I will post an email from another group I subscribe to, which is why the subject was on my mind. I thought it a pretty clear outline of the problems and I know from my reading that it is accurate.
The situation is yes we are overpopulated and as a result cattle and other grazing animals are also but they are not inseperably linked. There are cultures which abstain or eat minimal amounts of meat over many generations. Meat eating is not vital to human existence. Therefore the number of cattle is a factor of consumer demand and appetite.
No matter how you cut it, (sorry bad pun) meat eating is still a major environmentally related decision. There are ways to solve the problems and yes grass fed beef is one of them. But unless we cut consumption way down there is no way to grass feed the numbers we are dealing with at this point...
One of the reasons this is a hot point for me is I was raised in the rural midwest which used to be small farms and now my home area is wall to wall cattle in feed lots standing in their own excrement with a stink for miles. Not to mention the pollution of the water, or the massive slaughterhouse and packing plant and its obnoxiousness. I never preached vegetarianism to my kids but one trip to visit the grandparents and they understood.
Cattle are one of the biggest problems on the planet. Fer starters,
most of the Amazon rain forest is being burned away simply to provide
cattle graze. It's the single largest reason for the depletion of the
rain forests of the world. Cattle, as a food product, take HUGE
amounts of land to produce a pound of protein compared to producing
that same pound of protein from plant sources -- I don't remember the
ratio, but it's staggering. [added note from Blu...its about 1 to 10, it takes 10 times as much water to raise a lb of beef as that of grain protein]
Methane, including, specifically, methane from cattle crap (I can
already hear you laughing <G>) is one of the major contributors to the
reduction of the ozone layer. As much or MORE than industrial and
automotive effluents. (There are other methane sources, including
volcanic emission and the melting of methane-containing deposits on
the ocean floor because of the global warming of ocean currents, that
are also chiming in on the methane problem...) The problem with
flourocarbons from hair sprays is teeeny by comparison.
Processing cattle into meat, and then processing the rest of cattle
into leather and other products utilizes some extremely caustic and
carcinogenic compounds, most of which work their way from processing
plants into the air and water supplies.
I dunno if you've ever been associated with a packing plant, but
you'll find that the blood products alone will actually eat away
epoxy/cement floors in months. Processing plants are constantly
replacing their floors and pipes. It kept my grandfather, a master
plumber, in business most of his life.
Tanning leather is a really nasty business chemically. Some of the
compounds used are right on the top of the hit lists of serious
Taken as a whole, cattle and the cattle-related businesses are
probably one of the biggest pollution problems on the planet, and it's
getting to be a larger problem as more third-world countries develop a
taste for beef.
Okay, that's the last I'm going to rail on that subject <G>. If you
want more information, there are a bunch of good websites that will go
into further detail.