Fido and Fluffy and the Meat Conundrum

Sharon November 4th, 2009

Two interesting reports came out this week, both controversial, but both, I think, usefully pushing us to think hard about aspects of our lives that many of us take as a given.

The first was a World Bank Report that claimed that meat was responsible for 50% of all world emissions.  This is probably overstated, and the solutions (more industrial farming and vat-raised meat…yum!) problematic.  But it usefully points out that meat has a staggeringly high impact on the climate and our situation, and that we cannot go on eating meat the way we do.

The second was an article in New Scientist that argues that the environmental impact of Pets is vastly higher than most people credit, in large part because the animals eat so much meat.  It take 1 1/2 New Zealands, in terms of land use, to produce the meat eaten by only the cats in the US. 

The latter study does not take the former into consideration, so it is probable that the impact of our pets’ meat eating habits is even greater than the article suggests.  Which means we need to put the question of what our animals eat on the table – and fast.  This is a tough subject – we’re deeply attached to our animals. 

Now IMHO, there are compelling reasons to have domestic animals as pets.  First of all, there’s a reason cats and dogs hang out with us – they have uses for human beings.  Many of us will have rodent problems over the years – and these are somewhat increased by the addition of food storage or or a barn full of garden produce.  Cats and small dogs, bred to kill rodents have an important role in many households – they are not a luxury item.  Dogs provide a measure of safety – they alert to noises, and do work as guardians, shepherds, guide and assistive animals, etc…Moreover, for many people, animals provide unconditional love and physical contact – in a world where many  industrial people simply don’t get those things, pets are enormously valuable. 

And yet, in a world that will struggle to feed the human population, where 1 billion people are hungry and that hunger is tied to rising prices for grain, it is tough to make a case sometimes for feeding animals better food than billions of people get.  So what to do?

I am particularly happy to see this discussion beginning to open up because in my research, I’ve come to believe that in many ways, the Pet Food industry is *the* deciding factor for what makes industrial meat production profitable.  In the US, slaughterhouses reject 1 out of every 7 cows in CAFO feedlots.  These are animals that do not meet the US’s rather minimal standards for slaughter, that are sufficiently diseased that the feedlot (which in many cases caused the cow’s sickness) could not sell them – except that there’s a pet market. 

Fully 1/7 of all cows are used to provide the protein in animal feeds, largely for cats and dogs.  In addition, cull chickens (ie, ones that died horribly in confinement, often from disease) and pigs are used in the same way.  Were it not possible for confinement operations to get some of their money back from this extremely high percentage of lost animals, there are real questions about whether they would be profitable.  Addressing the pet food question does more than simply reduce industrial meat production directly – it potentially calls the whole feedlot system into question.

Moreover, one of the feed ingredients in many industrially produced pet foods is euthanized cats and dogs.  That is, there’s considerable evidence that pet food manufacturers are willing to put just about anything into the animal food stream, including the corpses of our excess kittens and puppies.  My concern about this (besides the fact that it isn’t very aesthetically pleasing), is that we live in extremely close quarters with our cats and dogs, and every biologist I’ve ever mentioned this to observed that these are precisely the right conditions for inventing new and horrible diseases.

Now it would seem that choosing organic, grassfed and free range products for feeding your animals was the best of all possible options.  And this does somewhat reduce the impact of one’s animals – most importantly, it reduces the pressure on the world’s poor if you are feeding your animals on entirely grass-fed meats.  Whenever possible, it is absolutely necessary that we not eat meat produced with grains – because otherwise, it places the rich (and their pets) in competition with the world’s poor for food – and the rich and their pets always win. 

That would mean buying beef, lamb or other ruminant based-food products whenever possible, ensuring that they are wholly grass-fed.  This is not easy – finding all grassfed commercial pet food is difficult, and will be cost prohibitive for many people.  Organic itself is better than nothing – it reduces the emissions on the land in general by a small amount – but doesn’t make a substantial reduction.  Free range chickens are still fed an enormous amount of grain, for their body weight, so don’t help nearly as much as you’d think.

So what is the answer?  Well, first of all, pets are a serious business.  They should not be gotten trivially, should not be encouraged to reproduce (unless you are breeding working animals of some sort) by most people, and for those who are just sort of accustomed to having a cat or a dog, it might be worth asking – do you really want and need one. 

If you do want and need a pet, IMHO, you have a moral responsibility to reduce the impact of its food.  And that means finding the most ethical and appropriate (to the animal and to your place) way possible of feeding your animal. 

I’m keeping the focus on food here, but it goes without saying that you should also not spend a lot of money buying your cat or dog new toys (used are available), you should spay or neuter them, that you should euthanize them at the end of their lives, rather than giving Fluffy a 20,000 dollar liver transplant, that you should choose pets that can adapt to your climate rather than needing high energy resources to keep them comfortable – ie, no Newfies in Florida and no hairless cats in Vermont.  Also, it would be a lot better for the remaining wildlife on the planet if you didn’t let  your dogs run deer or your cats devour songbirds – responsible pet ownership means responsible.

For the very poorest, the elderly and disabled, the only choice may be the purchase of low cost industrial pet foods – disabled elderly people, living in apartments alone derive more benefit from their animals than they do harm, and they get a pass.  For the rest of us, just as we should do whatever it takes to avoid purchasing industrially produced meat, eggs and dairy, we should absolutely not buy those things for our pets.

Note that in the above, I said “purchase” and “buy” rather than “eat” or “feed.”  Because one option for feeding pets is to feed them at least in part on waste foods, particularly if you live in a densely populated area, where large quantities of animal-suited scraps are available.

Here we get into the difference between dogs and cats.  Cats are obligate carnivores – they have to eat meat.  Dogs are not – they do need some animal foods, but they don’t have to eat meat.  Dogs are fairly omnivorous, and at least part of their diet can be made up of *healthy* food scraps from human beings.  That means that if you have a bit of leftover stir-fry and brown rice, you can feed it to the dog and reduce their purchased food accordingly. 

Restaurant scraps carefully culled can be to supplement your dog’s diet too – think lean meats, green vegetables, small amounts of rice.  You may be able to feed your animal high quality produced pet foods by dumpster diving – split bags or damaged packing bags are generally thrown out.  Obviously, you should do some research into diets and food safety for your animals – but the reality is that all of us are facing a change in standard of care and it is only fair that our animals absorb some of that, rather than the poorest human beings. 

In some cases, it may be possible to get free offal – parts of animals that human beings do not consume, that are ordinarily discarded.  Ideally, this will come from sustainably raised animals – and your local farmer probably does have enough chicken feet (don’t feed them directly, make broth out of them)  and lamb livers that she would sell at low cost to keep your dog and cat fed.  Or you may be able to get some of this for free at your supermarket – but don’t pay for it if you have any other choice. 

