found here.

The United States is a member in the World Trade Organization (WTO), and this can have repercussions on desired policy initiatives at home. In the context of a greenhouse gas emissions tax, the U.S. could certainly impose a tax on domestic meat production without running afoul of our WTO obligations, but such a tax would likely fail because if other countries do not impose a similar tax, it would be more expensive to produce meat here than abroad, making it more difficult for U.S. industry to compete. A tax on only domestic production could create a perverse incentive not to reduce meat production and consumption but merely to replace domestically produced meat with imports from countries without such a tax.

One potential way to address these issues rather than exempting impacted industries would be a border tax adjustment (BTA), which would rebate the tax for exports and impose it on imports. While BTAs are permitted under WTO law, they must be carefully constructed, and the legality of a greenhouse gas emission BTA is currently an open question. Even if the BTA does not comply with WTO law, it still may be lawful if it is “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health” or related to the “conservation of exhaustible natural resources.”

veganstreet picAnother issue in connection with a meat tax is how the United States’ international trade law obligations mesh with its multilateral environmental obligations – most importantly the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Because developed nations are the major greenhouse gas contributors, and developing nations often struggle financially and technologically to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, the UNFCCC places the primary responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases on developed nations. A unilateral tax would have a disproportionate impact on developing nations. However, exempting nations in the Global South from the tax would significantly undermine the success of the tax. In the absence of an international agreement – which would certainly be preferable – the fees raised could be used to help developing countries respond to climate change. Using the revenue this way would show that the measure’s purpose is not hidden protectionism and “would certainly strengthen the case that the BTA does not violate WTO law.”

All this may seem purely academic, given Congress’ favorable treatment of the animal agriculture industry and inability to address climate change. Attempts to pass a carbon tax failed in 2009 in part because of the international trade implications. Moreover, American taxpayers currently heavily subsidize the animal agriculture industry. And, while the EPA could and should regulate greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture like it does other industries, animal agriculture has been largely exempted from regulation.

Animal food productionAs Dave Simon detailed in his book Meatonomics, U.S. taxpayers spend nearly $415 billion annually on negative externalities from animal agriculture, including health and environmental costs. Rather than addressing the negative externalities imposed on society by animal agriculture, there’s currently a perverse incentive to over-consume animal products at great cost not only to the environment but also to human health, and, of course, to the nonhuman animals.

Despite these obvious political obstacles, we cannot continue to wait to address climate change. The situation is only getting less sustainable. Meat consumption is growing in parts of the world that have not traditionally eaten much meat. “If the entire world population were to consume as much meat as the Western world does . . . the global land required would be two-thirds more than what is presently used.” A tax on the greenhouse gas emissions of meat production could begin to reverse these incentives and account for negative externalities. Interestingly, the researchers who looked at this proposal at the time of the Paris Climate Change Summit found that many people are likely to support such a tax.

As scientists exploring this issue have stated:

Because the Earth’s climate may be near tipping points to major change, the need to act is increasingly pressing . . . . Only with the recognition of the urgency of this issue and the political will to commit resources to comprehensively mitigate both CO2 and non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions will meaningful progress be made on climate change. For an effective and rapid response, we need to increase awareness among the public and policymakers that what we choose to eat has important consequences for climate change.

The time to act to reverse climate change is now, and a tax on meat would be a great start.

[1] Marya Torrez is an attorney and activist based in Washington, DC. She has written extensively about the environmental, public health, and ethical implications of raising animals for food. Her published works can be found here.

Reposting an early favorite. We get asked a lot about the hidden costs of a typical Big Mac, and this piece spells it out in detail.

MEATONOMIC$

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The average retail price of a Big Mac in the United States is $4.56, but that’s just a fraction of the actual cost. When we add in all the hidden, externalized expenses of meat production, the full burden on society is a hefty $12.00 per sandwich. The extra $7.44 above the retail price is borne by American taxpayers and consumers. In other words, rich or poor, omnivore or herbivore, you incur a share of the hidden costs of each and every Big Mac sold in this country.

Curious what you’re paying for? The externalized costs of each burger include:

  • $0.38 for cruelty.  A total of $20.7 billion in cruelty costs is imposed on Americans each year. (Extrapolated from a study in which auction participants bid to end cruel farming practices.)
  • $0.67 in environmental losses.  This is a small piece of the $37.2 billion in annual environmental costs related…

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Check out the new animated video of Meatonomics! It’s a graphic, two-minute overview of the book suitable for foodies of all ages. (And if you like it, please share!)

Meatonomics

And now, a reblog of an interview that my partner, Tania Marie, just posted. It provides a great overview of the book Meatonomics and, for the curious, a few details about me. The book comes out in 10 days!

Tania Marie's Blog

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“This important book joins the ranks of T. Colin Campbell’s Whole and The China Study in its power to expose the truth and begin to repair the health care crisis.”

~ Patti Breitman, co-author of How to Eat Like a Vegetarian, Even If You Never Want To Be One

“Consumers can only make wise purchases of meat if the price they pay reflects the full cost of producing it—when there are no ‘hidden’ costs like subsidies or environmental damage. Simon is the first author to attempt a complete accounting of all these hidden costs, something that should be applauded by the vegan and meat-lover alike.”

~ F. Bailey Norwood, Ph.D., author of Compassion By the Pound and Professor of Agricultural Economics, Oklahoma State University

There are some incredible visionaries “being the change” and channeling pivotal and illuminating material and creations these days, especially via the medium of books. David Robinson Simon…

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