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Beyond Beef.

The Cattle Culture may be coming to an end. The absolute dependence upon cattle and merciless exploitation of these animals are finally approaching a showdown with the Earth's future at stake.

The "cattle culture," using animals for food and labor, began with the dawn of civilization when the belief in the mystical powers of cattle and the magical properties of beef was first born.

The author reviews the age-old conflict between those who farmed the land and those who raised cattle. It is a history of international intrigue, political give-aways, and avarice that transformed the great American frontier into a huge cattle breeding ground.

Beyond Beef adds up the cost of the passion for meat in terms of the travail upon poor people throughout the world because beef "addiction" of the wealthy nations has extracted a toll upon the starving. Land that could have fed millions was preempted to agriculture devoted to raising feed for beef. This singular dependence has had its price in terms of human tragedy: deaths from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes - the diseases of affluence.

The book also describes grim ecological effects of the cattle culture: rain forests burned down to make room for planting feed for animals, fertile plains turned into deserts after having been exhausted of top soil as planters moved to greener pastures, and our life-giving climate endangered by global warming because the ecological balance has been distorted by wanton disregard.

The basis of Jeremy Rifkin's book is a concern with an ever-increasing cattle population that is wreaking havoc on the earth's ecosystems, destroying habitats on six continents. Millions of acres of ancient forests are being cut down and cleared to make room for pastureland needed to graze cattle.

Cattle herding, he says, is also responsible for much of the spreading desert formation in the sub-Saharan of Africa and the western rangeland of the United States and Australia. Overgrazing has left parched and barren deserts in areas that were already struggling with aridness.

The growing problem of organic pollution, Rifkin contends, can be attributed to organic runoff from feedlots. Cattle are also a major cause of global warming because cattle emit methane, a potent gas that is inhibiting heat emission from the earth's atmosphere.

Beyond Beef offers these startling statistics: cattle and other livestock consume more than 70% of all grain produced in the United States, and at least one third of the world's total grain production is fed to cattle and other livestock while more than a billion people suffer from perpetual hunger and malnutrition.

Feeding grain to cattle and other livestock while people starve has precipitated revolutionary political struggles in several Third World countries, resulting in strife between northern industrial nations and the poor nations of the southern hemisphere.

Most people are unaware of the wide-ranging effects cattle are having on the ecosystem of the planet, damage that threatens the well-being of the earth and its population, Jeremy Rifkin predicts.

Beyond Beef is the story of a unique relationship between humans and cattle. "We have prayed to these animals, sacrificed them to the gods, and used them to provide food, shelter, traction and fuel," Rifkin reminds us. "They have enriched our spiritual lives and fed our appetites. We have elevated them to divine status, yoked them to the plow to turn the soil, milked them to provide nourishment for our young ...". Much of the religious and secular life of Western Civilization has been erected on the broad shoulders ... The word "cattle" is derived from the words "chattel" and "capital." "Cattle," the author explains, are the oldest form of mobile wealth.

The author is alarmed by the implications our beef culture will have upon present and future civilizations. He has devised a literary technique that turns the book into more than a clarion call for attention to a pending disaster. Rifkin's scholarship impels him to delve into the human-bovine relationship throughout history, from the first archaeological records dating back to prehistoric man to the present crimes committed against defendants of the rain forests.

"For a public used to thinking of environmental threats exclusively in terms of automobile exhaust, factory effluents, and toxic and radioactive materials, the magnitude of the environmental destruction caused by modern cattle production will likely come as a shock," the author writes. "Still, the ecological devastation created by the burgeoning world cattle population exceeds many of the other more visible sources of environmental harm."

Left to their own devices, cattle populations would rise and fall in concert with the vagaries of weather, food supply and procreation. They would not pose a threat to the planet.

But humanity's relationship to cattle has changed radically. Cattle reproduction is being manipulated by exploiters. To hasten reproduction, many forms of synthetic stimulation have been developed that are cruel to animals and hazardous to people who eat the creatures' flesh and organs.

Drugs are injected routinely into all cows of a herd at the same time so that they will come into heat simultaneously. By synchronizing the estrus cycles of an entire herd, commercial ranchers can pick the ideal time of the year for the calving season.

Rifkin deplores many of the techniques that have developed with factory-farmed cattle. Young male calves are castrated to make them more "docile" and to improve the quality of the beef. He observes, "There are several methods of castration. In one procedure the scrotum is grasped and stretched out tightly, a knife is struck up through the scrotum and then used to cut open the sac, and each testicle is pulled out with the long cord attached. In another procedure, a device called an emasculator is used to crush the cord.

"To ensure that animals will not injure each other, they are dehorned with a chemical paste that burns out the roots of their horns." Rifkin continues the horror story by describing the wide range of hormones and steroids fed to the cattle schedules for slaughter. "While the cattle industry claims it has discontinued the widespread use of antibiotics in cattle feed, antibiotics are still being given to dairy cows ....

"Antibiotic residues often show up in the meat people consume, making the human population increasingly vulnerable to more virulent strains of disease-causing bacteria." The author also notes that the feed is saturated with herbicides. When the feed is consumed by the animals, pesticides accumulate in their bodies and eventually passed along in the finished cuts of beef. Meat eating is considered by many authorities to pose a cancer risk because of high levels of pesticides present in beef. Many feedlots also add cardboard, cement dust, sawdust, and manure from chicken houses to hasten weight gain. Officials of the Food and Drug Administration, Rifkin reports, have acknowledged that it is not uncommon for some feedlots to mix industrial sewage and oils into the feed to reduce costs and speed fattening.

Seeking a historical perspective, Beyond Beef views the relationship between cattle and humans in the mid-sixteenth century when deterioration of pastureland forced many Europeans to adopt a largely vegetarian diet. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the number of meatless days had increased to nearly half the days of year on the Catholic calendar in England and France. Beef remained scarce into the nineteenth century, when improvements in trans-Atlantic travel and modern canning and refrigeration made shipments of North and South American beef to Europe at affordable prices practical.

The Irish famine, a tragedy that changed the course of Ireland's history, can be attributed to the British taste for beef, the author explains. "Pushed off the best land and forced to farm smaller plots of marginal land, the Irish turned to potatoes, a crop that could be abundant in less favorable soil. Eventually cows took over much of Ireland, leaving the native population virtually dependent upon the potato for survival. In 1846, a blight devastated the Irish potato crop, causing mass starvation and death. By 1880, Ireland had been virtually transformed into a giant cattle pasture to accommodate the English palate."

Jeremy Rifkin sums up the resounding principles of this rich and informative book by pleading for the future of our planet.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1992
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