In the case of cats, you probably should not try and replace 100% of their diet with homemade, unless you are willing to do considerable research and purchase supplements.  But dropping their dry or wet food consumption by half to 2/3 should be possible.  In the case of dogs, it should be possible to make their whole diets.

Or you could raise animals on scraps or wastes or grass to feed your pets.  A large portion of the impact of our animals comes from methane – methane from ruminant livestock, methane from badly handled manures, methane from organic materials in landfills (all that kitty litter in plastic bags is a nightmare).  You can reduce emissions at several levels if you small livestock for yourself and your animals on land that can’t support vegetables, or by using waste land or scrap foods.  Rabbits can be raised largely on grain scraps, grass and weeds, for example, and while rabbits do not have enough fat to support animals in the absence of any other fats, they can operate as the main meat source for both dogs and cats, with smaller amounts of supplements.

Raising rabbits, or pigeons, guinea pigs or other small livestock (or raising larger animals for human use sustainably and feeding pets the offal and scraps) can reduce the impact of a pet’s diet in a whole host of ways – for example, by spreading out livestock production across many people, rather than concentrating it, manures create a net benefit over time by enabling soils to hold carbon.  Raising animals on scraps and marginal weeds means reducing the industrial agricultural land needed.  And raising the animals that will feed your pets at home means that there are no transport emissions. 

What, you don’t want to raise butcher animals in order to feed Fluffy and Fido?  Well, I think that’s a useful measure of how much we do care about our pets – that is, if we love them only enough to open bags of convenience food for them, but not enough to work at feeding them, well that tells us something important right there.  The truth is that keeping those you love fed isn’t easy – whether animal or human – and it shouldn’t be.  We shouldn’t be able to eat thoughtlessly, nor should we be able to feed creatures thoughtlessly.  Whether you butcher your own or seek out better food, all of us need to be as involved with our pets’ diets as we are with our own.

The truth is that our coming ecological crisis is not going to be good for the pets we say we love.  There will be more diseases as the world gets warmer, and lower quality of life for them, and more abandoned pets as we get poorer.  There will be more pets being chopped up to feed the fortunate pets of rich people.  There will be plenty of animal suffering in the storms and droughts, heat waves and floods to go with the human suffering.  It is in everyone’s interest, including our pets, to find ways of feeding and caring for them which dramatically minimize their impact. 

Sharon

58 Responses to “Fido and Fluffy and the Meat Conundrum”

  1. MJon 04 Nov 2009 at 9:56 am

    along these pet issue lines, comes more “food” for thought in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal By JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER titled:
    Let Them Eat Dog
    A modest proposal for tossing Fido in the oven

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703574604574499880131341174.html

  2. amgon 04 Nov 2009 at 10:14 am

    My husband mentioned the New Scientist report, probably to counter my desire for a second cat or a dog. I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment of the impact of feeding our pets, although it is a daunting task for many of us to find new sources of food for them. I do think it is important to keep in mind the important function animals can serve. I was reminded of the benefit of cats just the other day. My neighbors were out of town, so I was feeding their cats for them. As I walked up their driveway, I spotted what I thought was a flattened squirrel. Closer inspection showed it was a rat! Their cats are strictly outside animals, which is a big no-no in our subdivision. However, they obviously had done us a huge favor and caught this rat! They must have left it beneath my neighbor’s truck, and he unknowingly drove over it when he moved it before they left. I had to scrape it up and throw it out back since trick-or-treaters were coming soon. Cats outside can be a nuisance, and I know this is a controversial topic, but I have to admit that I have no rabbit problems in my garden. Now, if only they could be trained to chase away the deer!

  3. hengruhon 04 Nov 2009 at 10:18 am

    Where did you learn about the use of euthanized pets in industrial pet foods? Is there a source for that?

  4. K. B.on 04 Nov 2009 at 10:27 am

    Dogs are carnivores. Anyone who thinks otherwise – google “carnivore skull” and “omnivore skull” images, and then go look at your dog’s teeth.

    Yes, they *can* survive on meat-free diets, but that is neither optimal nor appropriate. Grains in a dog’s diet can cause many problems, from allergies to diabetes, etc. These problems lead to poor quality of life and increased vet bills, along with increased consumption of medications (which also have an impact on our environment).

    I prefer to feed my dog a species-appropriate diet, which is 90+% raw meat, organs and bones. Yes, raw. Yes, bones. Kinda like how wolves, foxes, coyotes and other canides eat.

    As for pets having an impact – the fact that most processed pet food is made from by-products actually lessens *our* environmental impact, no?

  5. Lisa Zon 04 Nov 2009 at 10:29 am

    We tried making our dog’s food when we first got him as a puppy, about a year ago. We used cheap cuts from our local farmer–beef heart and liver, and chicken parts and liver, and our own hens’ eggs, along with plain rice or oats and squash or other veggies. Nothing seemed to work for him as he had tummy troubles. The more expensive “natural” dog foods didn’t work either, for some reason. The only thing that has kept him from having digestive troubles is Iams’ Lamb and Rice feed, which is available everywhere. I don’t like feeding it to him, and though it seems to work for him digestively and he loves eating it, I think it makes him somewhat sad. I don’t know why, he just doesn’t seem as happy as when he was a puppy. I don’t know what else to try. Any ideas, anyone?

  6. Sharonon 04 Nov 2009 at 10:30 am

    No, it doesn’t – not if it keeps industrial livestock farmers in business, by allowing them to sell off their sick cows. The reality is that it isn’t just “by products” but “sick and dying animals” that your pets are eating, and they are helping keep the whole thing in business.

    If you look at the stomachs of foxes, coyotes and wolves, you’ll find that they often contain fruit and plenty of other non-meat items.

    I’ve no objection to BARF diets, as long as they are not eating industrial meat, or meats fed on human food – that’s why I mention raising animals to feed your animals.

    Sharon

  7. Sharonon 04 Nov 2009 at 10:33 am

    Lots of sources for the common use of pets in pet food – here’s just one: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/0106-03.htm

    Sharon

  8. Sharonon 04 Nov 2009 at 10:38 am

    BTW, I should note that I don’t believe the use of euthanized pets in pet food is ecologically damaging – my objection to this is the risk of disease spread into the human population.

    Sharon

  9. olympiaon 04 Nov 2009 at 10:41 am

    This is a tough issue for me. I adore my cats, but hate being so dependent on the industrial food industry to feed them. I do know people who are taking advantage of the rampant waste in today’s society to feed their pets- dumpster diving for recently tossed meat, or asking on Craigslist for old meat that was clogging people’s freezers, but obviously such solutions are limited in scope.

