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October 31, 2008

Ripple Effects: Methane, Global Warming and Human Obesity

The last entry called called attention to the early weaning of piglets as a consequence of the industrial scale animal production that has been quietly replacing the traditional family farms that used to supply most of our food. A report from Pew Research details the most obvious problems related to such techniques: contamination of the environment by huge accumulations of animal waste, increased risk to human health from animal pathogens, and the misery of the animals themselves, confined for their entire lives under cruel and inhumane conditions.

Anyone who’s had occasion to drive past the Harris Ranch on Interstate 5 in California’s Central Valley knows exactly what I’m talking about; I did so about 10 days ago and found the odor as overpowering as ever. Two new concerns have recently been added to those noted in the Pew Research report. One, somewhat surprisingly, relates to global warming: it seems the methane produced by all those animals doesn’t just smell bad and blight the local environment; it also traps enough heat to equal the effect of the CO2 from all our SUVs. There are also more subtle hazards related to confining ruminants that had evolved to graze on grass in filthy pens and feeding them barley and corn for their entire lives. It does enhance profits by accelerating their growth and shortening their lives, but iat the expense of producing unhealthy animals requiring antibiotics and hormones right up until the time they are slaughtered and eaten by unwitting human consumers.

Finally, all those calories have been helping make those human consumers increasingly obese at alarming rates each passing year. Among several unhealthy consequences speculatively linked to that extra weight are a real increase in type two diabetes, more prevalent hypertension, and an increase in once-rare esophageal cancers associated with reflux esophagitis (GERD).

Of particular interest to me is an additional possibility: our continued addictive cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and overeating may well be related to the ambient increase in stress and anxiety being generated by a vicious cycle of overpopulation and increasing competition.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at October 31, 2008 02:57 PM