Much of the United States has been experiencing near-historic drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought and accompanying heat wave are not only parching people’s lawns and impacting their air-conditioning bills but also causing animal suffering—more than 1,000 calves died from heat stress on Midwestern dairy farms in July alone—and sending food prices soaring, especially for people who eat meat, eggs, and dairy products.
Drought and Food Prices
Cows, chickens, pigs, and other farmed animals are fed more than 70 percent of the grains grown in the U.S. Because the drought has damaged or destroyed corn, wheat, and soybean crops, feed prices are reaching record levels. Some meat companies, including Smithfield Foods, have even started importing corn from Brazil. Meat-eaters will be expected to foot the bill for the increased feed costs for meat production.
The price of chicken is expected to increase first because about 70 percent of chicken feed is corn and industrial chicken farming methods make chickens grow unnaturally fast, meaning that chicken meat tends to reach the market faster than beef or pork.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that prices for chicken and turkey meat will rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent this year, and egg prices will likely climb by 3 or 4 percent. Beef prices are also expected to rise between 3.5 and 4.5 percent this year and then by 4 to 5 percent in 2013. Dairy products and pork will also likely cost more in the coming year.
While shoppers will see a spike in milk and meat prices, the cost of cornflakes, corn on the cob, and other plant-based foods is not expected to rise significantly. The corn that consumers buy at the grocery store is grown differently from the corn that’s used as grain feed for animals and is not affected as much by a drought.
It takes a staggering amount of grain to feed billions of farmed animals every year. About 4.5 pounds of grain are needed to make just 1 pound of chicken meat, and 7.3 pounds of grain are required to produce a pound of pork. “Feeder cattle” spend four to five months eating corn-based feed on a feedlot in order to gain enough weight to be sent to slaughter. The amount of feed needed to produce just one 8-ounce steak would fill 45 to 50 bowls with cooked cereal grains.
Plant-Based Foods Cost Less, Use Less Water
It’s more efficient and economical to eat grains and soybeans—and all the foods that can be made from them—directly rather than funneling them through factory-farmed animals. In general, versatile vegan foods, including beans, rice, vegetables, tofu, and pasta, tend to be relatively inexpensive compared to animal-based foods—especially when you factor in the health-care costs of eating fatty, cholesterol-laden meats, eggs, and dairy products.
It simply pays to eat healthy vegan foods rather than animal-based ones. And you can help conserve water by eating vegan foods, too. Between watering the crops grown to feed farmed animals, providing billions of animals with drinking water each year, and cleaning away the filth on factory farms, on transport trucks, and in slaughterhouses, the farmed-animal industry places a serious strain on our water supply. An animal-based diet requires more than 4,000 gallons of water per day, while a plant-based diet requires only 300 gallons of water a day.
Image Credit: Drought photo via Shutterstock