    The kitty litter issue makes me nuts too, Sharon. Anyone have any good cat litter composting advice?

  10. deweyon 04 Nov 2009 at 10:44 am

    The World Bank report counts all CO2 exhaled by domestic animals. The animals obtained that carbon from food plants, which in turn fixed it from the air, so the net addition to the atmosphere is zero (if you ignore the fact that, except for pastured animals, fossil fuels were burned to cultivate the food plants). It’s been a right-wing trope that environmentalists want to make you feel guilty for breathing; these authors apparently do, and portraying that as a mainstream environmentalist view will lead to serious backlash. Domestic animals don’t cause global warming by breathing any more than wild herbivores do. Your view is much more nuanced and reasonable – it’s the grain production that is the real problem.

    This subject gives me considerable angst – my cat is my baby, and she gets a supposedly special food that’s full of “byproducts.” I’d like to do the homemade food thing, but it’s just too expensive, especially if you avoid factory meat. We are mostly vegetarian because we try to stick to a $60 a week food budget, and we can’t afford free-range meat for ourselves either. OTOH, I recognize the wisdom of what you are saying – logically, you are right. We adopt certain ways of doing things, and our society becomes structured to support those ways and make alternatives harder, and it becomes very difficult to do something different.

  11. aimeeon 04 Nov 2009 at 10:52 am

    My husband is from Mexico and when we lived htere with his mother, she fed her two dogs – a boxer and a rottweiler- about 50% on human scraps. She would save the scraps for a few days, which were mostly tortillas, bones, rice, beans, and vegetable scraps, and then boil them all together until the bones were slightly soft. Cooled, this would be fed to the dogs. They loved it and were both healthy and fit animals. Te other 50% of thier diet was standard pet food.

  12. Sharonon 04 Nov 2009 at 10:55 am

    Dewey, I would seriously look into how much free range offal would cost you – I agree with you totally about adding in the cost of breathing – that’s bullshit. But I do think that it is easier than a lot of us think to find waste meats – most farmers can’t sell hearts, livers, etc… Or small butchers may have some to sell quite cheaply. In many cases, these people can’t give this stuff away. For example, my friend who owns the sheep has 50lbs of lamb liver in her freezer this year – and she doesn’t like it either ;-) . I’m very happy to pay $1lb for it.

    I don’t suggest this is easy, and for someone like you who doesn’t have kids, there’s a definite case to be made that your babies are a lot lower impact than mine ever will be – heck, feed ‘em foie gras ;-) . That said, however, I think we’ve got to do what we can do across the board.

    Sharon

  13. Greenpaon 04 Nov 2009 at 11:07 am

    You’re venturing into wildly emotional territory here, Sharon! Very brave! :-)

    I’ve gone around with true believers on all sides multiple times on the topic of cats/inside/outside, etc. etc., and have found the discussion to be remarkably thought-resistant.

    So I confess I don’t jump into these conversations much these days. I’ll just suggest- why don’t we train our cats to eat starlings, English sparrows, and pigeons? And we could train our dogs to eat (the neighbors’) revolting invasive cats! Plus the occasional rat and woodchuck. Or we could start petfood companies- “100% garbagedump rat protein!”… “Free range urban pigeon kitten chow!”… :-)

    There ya go! :-)

    A little more seriously- most of the analyses of energy/carbon and whatnot regarding pets I have seen have been primarily driven by desire to prove a pre-existing opinion- even ones pretending otherwise.

    Consequently, they mostly stop measuring cycles at the point which most agrees with their opinion. Fully cycle, fully integrated studies- mostly have not been done.

    Even if/when they are- emotions are likely to rule for a long time.

  14. Andrewon 04 Nov 2009 at 11:12 am

    Back to the pets-as-food angle – I agree, we should probably watch a little more closely what the neighborhood cats and dogs are eating in the event we need to turn to them as a source of meat. Both species are good eating, and were served fairly often in Asia when I worked there. This may shock some, but look at it from the perspective of raising chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs for meat – why shouldn’t the same approaches be used for cats and dogs? The other perspective – pets described as caring, affectionate, utilitarian, etc. only masks what they are: pets are objects / property in a consumer society.

  15. Sharonon 04 Nov 2009 at 11:13 am

    BTW, just found a paper from the mid-2000s with an analysis of local coyote scats. Found in them: wild apples, cherry pits, grass, various seeds, food scraps from garbage cans, as well as frogs, squirrels and mice. Anyone who thinks that coyotes aren’t omnivorous isn’t looking.

    Sharon

  16. Sharonon 04 Nov 2009 at 11:17 am

    I don’t have a moral problem with people choosing to eat pet animals – they aren’t kosher, so I won’t, but I don’t object – any more than I have a moral problem with people choosing to eat goats, even though I have some goats that I wouldn’t eat. But I don’t think pets are simply commodities – that’s part of their role, but not all of it. They exist in large part to provide us with the things that we often used to get from communities, but don’t anymore – and I think that the importance of that should not be understated. We belong to them, just as they belong to us – and that need to belong to something, even the community made up of a dog and a human or two housecats and a human is deeply ingrained in us.

    Sharon

  17. K. B.on 04 Nov 2009 at 11:34 am

    Sharon – the distinction between omnivore and carnivore is based (scientifically at least) on the structure of jaws, teeth and intestinal tract. Dogs, wolves, coyotes, etc. are scientifically classified as carnivores. Not omnivores, no matter what is found in their scat. Most canides are extremely opportunistic feeders (will eat almost anything) which is a survival strategy, and has possibly played a role in their domestication. Still doesn’t make them omnivores – and won’t until they develop grinding molars and a longer intestinal tract.

    Yes, they do eat other things, especially ripe fruits – that does not make them true omnivores capable of eating grains, especially. I give my dog fruits and vegetables as treats, or when I have leftovers from my own meals. But the vast majority of his diet is meat based, and by no means should grains be a part of any dog’s diet. Many people get confused between “carnivore”, “obligate carnivore”, “omnivore”, etc. Also, the classification of animals in the order “Carnivora” doesn’t mean an animal is a carnivore (the panda bear is the best known example), just as one can find carnivores in other orders. Cats are obligate carnivores simply because they cannot synthesize taurine. You could, in theory, develop a vegetarian diet that includes taurine that cats could survive on. That doesn’t make them omnivores or herbivores either. Grains are included in dry pet food simply because they are cheap, they increase the protein content, and they act as a binder – it’s impossible to make a dry kibble without some sort of starch.

