“Meat is Murder”
MUNCHEN, Germany––Thirty years after the British rock band The Smiths’ third album popularized the phrase “Meat is Murder,” Max Planck Institute for Chemistry researcher Jos Lelieveld has identified the alleged crime as a multiple homicide.
In addition to killing about 1.7 billion cattle, a billion pigs, 24 billion chickens, and two billion sheep and goats, the global meat industry kills about 664,100 people per year through generating air pollution, Lelieveld and colleagues charge in the September 16, 2015 edition of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature.
Among the estimated world total of 3.3 million deaths per year due to air pollution from all sources, Lelieveld et al found, only in-home cooking and heating with wood and other combustible bio-fuels kills more people: about one million per year, according to the Max Planck Institute calculations.
Summarized Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein, “Scientists in Germany, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia and at Harvard University calculated the most detailed estimates yet of the toll of air pollution, looking at what caused it,” and projecting that the yearly toll could double to 6.6 million a year by 2050.
China, India, Pakistan
China has the most air pollution deaths per year, about 1.4 million deaths a year, followed by India with 645,000 and Pakistan with 110,000, but the percentage of air pollution deaths associated with agriculture is higher in the U.S. and other more industrialized nations––which also tend to practice more intensive confinement animal husbandry.
“The U.S., with 54,905 deaths in 2010 from soot and smog, ranks seventh highest for air pollution death,” wrote Borenstein. “The study says that agriculture caused 16,221 of those deaths, second only to 16,929 deaths blamed on power plants.
“In the U.S. Northeast, all of Europe, Russia, Japan and South Korea, agriculture is the leading cause of the soot and smog deaths, according to the study,” Borenstein added.
The science of it
The Lelieveld paper, “The contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale,” explains that atmospheric ammonia released from manure tends to combine with sulphur dioxide from coal-fired power plants and nitrates from car exhaust to form soot particles, which when inhaled tend to aggravate other respiratory illnesses, thereby increasing their death rates.
Lelieveld also pointed toward human health effects from carbon dioxide, another “greenhouse gas” emitted from animal manure.
What if the world went vegan?
Livestock collectively release about 51% of all carbon dioxide entering the earth’s atmosphere each year, according to a 2009 study produced by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. The Dutch researchers projected that if the world went vegan, agriculture-related carbon emissions would before 2050 be reduced by 17%, methane emissions by 24%, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21%.
Earlier, the 2006 United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization report Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options identified animal agriculture as producing about 65% of all emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas believed to be about 300 times more destructive to the earth’s ozone layer than carbon dioxide.