The Hindu prohibition against killing and eating beef finally makes sense to me.
In my post, “Going Dodo,” I reported three suggestions that researcher Anthony Barnosky made for how people can forestall the environmental destruction that is behind the mass extinction of life now underway. Unfortunately, the third suggestion—eat less meat—seemed to be the least important because of its place within the list.
Quite the contrary, this is probably the most important thing you can do to save life on this planet.
A couple nights ago, I watched the documentary film, Cowspiracy, which tells the story that virtually all environmental groups are too cowardly to tell you: that animal agriculture is the single greatest cause of environmental destruction and degradation. Perhaps these organizations are cowed in the US (you like that pun?) by the ranching/meat-processing lobby’s demonstrated willingness to sue you if you appear on Oprah (yes, I know it’s gone) and say anything bad about meat, even if true.
Thirteen states (Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas) have passed food libel laws, also known as food disparagement laws, to establish lower standard for civil liability and allow for punitive damages and attorney’s fees for plaintiffs alone, regardless of the case’s outcome.
Interesting enough, the plaintiffs in two of the most notable such lawsuits did not prevail.
In 1998, television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and one of her guests, Howard Lyman, were sued in the so-called “Amarillo Texas beef trial,” for a 1996 episode of her show in which the two made disparaging comments about beef in relation to the mad cow scare. The jury found that the statements by Winfrey and Lyman did not constitute libel against the cattlemen. However, the lawsuit consumed copious amounts of time and money and Winfrey no longer speaks publicly on the issue (going so far as to decline to make videotapes of the original interview available to journalists).
A long-running legal case in Britain is an example of the application of food libel principles to existing law. McDonald’s Restaurants versus Morris & Steel (also known as the “McLibel case”) was a lawsuit filed by McDonald’s Corporation against environmental activists Helen Steel and David Morris over a pamphlet critical of the company. The original case lasted ten years, making it the longest-running court action in English history. Although McDonald’s won two hearings of the case, the partial nature of the victory, the David-vs-Goliath nature of the case, and the drawn-out litigation embarrassed the company. McDonald’s announced that it did not plan to collect the £40,000 that it was awarded by the courts. Since then, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that the trial violated Articles 6 (right to a fair trial) because the defendants had been refused legal aid and had only been represented by volunteer lawyers, and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the Convention on Human Rights, again because the defendants had been refused legal aid, and were awarded a judgment of £57,000 against the British government.
What suppression by intimidation (by-threat-of-lawsuit) has failed to bring about, has been achieved by reduction of the argument against beef to one big fart joke. The resulting ridicule has made a very sizable and serious problem to virtually disappear.
Cattle flatulence is said to contribute 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, compared with 13% for all transportation exhaust. Emissions from the transportation sector primarily involve fossil fuels burned for road, rail, air, and marine transportation and are expected to increase 20% by 2040. Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Methane, a component of cow farts, is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 on a 20-year time frame. Nitrous oxide, another component of cow farts, has 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and stays in the atmosphere for 150 years. Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide.