In the United States there is one domesticated animal that everyone is very familiar with, from seeing them in person, advertisements, local farms, and feedlots. Many people would be able to recognize the cow. Here, throughout Arcata you can find many cows and watch them feed on the grass. But many of the cows that are consumed, usually don’t have that kind of life instead many spend their time in feedlots. Once there are ready, they are slaughtered for their meat to be sold and eaten. There hides are also used to make a leather for jackets and wallets. Nowadays there has been a huge increase in the amount of beef people in the United States consume, since more people can afford it. This has lead to an increase of cows throughout the United States, as well as an increase in resources such as land and grain to provide for these cows that we consume. Through this paper I will examine the history of cattle and how it became such a huge commodity as well as its effects in risks and hazards and the political economy.
Cows go way back in history, they were one of the first animals to be domesticated and provided people with meat and milk, as well as materials to create things such as leather. Because these animals provided many things there were often seen as valuable and therefore have become a huge part of our history. Cows were brought over to the New World by Spanish explorers and allowed for a few breeds to be spread across America. One breed of cow that was very recognizable were the Longhorns from Great Plains. The Longhorns were the first main cattle that were produced at a large scale. This allowed for cattle ranching to expand throughout the Great Plains. It also started the cowboy culture that we are so familiar with. This also expanded how cows became a commodity by being slaughtered for the hides and meat. Since so much of the cattle was on the Western United States, there had to be a solution to transport the meat to the Eastern states that had huge demands for it. The solution for this was to transport the meat through railroads. According to Lowell, “This allowed cattle which were slaughtered in the West or Midwest to be sold on the Eastern meat markets. High demand for "Western dressed beef" on the Eastern markets was established rather quickly. The number of cattle on the Western rangelands more than doubled between 1880 and 1900.” From this point on more cows were breed in order to meet this growing demand for beef. Americans eat more beef than any other protein. The increase in beef consumption is due to many factors such as increased purchasing power, quality of beef standardized by Federal Grading Service, genetic improvement, and improved feeding and management (Lowell 1). The United States Department of Agriculture also counts cattle throughout the United States throughout the years since 1867 there has been huge increases of cattle in the U.S. and in 2016 there was the highest number of cattle and calves which was 92 million (USDA 1).
Agriculture is a huge asset to the political economy in which it will always produce food that people need. Cattle ranching is a huge business and provides many people with beef as well as other products made from leather. “Livestock production — which includes meat, milk and eggs — contributes 40% of global agricultural gross domestic product, provides income for more than 1.3 billion people and uses one-third of the world’s fresh water.” (Walsh 1) This activity has provided many people throughout the world with food and income. As the population grows so does the consumption and demand of beef. According to Walsh, “The average person in the industrialized world eats more than 176 lb. of meat annually, compared with around 66 lb. consumed by the average resident of the developing world.” Rapid industrialization is allowing for developing nations to be able to afford many things, such as having the resources to have cattle as well as to import, export, and consume beef. Livestock farming in the United States has been around for quite sometime and has allowed for many of the practices to be improved. Other developing countries face more challenges when it comes to this type of farming. The amount of grain needed to feed cows is huge as well as setting aside land to keep huge numbers of cows. Since many developing countries don’t always have the resources to provide grain for these cows, they often really on grasses which is less efficient in feeding cows and therefore cows need more grass to produce more beef. ““The poor feed quality in impoverished regions like sub-Saharan Africa means that a cow there may consume as much as 10 times more feed — mostly grasses — to produce a kilogram of protein than a cow raised in richer regions. That lack of efficiency also means that cattle in countries like Ethiopia and Somalia account for as much as 1,000 kg of carbon for every kg of protein they produce — in the form of methane from manure as well as from the reduced carbon absorption that results when forests are converted to pastureland.” (Walsh 2) In developing countries cows can be more than just an animal that is fattened up quickly and then slaughtered. By having such a hug animal it can be seen as a sign of wealth and often serve many purposes instead of just quickly being slaughtered and consumed.
