Fiala replies: My numbers assume that all cow production occurs in CAFOs for two reasons. First, CAFOs produce most of the beef consumed in the U.S. The total percentage of CAFO cows is unclear, but in testimony given to the House Judiciary Committee in 2000, the U.S. National Farmers Union’s then president Leland Swenson claimed that four companies produce 81 percent of cows in the country. Companies of such size can only be using the CAFO system, which creates large quantities of beef cheaply. More environmentally friendly production systems will never yield enough food for Americans to eat the current amount of beef, almost 100 pounds a year per person.
Second, to meet the demand for increased consumption worldwide, CAFOs are the fastest-growing production method in developing countries, and they most likely are the future of beef production for everyone around the globe.
Also, focusing on CAFOs in many ways actually underestimates cows’ impact. Multiplication of my CAFO figures shows that assuming all animals are grown in CAFOs produces aggregate carbon dioxide (CO2) numbers that are at least one half to one third as large as those from the Food and Agriculture Organization, which found that livestock contribute about 18 percent of world greenhouse emissions.
Pastoral systems can sometimes be responsible for producing more CO2 than CAFOs, mainly because many communities, mostly in Latin America, require deforestation for pastoral land. And CAFO cows live only about one year before slaughter. In the July 1999 Ecological Economics, Susan Subak did find that a good pastoral system generates just more than half the CO2 of a feedlot, but she assumed that the pastoral animals live for just less than three years. If the animals are allowed to live more than three times as long, the difference narrows considerably.
My work is not intended to convert people to vegetarianism, only to help them understand how consumption choices can have major effects on the environment. Given the incredible quantities of meat Americans and others eat, even a small decrease in beef consumption (to, say, three or four times a week) can have a big impact.
In discussing the woes of the U.S. auto industry in “Transforming the Auto Industry” [Sustainable Developments], Jeffrey Sachs misses the essential failing that has led to decline of its long-term market share and sales volume: mediocre cars.
Having worked in the industry in the 1970s and having followed it since then, I observed at least 15 years go by before U.S. auto executives acknowledged their products’ quality deficiencies. They have been playing catch-up since then. American vehicles have been improving, but they still lag. For the U.S. auto industry to truly succeed, management needs a paradigm shift that will result in the best vehicles in their class by any measurement.
Grass Valley, Calif.
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Letters".