    Species-appropriate diets are the best for *any* animal, humans included. Even though dogs can “survive” on completely vegetarian diets, they do not *thrive* on them. And the fact they can survive on a vegetarian diet (as can humans) doesn’t make them herbivores – just as humans aren’t herbivores, no matter what foods they live on.

  18. Mia @ agoodhumanon 04 Nov 2009 at 11:38 am

    When I lived in Australia it was much easier to feed my dog a lower footprint diet. Only one block from my house was a store which sold leftover animal products for pets. For $1/kilogram ($0.50 per pound) I was able to buy chicken carcasses, kangaroo tails, lamb and beef bones and other offcuts. Since all of this was otherwise just waste, it made sense to feed it to our animals. My dog also eats most of our household food scraps (except onion & citrus). We blend them up once a week and add them to her meat at about 60%veg/40%meat. Having said that I’m finding it much harder to lower her footprint here in the USA. She eats organic dog food, our ethical meat offcuts and household food scraps. Until we go back to Australia I think that’s the best we are going to be able to do.

  19. Greenpaon 04 Nov 2009 at 11:42 am

    Sharon: “Anyone who thinks that coyotes aren’t omnivorous isn’t looking.”

    Totally. Here’s the thing- ALL animal diet pigeonholes are just that. 100% of canids will eat anything in front of them. Every dog who has ever been on a nut farm, for instance, actively eats any kind of nut you can name. I’ve watched dogs crack and eat hickory nuts repeatedly.

    I’ve personally watched a red fox repeatedly search for, pick up, carry, and bury – apples. After eating 3 first. It only stopped cacheing when I accidentally moved.

    Red deer in the UK have been FILMED – killing, skinning, and eating – sheep. I am NOT kidding.

    White-tailed deer frequently kill and eat- trout. Hoof strike.

    Horses very often chase, kill, and eat the mice in their hay.

    (those cases are usually associated with mineral shortage. So?)

    House cats eat insects often- and I’ve had one whose favorite food was lima beans (no butter).

    What it really seems to come down to, is that any animal which has ever been thoroughly studied- 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year- has been found to eat anything that’s right in front of them. They’re all opportunists. Possibly excepting vampire bats, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    Why WOULDN’T they be? Specialize in getting one particular kind of food? Sure. But why turn down free calories right in front of your face?

  20. j.c.on 04 Nov 2009 at 11:47 am

    I’ve given this considerable thought as well. I have two elderly cats which are my babies. Due to their health issues they must be fed a high protein diet, which I cook for them. The recipe consists of chicken breast, thigh and liver along with a small amt of broccoli and yeast, all mixed with a powdered supplement I buy online. It pains me to know that I am contributing to the factory farming problem in this country by using grocery store meat in their food. I can’t afford to feed them pastured, grassfed chicken, as they consume about 25 lbs. of meat per month, which doesn’t even include the livers. However, we have chosen grassfed meat in small quantities for ourselves.

    When they are gone I will likely choose not to get more cats. As much as I love them the environmental impact is too great when you add in the food, litter, etc, and I worry about my ability to provide for them as this crisis unfolds. Your post serves as a good reminder to support the organizations that provide low cost spaying and neutering. More than ever this is going to become important if we are going to deal with domestic animals in a humane way. We absolutely need to decrease their numbers until it is the exception for folks to own them rather than the norm.

  21. Coleenon 04 Nov 2009 at 11:56 am

    Look at your pet food ingredients. There is a lot of grain in the, many have grain as their first ingredient before animal products.

    Chicken need lysine and methanonine (amino acids), not hard to get when they have adequate bugs in the summer, when winter comes, its much harder. To be healthy they have to eat a mixed diet, so 100% grass is not realistic. Pastured poultry (free range) only get about 30% of their diet from grass. Chickens are omnivores like pigs and canines…just ask my melon patch.

    Pets in the united states are obese just like their owners. Just by reducing their intake to an appropriate amount would help your cause here.

    Custom meat processors (like those that handle deer processing) often have to throw out perfectly good dog and cat food. I get hearts livers, bones and other offal for my guard dogs and farm cats for nothing. Check with the nearest one or butcher shop.

    I do think that fido will be a meat source for those in the cities when meat becomes scarce. For those of us in the country, we have other uses for these animals and more access to other sources of protein.

  22. dveejon 04 Nov 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Sharon – you are indeed brave to broach this subject. Yay you! [sincerely!]
    One thing that I have often wanted to read your thoughts on: well, actually, two things:
    1) All of the things you write about in this post, about how there may be too many pets to feed them all meat, can also be applied (gulp – here come icky ethics?) to the amount of people. I know, there are some who maintain that “there aren’t too many people, just poor food distribution.” I have trouble accepting that; it does seem to me that there are too many people. Thoughts?
    2) In your posts you consistently stress your conviction that people should eat less meat. I think you are right in terms of total global impact of 6.something billion people eating meat. But I strongly feel that vegetarianism is not “right” for every human’s diet – maybe some (the blood-type theory? is it woo? or might there be some scientific basis?), but certainly not others (personal experience).

    So, why I’m writing this: it seems to me that 2) there is an ideal diet for humans which may be similar to hunter-gatherer diets and dissimilar to agricultural grain-based diets; and 1) the main thing preventing such diets’ viability for everyone is too many people in the world to sustain it.

    I realize that part of what you do is to prepare us readers for a possible upcoming long-emergency-type situation in which meat is scarce. But what about the idea that we really should be out chasing down meat prey on the savannah after shooting it with our atlatls? I mean, of course most of us can’t and don’t want to – but isn’t it possible that we’re evolved to require that kind of diet, supplemented with gathered carbs?

  23. Sharonon 04 Nov 2009 at 1:08 pm

    I agree that dogs are naturally carnivorous, but I don’t agree that we can afford to give our dogs the perfect diets, or that we have to – they can eat in our homes what they would eat in the wild – a mix of meats and other things. The truth is that if they can’t, most of us shouldn’t have them – but manifestly you can raise healthy animals on a mixed diet, because the world is full of healthy animals raised on fairly various diets – those giant European guardian dogs, for example, often ate milk and oatmeal as their primary food – and did pretty well on it. Just as we don’t feed humans the perfectly optimized diet all the time, it is no sin to feed your dog rationally, in line with what the world can support.

