"[I]t is doubtful that you can build a more sustainable agriculture without animals to cycle nutrients and support local food production. If our concern is for the health of nature ... then eating animals may sometimes be the most ethical thing to do."

-- Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma

The reasons for eating sustainable meat instead of industrially-produced meat are incredibly diverse, ranging from the ethics of how we treat people, animals and the planet to the pleasure of eating something that tastes good. These reasons fall into four basic categories:

It's no secret that industrially farmed animals are treated poorly -- locked in cages, packed into tight quarters, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and given cheap feed that in some cases includes the remains of other members of their species. Sustainable meat is free-range and grass-fed: the animals live their lives very much as they would in the wild -- perhaps even better; the slaughtering techniques used on sustainable farms may be less cruel than death at the hands of a predator in the wild. Peter Singer, author of the pro-vegetarian animal rights book Animal Liberation, has said of sustainable farms, "I would not be sufficiently confident of my arguments to condemn someone who purchased meat from one of these farms."

The damage to the environment caused by industrial meat production is broad and pervasive. Slaughtering techniques used by such farms lead to the release of greenhouse gases, contributing to dangerous global climate change. Meat plants produce harmful air and water pollution, destroying ecosystems and polluting drinking water. Because these plants tend to be large and centralized, the meat they produce must often be transported large distances, using valuable fossil fuels and causing further air pollution. Local, sustainable meat, on the other hand, actually contributes to environmental health. Not only are the animals bred and slaughtered in ways that cause minimal environmental harm, their eating habits and manure-production form essential parts of a healthy ecosystem.

Because industrial farms are owned by large corporations, they typically have incentives to maximize profit with little regard for the communities in which their farms and processing plants are located. These companies have a record of underpaying and mistreating their employees, forcing them to work in unsanitary and hazardous conditions. Industrial farming contributes to the ever-growing economic divide in much of the developed world and limits the viability of small businesses like family-owned farms. Sustainable farms are small and local and, as a result, have an interest in the communities in which they are situated. The owners of these farms are invested in maximizing the economic health of the communities around them, not just their own bottom lines.

Still not convinced? Think about your health, and the health of your family. Industrial meat is pumped full of hormones to increase the amount of meat that can be produced from a single animal and antibiotics to counter the unsanitary conditions on factory farms. The animals are fed cheap grain and waste in order to decrease the cost of raising the animal and increase corporate profit margins. Sustainable meat, which is usually not much more expensive than industrial meat, is more nutritious than industrial meat, tastes better, and is not very hard to find. Use Meat Finder to find a sustainable meat source near you.

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Recommended Reading:

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma
Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation
Upton Sinclair, The Jungle