Risks and Hazards
When you think about cows, the first thing to come to mind is not how they pose a threat to the environment and how they increase the ongoing effects of global warming, but instead on how cute or delicious they are. According the Rachel Nuwar, “Researchers estimate that livestock-based food production causes about one-fifth of all global greenhouse gas emissions. It also sucks up water and land for growing crops to feed livestock and for raising those animals.” Although cows themselves might not be the ones for adding to the ongoing effects of climate change, the resources they need do contribute to it. Cows are huge animals that need huge amounts of water and grain in order to produce enough beef per cow to be profitable. According to Nuwar a study was done to calculate the amount of resources cows need to produce beef, “The team calculated that beef requires 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer and 11 times more water compared to those other food sources. That adds up to about five times more greenhouse gas emissions.” The ongoing demand for beef has increased the amount of cows as well as the amount of land that needs to be cleared for grazing and feedlots. Cows also produce huge amounts of waste that produce nitrous oxide, as well as their flatulence that produces methane gas. Both methane gas and nitrous oxide have a higher warming effect than carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming. Compared to other factors that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions livestock farming contributes 18% of those gases. (Walsh 3) Throughout the world, many countries are cutting down their forests to make space for pasture and grazing land for cows. Besides the United States, in many other countries there is also a huge demand for beef. According Walsh, “The FAO estimates that about 20% of the planet's pastureland has been degraded by grazing animals, and increased demand for meat means increased demand for animal feed — much of the world's grain production is fed to animals rather than to humans.” This creates a huge problem in many developing countries by growing huge amounts of grain to feed cows instead of other people. Because many developing countries are able to afford more, the desire for beef has increased. By the ongoing deforestation throughout the world’s forest for cows it allows for carbon dioxide, one of the longest prominent greenhouse gases to remain in the atmosphere and contribute to warming. This creates the problem of constantly needing more resources to supply cows in order to be profitable throughout the world.
Another problem that comes from producing ad having so many cows is that it can potentially affect many people’s lives. According to Walsh, “The expanded production of meat has been facilitated by industrial feedlots, which bleed antibiotics and other noxious chemicals. And of course, the human health impact of too much meat can be seen in everything from bloated waistlines in America to rising rates of cardiovascular disease in developing nations, where heart attacks were once as rare as a T-bone steak.” Many Americans often prefer to eat beef and it has been incorporated in various meals throughout the day. Many people eat huge amounts of meat in every meal that can lead to various cardiovascular diseases. This can be seen throughout fast food chains that offer various kinds of beef burgers. I have also met various people that can’t imagine eating without having meat in every meal. Many cows in huge farms are often subjected to being treated with antibiotics in order fatten them up enough to be profitable. “According to a recent study by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some 80% of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in farm animals, not in human beings, and 90% of that amount is dispensed through feed or water.” (Walsh 4) These antibiotics can lead to a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria and can infect humans who eat beef. By using huge amounts of antibiotics, in the beef that we consume, it can lead to our bodies resisting antibiotics. This leads to various people becoming resistant and possibly being in danger from a disease that could have been treated with these drugs.
Overall the cow is able to tell us a lot from our political economy, how we view animals and land, and how we deal with risks and hazards. The cow has been one of the longest domesticated animals in our history and has provided us with meat, milk, and leather. Cattle ranching produce huge amounts of jobs for many people as well as being very profitable due to the huge demand. The huge demand in beef has lead to an increase in the amount of cows throughout the world, as well as an increase in the resources needed to make beef profitable. This practice has also lead to various risks and hazards on people’s health such as increase in resisting antibiotics as well as increased cardiovascular diseases. Livestock is also one of the highest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to the ongoing warming of the planet. Cows are valued for the meat and are very profitable which often puts it as a priority and putting people’s health and the environment second.
Lowell, Wilson, K.G. Macdonald, H. H. Mayo, K. J. Drewry. “Development of the Beef Cattle Industry.” Purdue University. March 1, 1965.
Nuwar, Rachel. “Raising Beef Uses Ten Times More Resources Than Poultry, Dairy, Eggs or Pork.” Smithsonian.com. July 21, 2014. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/beef-uses-ten-times-more-resources-poultry-dairy-eggs-pork-180952103/
Robbins, Paul, J. Hintz, and S. A. Moore. “Environment and Society.” Wiley Blackwell. 2014.
United States Department of Agriculture. “Overview of the United States Cattle
Industry.” June 24, 2016.
Walsh, Bryan. “Meat: Making Global Warming Worse.” Time. September 10, 2008. http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1839995,00.html
Walsh, Bryan. “The Triple Whopper Environmental Impact of Global Meat Production.” Time. December 16, 2013. http://science.time.com/2013/12/16/the-triple-whopper-environmental-impact-of-global-meat-production/
Walsh, Bryan. “Farm Drugs: The FDA Moves to Restrict (Somewhat) the Use of Antibiotics in Livestock.” Time. January 5, 2010.http://science.time.com/2012/01/05/farm-drugs-the-fda-moves-to-restrict-somewhat-the-use-of-antibiotics-in-livestock/
Walsh, Bryan. “Environmental Groups Sue the FDA Over Antibiotics and Meat Production.” Time. May 25, 2011. http://science.time.com/2011/05/25/environmental-groups-sue-the-fda-over-antibiotics-and-meat-production/