    Dveej, no offense, but hunter-gatherer just isn’t an option in this world population – it may be more optimal in some ways (nutritionally), although it is tough on the humans (most males die young by violence in h-g social structures) in some other ways. But 6.7 billion people can’t live that way – period. There are two ways of viewing that. The first is that we have to do the best way we can in the world, and just like dogs have to live on less than perfect but ethically ok diets, we do too, which involves sustainable agriculture. The other is that we should kill off 6 billion people so that a few others can live on an optimal diet. There are, ummm…some ethical problems with this.

    Sharon

  24. Sharonon 04 Nov 2009 at 1:11 pm

    BTW, re, evolution – probably. We’ve also demonstrated that we can handle a whole range of diets, just like dogs have. There’s a difference between “optimal diets” which almost no humans or animals get either in the wild or domesticity, and “good enough diets to ensure decent health and long lifespan” – and agriculture can provide that – in fact, it is the only thing that can for the number of people we’ve got.

    Obviously, we all like our own people and our own pets best – so from a purely selfish point of view, feeding *my* dog and *my* kids lots of meat might be a good thing. From a wider view that assumes we have an obligation to kids in general and dogs in general, that doesn’t hold up well.

    Sharon

  25. Sue in pacNWon 04 Nov 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Here in Oregon, our local farm store sells ABM. bedding material for barn use very cheaply by the bag. It is pelletized pine sawdust, a byproduct of the milling process. There is a commercial cat litter product with additives that sells for a whole lot more, but i am able to buy 3 bags for about 15.00 and this will last me for the whole winter for my 3 indoor cats. All I have to do is remove feces which I flush or bag and add to garbage can and the urine just breaks up the pellets and reverts it back to sawdust which I use for mulch around ornamentals and fruit trees. There is no odor.

    About the food – never thought about raising rabbits for pet food! Have been trying to make the case for rabbits (great meat, poop for garden, etc) but SO has been dragging his feet. Since he just paid umpteen $ for the months (plus storage) supply of cat food, this will finally get him moving. Yea!

    Dr Pitcairns book has good recipes for dog & cat food using raw meat, but you can cook it if not sure about the meat. The supplement section goes into detail about the needs for dogs and cats and what it takes to supply those needs. Easy to make and not very expensive for ingredients.

    Living 6 bl from the river and 300′ from a creek means my cats are necessary (rats) so, found a program for feral cat neuter and spay, and round up as many as I can live trap and off to the vet. Vet notches ear so we know which have been done. My silent apology to my neighbor who put up flyers for “lost cat” who miraculously returned after 3 or 4 days with a notch in his ear :)

  26. veraon 04 Nov 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Excellent, Sharon. I did not realize that the pet food industry keeps the CAFOs going. Switching to home made!

    You know, America is so crazy… if we still had old fashioned butchers, we could ask for scraps. And butchers could add pet food to their business…

    Dveej, many of us who think the propaganda for more food production should be stopped, still believe there are too many people. Hint… less food, less people… if done gradually, pretty painless.

    I wish more people would talk about the evils of eating (high) grain diets. Bad for the planet, bad for humans. Grain growing does vast damage to the land. The veg people usually avoid looking at the costs… too busy looking down on us omnivores. ;)

    Cat litter: Best! It’s made out of corn cobs, cats like it, it clumps well, zero dust, lasts a long time, and when done, I sprinkle it in the yard and soon it’s all composted into the soil.

  27. deweyon 04 Nov 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Sharon: “heck, feed ‘em foie gras”

    Okay, my cat’s too far away to mind-whammy you – has she PAID you? ;-)

    Greenpa: “Red deer in the UK have been FILMED – killing, skinning, and eating – sheep.”

    YIKES! Who knew? I befriended a rural African kitteh once whose part-time owner bragged that she was very good about eating whatever scraps she was given (”rice, spaghetti…”). The only downside was that at five months old she was barely half the size she should have been and her fur was in lousy condition from protein deficit. She may have eaten rice, but she sure was happy to suck up every bit of meat and fish I snuck her while I was around.

    Of course if you live in a traditional rural environment without a lot of traffic, you can kick the pets out to forage. But then they overbreed just like humans do and you wind up, horrible thought, drowning kittens every so often. I’ve heard it said that birth control is the only unalloyed good technology we’ve ever come up with, and that applies for animals too. There are loads of wonderful animals getting gassed in shelters every day – don’t make more, and don’t pay a breeder to do it.

  28. Jadeon 04 Nov 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Like an earlier commenter, we’ve chosen not to replace our pets when they’re gone. We have one cat and an older dog, so will probably be down to just one in a couple of years.

  29. Robyn M.on 04 Nov 2009 at 2:12 pm

    There are several mass-produced pet foods out there now that claim to be humanely produced, including “grass-fed” meats, low/no grain fillers, etc. Two that come to mind that I’ve purchased in the past are Pet Promise and Nature’s Variety (which actually sells frozen raw cat & dog foods). But I have no idea how to verify their eco-claims–are there any clearinghouse websites with this info? We’ve got lots of local meat producers–many of them the good sort–but few of them do their own meat processing, and so they don’t have all the extra bits lying around for cheap/free. The processors may resell, I’ll have to look into that. The folks at the grocery store meat counter looked at me like I had three heads when I asked if they had any fish heads or bones for fish stock, so probably not much chance of getting fido-food there either.

  30. Kateon 04 Nov 2009 at 2:16 pm

    I wanted to share something in response to the methane from kitty litter in landfills problem. I hope it is helpful to some:
    I use wood pellets for pellet stoves as cat litter. It is very cheap compared to other alternative (not clay) litters. I scoop out the poops, and as the pellets become saturated with urine they crumble into sawdust. When the litter is spent, I spread the nitrogen-soaked sawdust under woody plants and ornamentals as mulch. fertilizer. Its a great 2 for 1 problem solver. Don’t try adding it to wormbins, tho. I did it once and it killed all my worms.
    KATE

  31. Sharonon 04 Nov 2009 at 2:55 pm

    The only issue with cat litter is that cat poop can contain some fairly heavy duty pathogens. I’m not sure I’d recommend spreading it on ornamentals unless you garden in heavy gloves, and are very careful about washing hands. I certainly would recommend people compost it first.

    Sharon

  32. Sarahon 04 Nov 2009 at 3:03 pm

    For people who just want pets for the emotional connection, there’s also always the option of getting herbivorous/omnivorous pets instead of the traditional carnivores. I’m thinking of getting rats again at some point (spayed/neutered, of course!).

  33. Mark Non 04 Nov 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Dog and cats are known to prey on wildlife species when allowed to roam free. A heavy toll is taken on songbirds by cats. Dogs have long been a problem to sportsmen and others who care about game animals when they form a pack and chase deer and whatnot. My former boss, a hunter, has developed a strategy for dealing with problem pets. Whenever he is hunting in the woods he shoots and kills all stray dogs and cats he finds. This has the added benefit of reducing the burgeoning pet population, freeing up more feed for those pets that are well behaved. The perforated pet is either returned to its owner or left to feed the forest scavengers.

