Interesting article about the question in the New York Times Saturday. If they reject my letter to the editor, I'll be putting it here.
Re: The Carnivore’s Dilemma, Nicolette Hahn Niman, October 30.Other people said much the same thing, but without all the amazing statistics!
Small traditional farms are much better for animals, but from an environmental point of view, they’re not the answer to high-impact industrial farming. In the US alone, we kill 9.5 billion animals a year for food. 99% of them live in crowded, intensive facilities for all or part of their lives. Even so, over 30% of the land mass of the United States is already used as grazing land for farm animals—mostly cattle that live outside for the first eight months of their lives. Where are we going to put even more grazing animals?
Niman suggests feedcrop land could be converted into grazing land (which may absorb more carbon dioxide per acre), but feed can be grown in a fraction of the space that’s needed to let animals graze. Realistically speaking, feeding the world’s population through traditional animal farming would mean more deforestation, more greenhouse gases, and more endangered species. There’s no getting around it: if we want to protect the environment, we need to eat a lot less meat.