  34. Chadon 04 Nov 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Sharon, this issue has already made the rounds of numerous other blogs over the past week, but there is one frequent observation which I don’t see anyone else making yet here. Pet food is mostly made out of byproducts of the human food industry. I doubt there is much cropland or livestock dedicated to raising pet foods.
    .
    Since our pets consume food which we would have simply wasted anyway, pets are therefore a bonus, rather than a cause of concern. This is how it always was, starting with human’s first animal companions. They helped us hunt and protect our living groups, and we let them eat whatever we didn’t want, plus a few of the choicest morsels

  35. deweyon 04 Nov 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Chad – Sharon’s argument, at its minimum level, is that if the meat industry could not make an extra layer of profit selling the entrails etc. for pet food, they would have to charge more for the portions Americans will eat, and that would both reduce the amount of factory meat people ate and make sustainably produced meat relatively more competitive. I would much rather not believe that, but on purely logical grounds it’s hard to argue with.

  36. Carlos Pon 04 Nov 2009 at 5:32 pm

    About meat industry feeding cattle scraps to pets.

    One thing you may be not considering is that, in a naked capitalist system, your “byproducts” find their way to markets where are better appreciated.

    I am Mexican living in one of the largest metro areas in the country (GDL), and can tell you that since the introduction of Walmart, we can buy big packages of frozen organs in our supermarkets. When I was a child, this was not the case, since butchers processed complete carcasses and there was not enough hearts and brains for everyone.

    This is no poor’s food by any means. It was in the 19th century, when landlords kept the good stuff for themselves and the peasants had to do with the leftovers. This had an influence in the traditional cuisine, which developed a taste for what was most available. Now-a-days, the meat organs have become the good stuff, some of the favorites even considered delicatessen.

    I will not offend your stomachs and appetites with the gory details, but *anything* you can imagine is probably eaten here with gusto. I don’t like all the stuff, but think most of it is ok.

    Very much the same can be said about pork; chicken… not quite so. Many people will eat chicken organs and (some less) feet, but these are cheap enough to give it to the dogs/cats also.

    The most concerning thing is that I wonder who is eating the scraps of healthy animals and who is consuming the sick and filthy ones… your pets or my people?

  37. Elizabethon 04 Nov 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Just as a heads up, vegan catfood is now available as synthetic taurine has been developed. It’s pricey, but my mom has been feeding it to her cat for awhile now with good results.

  38. Chadon 04 Nov 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Dewey – with all due respect to Sharon, I remain *very* skeptical that the food industry’s main motivation for marketing and selling it’s byproducts is to “get by” or to “lower prices” for it’s other products. The food industry is likely already charging as much as the market will bear for it’s human products. If all the dogs and cats in the world suddenly died, the food industry simply loses it’s bonus profits (and almost certainly repurposes it’s byproducts).

  39. deweyon 04 Nov 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Okay, I find a September 2009 website (MarketResearch.com), pushing a $599 industry report, that says the “U.S. animal (except poultry) slaughtering industry” had about $72.2 billion dollars’ revenue in 2008, with an estimated gross profit of 8.73%. (They then note that there’s about 11 billion exported, 5 billion imported.)

    The same site says that the U.S. “rendering and meat byproduct processing industry”, which mostly does rendering and processing of bones and scraps, had $3.8 billion dollars revenue, with an estimated gross profit of 46.57% No, that’s not a typo. The whole value of this industry is less than the profit of the slaughtering industry, so I would assume that meat would still be profitable without rendering, though their current very generous profits would drop, no doubt causing shareholders to demand that the customer be squeezed harder. But the rendering is making someone a VERY good profit, no doubt because the slaughterhouse is happy to see all those downer cows hauled off…

  40. ceceliaon 04 Nov 2009 at 6:33 pm

    when I first got a cat the vet strongly urged me to not use wet cat foods – suggested instead a diet of boiled meat (chopped meat, liver, whatever) rice and adding some cat food grain for the taurine.

    Our cats thrived on this diet. I started using an organic grass fed etc food for the cats which is pricey but they seem to do better with it ( less vomiting etc) and I feel better about it.

    Living in the country, cats are an absolute necessity re: mice and rats. I usually keep them in the house except in the summer I will let them out into the potato rows – I have no vole problems in my potato beds!

    I hear what you are saying Sharon re: pet foods making the meat industry more profitable but even if we radically reduced the amount of meat going into pet foods – they’d raise the price. Breaking our human habit of heavy meat eating is the solution.

    I have read that grass fed beef actually produce more methane – is this true?

    Re: litter – I use a product made from wheat and other grain production – cats didn’t like it in the beginning – but they adapted.

  41. Quatrefoilon 04 Nov 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Since I live in Australia, I feed my cat kangaroo meat, which is both cheap and sustainable. Yes, there are some ethical issues around killing kangaroos, but they are wild and in plentiful supply, frequently reaching plague proportions. I also think it’s far more ethical to hunt wild animals than to raise animals in inhumane conditions. Since kangaroo meat doesn’t contain parasites which are harmful to humans, I eat it myself as well – though not the stuff I buy as petfood – only because I’d prefer to make sure that it’s been refrigerated etc. to human standards. I realise this isn’t an option for people outside Australia, but it really is a good one here.

    In terms of litter (and I keep my cat indoors for environmental and safety reasons), there’s a fabulous product on the market here made from the by-products of rice production. It’s entirely biodegradable and compostable or flushable if you don’t have a garden.

  42. Claireon 04 Nov 2009 at 9:40 pm

    The only pet my DH and I have is a parakeet, and when she dies, we won’t be getting any other pets. She does eat seed that could have been eaten by a more useful animal, like a chicken. But that will end when she does.

    Although I don’t feel a need or desire for a companion animal, I understand that many people do. As long as companion animals’ humans take as much responsibility for their companions as it is possible for them to do given the humans’ particular situations, then it seems OK to me. I don’t like having to clean up dog droppings on my property, or having the neighbors’ cats caterwauling under my windows and birthing kittens under my deck – so please, be a good neighbor to all of us and don’t let your pets off your property! And follow Sharon’s other guidelines for responsible pet ownership.

    Here’s another thought that has to do with using cats and dogs to protect stored food. If you are storing food in a barn that isn’t tight, I can understand needing dogs and/or cats to deal with rodents. But if you are sealing your house tight for energy-saving purposes – and if you can afford it, this is the best thing you could do – your house will also be sealed tightly enough so rodents can’t get in. We haven’t had a single mouse in the house we’ve been living in for the past 7+ years, because it’s properly sealed. We had no end of mice in the not-tight house we had before this. In a properly sealed house, keeping dogs or cats for rodent control would not be necessary, saving not only on all the costs Sharon mentioned, but also reducing the carbon footprint for fuel. Plus the occupants will feel much more comfortable because there won’t be cold drafts on their feet. Getting our house properly sealed and insulated was the best money we ever spent! I can keep popcorn on screens in the basement to dry with no loss to rodents at all (good thing, because after 12+” of rain in October, I need to spread the popcorn out so it can dry).

  43. Deliberate Agrarianon 05 Nov 2009 at 6:21 am

    We live in the country, have two dogs, and buy some storebought food but not as much as we once did. It is customary for us to harvest a couple of deer from the woods & fields around our home each year. We process them ourselves by cutting the meat off the bone and freezing it. What is left is a skeletal carcass with a fair amount of meat pieces, tendon material, fat, etc. still left on the bones. What I then do is take an electric saw and cut the leg bones into 4″ lengths. These are wrapped in freezer paper and kept in the freezer. The dogs love these and will chew on the bones for hours. I have to think this food is exceptionally good for them.

    Another “homegrown” dog food source we have comes from our chickens. We typically raise 60 to 70 broilers each year and process them ourselves. Most of these chickens are cut into sections (legs, wings, breasts), leaving backs and necks which are not very meaty. What do you do with 60 chicken backs and necks? You make and can chicken stock. The parts are cooked in a stock pot with water and onions and celery and spices for awhile, then drained, and the liquid is canned. What is left is a lot of cooked chicken pieces mixed in with bones and gristle. This is usually thrown away. But my wife separates out the larger bones and packs the remaining mixture into ziplock bags which are frozen. Then, in the months ahead, the bags are defrosted and the chicken stock remnants are mixed with some dry dog food.

    Our dogs love this diet.

    So there are some thoughts and ideas. Anyone who would like to see how my family processes chickens and how my wife makes stock can do so at http://www.HowToButcherAChicken.com

    Best wishes,

    Herrick Kimball

  44. Julieton 05 Nov 2009 at 6:42 am

    We recently got a rescue dog & I spent a while looking into packaged dog foods. In the UK, the two organic foods that I was most impressed with were OrganiPet (which also sources as much as possible of its ingredients locally), and Pero Organic. Both of these are primarily free-range organic chicken & rice. I was hoping to use a vegetarian food, but everything I looked at seemed to be very heavily corn or soy based.

    I’m considering switching to making his food myself. We have a nearby organic butcher from where I could source meat leftovers – we already get a bag of bones from them for free every so often! The main issue with the scraps is that I’m vegan myself and am not sure I can handle the process of cooking meat (would definitely have to pick up a second-hand pan to reserve for the meat :-/ ). But as you say: one needs to take responsibility for one’s pets!

    I’ve seen some make-your-own veggie dogfood recipes (usually heavy on the cheese & eggs) which I might also look into.

    It’s a tough call though!

  45. Sharonon 05 Nov 2009 at 7:43 am

    Dewey, thank you for the research – I think that’s even more compellilng evidence for the fact that the pet food industry is certainly supporting the industrial food industry – and that’s my primary objection to it. I want to see the CAFOs closed – and that will only happen if we stop subsidizing them in a host of ways – one of which is the purchasing of industrial pet food.

    Sharon

  46. Anna Marieon 05 Nov 2009 at 8:23 am

    It is pretty simple. If you want to be low impact, don’t have pets unless they are work animals for your livelihood, and don’t eat meat. If you want to take this argument even further, don’t have kids or just have one. Grow as much of your food as you can. But as greenpa says, emotions will trump each and every time around issues like these. Folks will rationalize their own choices.

  47. Sharonon 05 Nov 2009 at 10:54 am

    Anne Marie, I don’t think it is simple – and that’s sort of the point. Not eating meat may not be the best way to reduce your impact, for example if you have a grassy space that isn’t suitable to agriculture, and can produce calories for human beings on it, or can harvest wild meat from species that are overpopulated, or eat parts of an animal that are routinely discarded. Feeding animals on waste scraps is a no-brainer – that stuff puts methane in landfills. The fact is, things are never really simple, and there’s rarely one answer.

    Sharon

  48. Throwback at Trapper Creekon 05 Nov 2009 at 10:59 am

    My concern with the euthanized pets and sick livestock in the pet food is the medication cocktail (antibiotics, hormones, etc.)that we are then feeding to our pets. Most drugs have a withdrawal time before the meat is “safe” for human consumption. However, if the sick animal goes to slaughter, there are not really any foolproof ways to monitor what drugs were given before the animal is “salvaged.” Some end up in the human food supply, and the downers etc, go to pet food.

    When we made our own chicken feed, we bought whole corn in bulk, from a feed mill. This feed mill also handled various feedstuffs for animal feeds, and fertilizers. Feedlot females (sheep and cattle) usually have hormone implants to stop estrus, and to facilitate weight gain in the feedlot. We “got” to watch one day as the feed mill manager ran all the lamb meal over a huge magnet, to get the implant cartridges out of the lamb meal before sending it to the pet food plant. The thought of that still makes me sick. Our cats get very little supplemental feed from us, and our dogs eat mostly what we eat, with a small amount of purchased pet food.

    A good read about the petfood industry: http://www.newsagepress.com/foodpetsdiefor.html

  49. tlblackon 05 Nov 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I loved this post–and it made me shudder! The thought of cats and dogs eating other cats and dogs–I had no idea!

    All the time I was reading this post, I was wondering why we (well, I don’t have any pets, but as a society) don’t allow cats at least to prey on birds, mice etc at least for some of their food–or at least feed them some of the pigeons that are all over the place. As you mentioned, why not raise mice like snake owners do?

    I’ve been thinking about local food and wondering also for some time why PEOPLE no longer eat pigeons. Someone told me it was because they are ‘dirty’ and, yes, they do seem dirty. But are they dirtier than chickens raised in typical conditions? I think not. I’m very curious. Is it a social taboo? Is it that they taste bad? Who knows something about this topic? I live in France and they have all of these ancient ‘Pigeoniers’ (where pigeons used to be bred for food) that are standing empty. Why?

  50. Sharonon 05 Nov 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Tlblack – I think those of us who use cats for rodent control do allow them to prey on rodents, but with birds you have to be careful. Cats are ardent killers of songbirds, many of them endangered. If people want to trap pigeons and starlings and feed them to their cats, I’ve no major objection, but I don’t want to see people feeding their cats on already ecologically pressured songbirds. Responsible pet ownership is important.

    As for pigeons – yes, you can eat them. There’s actually a recipe in _A Nation of Farmers_. And yes, you can feed them to your pets, assuming the city will let you. I think we don’t eat them because of taboos, as you say.

    Sharon

  51. deweyon 05 Nov 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Only a small percentage of cats are actually successful bird hunters, although those that get good at it tend to be “bird specialists.” Your average barn cat will catch far more mice than birds, and will prefer to chase mice; their innate hunting behavior is tailored to a prey organism that stays on the ground where it belongs.

  52. Aveon 05 Nov 2009 at 4:22 pm

    My mother’s dogs seldom ate dog food (typically only biscuits). She fed them leftovers and the meat that was too fatty for the family.

    My own border collie has kept lots of rice cereal, toast crusts, oatmeal, raw carrots, and meat rejected by children from going to the landfill or composter. Tonight she will finish off the chicken soup (no onions) that the rest of the family refuses to eat after three meals.

    She is a first rate alarm system and a wonderful friend to a child with a speech disorder. Not to mention her Zen attitude towards children helps me keep my cool when children get too loud and bouncy. One day, she napped with her head near her water dish while the children flew toy airplanes and helicopters around her.

    I have a homemade dog biscuit recipe that tastes so good that my grandmother used to eat them. She thought they were crackers and we did not both telling her otherwise since they were whole grain. :-)

    –Ave

  53. Mark Non 05 Nov 2009 at 6:38 pm

    “Only a small percentage of cats are actually successful bird hunters, although those that get good at it tend to be “bird specialists”

    Cats are opportunistic carnivores. You are right that some cats are much better at bird hunting than others, but it is still a cat. Put a mouser cat and a hopping-on-the-ground baby bird together and you have a successful bird hunter.

  54. Sonrisaon 05 Nov 2009 at 8:03 pm

    There are a lot of social food taboos. It varies from area to area. I was born and raised in Honolulu and pigeons are thought of as dirty pests. Tilapia fish were also thought of as not worthy of eating (only those that are “fresh off the boat” eat tilapia). Here in the mountain west the idea of eating jackrabbit is intolerable (we eat it all the time). All over the US carp and goat are taboos, but they are common food everywhere else. Most people are appalled when we say that we eat rabbit. I think some of it is the “cute and cuddly” factor and the rest is the “only hillbillies and poor people eat that” mentality.

    I do have to say, I’ve never been a cat person, but I recently got one. I lost all my beans and about 25% of my wheat crop this year. They got half of my tomatoes etc. I was skeptical that a cat would get the job done, but I was desperate. So we got a 10 week old kitten hoping that she would be ready to catch mice by spring. Two weeks later there was a half eaten mouse on the back porch. The next morning there were three. One time we woke up to 13 mice. We live in the middle of the desert. There’s nothing for miles, so we are an oasis out here. She gets mice as well as the butchering scraps, but we do feed some commercial food. We don’t take on pets anymore, everybody has to work around here. Needless to say, this little lady is here to stay! (she’s also spoiled rotten)

  55. kestrelon 05 Nov 2009 at 8:59 pm

    As a veterinarian, I’m a big advocate of people having pets, but I am also a believer in LIMITING how many we have: a home with 25 cats isn’t healthy for anybody involved. I support our local prohibition against more than 3 dogs or cats in a home (unless you have a kennel license).

    On the personal side, I have 2 cats at home, strictly indoors. I figure the meat I DON’T eat makes up for the meat in the cat food they DO eat, so it evens out.

  56. Anna Marieon 06 Nov 2009 at 5:23 am

    Sharon:

    I disagree. If you have a grassy space not suitable for agriculture, how about letting it go wild rather then to feed cattle? Why must we conceive of every inch of land to be for human use or the use of our domesticated animals? Wild Critters need habitat too. So many species are going extinct at such a rapid rate, and we really don’t have a clue how that is going to affect the ecosystem. Those critters may be necessary for our survival (bees anyone?), and it may well be in our own self interest to have as many wild areas as we possibly can.

    As an example, farmers here in the UK are being encouraged to let field boundaries and even entire fields go wild again, because it attracts birds, ballooning spiders, and then they find they don’t need pesticides on the land they do cultivate. Legislature is now being proposed that if they don’t comply, they won’t get as much farm subsidy.

    What if meat were taxed at the same rate as alcohol or cigarettes? How about the same for pet food? What if we paid people money not to reproduce? What if we taxed people if they wanted a green lawn, and gave them money to turn their lawns into vegetable gardens? How about exorbitant road taxes that would subsidize decent public transport..this encourages people to work at home or work nearer home. Put a tax on every bag of rubbish they throw out, and encourage folks to have composters and a wormery in every garden. These may sound like radical ideas, but it often seems the only way to get people to think outside their own self-interest is to hit them in the pocketbook. If you make certain products and social behaviors super expensive, people adapt and social norms change. Until that happens, folks rationalize their decisions and choices and watch Rome burn.

  57. Anna Marieon 06 Nov 2009 at 6:29 am

    http://www.pmac.net/birdbee.htm

    Food for thought…this is an article in 1996, which already reports honeybee decline in the US, well ahead of the catastrophe we have seen recently in 2007. Note what it says about the important of wild areas for pollination. A few isolated areas of wild habitat won’t do it. If the bees die, we die. And it is that simple.

  58. Sharonon 06 Nov 2009 at 8:31 am

    Anna Marie – The point about pasture land is that it isn’t an either/or situation – well managed, diverse pasture makes excellent habitat for bees and wild creatures. Given the enormous challenge of feeding the world population, pasture land which can sequester as much carbon as a similarly sized forest, support as many wild creatures, including pollinators, as a similarly sized unmanaged area, etc…is one of the better compromise areas. How do you think, for example, that prairie soils supported so many wildflowers and their polliinators in the western US and Canada? They were grazed and manured by ruminant animals.

    The reality is that there are large chunks of the planet that can produce human food only by grazing – steep, wet, rocky soils aren’t suitable for tillage. Prairie soils lead to disaster if you till them, as do other dryland soils. And lots of people live in these areas – we’re not talking about a marginal strip in the suburbs, but the larger question of how you feed people in climates and ecologies where grazing is the only decent option.

    I’m fine with taxing meat and waste and children – I think we should tax those things. But the reality is that while you can come up with some simple rules of thumb for people who don’t want to think about the complexities, the complexities matter – saying “let’s treat all meat as equally bad” doesn’t make sense.

    Sharon

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