The COVID Cost of Meat Production

From Stephanie Feldstein, Population and Sustainability Program Director


The exploitative, crowded working conditions of meatpacking plants have resulted in more than 50,000 cases of COVID-19 and hundreds of deaths among workers over the past year. And it's not just the workers who are at risk. Counties with large beef-packing plants had an infection rate 110% higher than similar counties without plants. For communities with pork-processing facilities, the transmission rate was 160% higher.

Industrial animal agriculture is devastating to communities worldwide, putting workers at risk, polluting air and water, and harming public health and biodiversity. In addition to supporting the ongoing struggle to protect the health of workers in the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace are standing with Mayan people in Mexico who are fighting the expansion of industrial pig farms that violate Indigenous rights.

Read on to learn more about the controversy over one state's meat-free holiday, the latest United Nations report on reproductive health, and ways you can tell your contraception story to support a healthy future.

Girls at Gorongosa National Park

Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique is becoming a new model for wildlife conservation and community development in Africa, with a special focus on educating girls and empowering women. Watch the film Our Gorongosa for free and then join staff from the park, Women for Conservation and the Center for a Saving Life on Earth webinar on Thursday, April 29.

Population fact

Birth control pills

UN Report: 45% of Women Are Denied Bodily Autonomy

For more than 40 years, the United Nations Population Fund has published the annual State of World Population report to highlight challenges and opportunities related to sexual and reproductive health and rights. This year's edition is the first U.N. report focused on bodily autonomy, which is defined as the power to make decisions about your body, such as the right to say no to sex, choose your partner, and determine whether and when to get pregnant. Bodily autonomy is a basic human right, and it's also directly related to better outcomes for health, education, economic success and conservation.

The report examined laws in more than 50 countries around the world and found that nearly half of women are denied the right to make choices about seeking healthcare, using contraception and having sex. Many countries also fail to legally protect sexual health, access to contraception, maternity care or gender equality.

Here's one thing you can do: Sign up for the free Planetary Health Alliance conference to learn more about the connections between health and conservation.

Vasectomy graphic

Contraception Conversations: Share Your Story

The Center launched our Contraception Conversations video series last fall, talking to several couples and a urologist about the decision to get a vasectomy. Now we want to hear from you.

We're looking for people to share their experiences and perspectives on topics including the decision to be childfree, how you decided how many children to have, choosing contraception, and sex ed.

Sex, reproductive healthcare and family planning are often kept behind closed doors, making it harder for people to ask questions, find accurate information, or have open conversations that are critical to their health and future. You can help break down this stigma by telling your story. Fill out this brief form and we'll be in touch to start the conversation.

Charcuterie platter

The Problem With 'Meatposting'

Someone worried about the climate crisis probably isn't posting selfies at the gas station. Yet many people who care about the climate do post photos celebrating charcuterie boards and other meat-centered meals. Climate journalist Emily Atkin reminds us that meat "is basically fossil fuels, except more delicious." By glorifying meat consumption on social media, she writes, people are giving free advertising to a huge, polluting industry that aggressively undermines climate action.

What we post online signals what we care about, fostering a broader social acceptance for choices such as what we eat. But we can use our social power for good by posting food photos that reflect our values and the world we want to see.

Here's one thing you can do: Share photos of your delicious plant-based meals on social media to celebrate Earth-friendly food. (If you post on Instagram, tag us.)

Moving boxes

How to Move Without Trashing the Planet

The pandemic drove people to flee big cities or look for a change of pace, leading to an increase in moves in 2020. As more people become vaccinated, these moving trends are likely to continue. While the environmental cost of relocating can vary depending on whether you're headed across town or across the country, or if you're downsizing or scaling up, moving is big business, responsible for massive amounts of waste.

Every year Americans trash an estimated 16.8 billion pounds of junk when they move and use 900 million boxes for the stuff they take with them. Even if some of it gets recycled, the production and disposal of all that waste demands energy and other resources. Population and Sustainability Campaigner Kelley Dennings wrote about her own experience moving during COVID and what she did to minimize waste.


'Meat Out Day' Sparks Controversy

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis proclaimed March 20 "Meat Out Day," joining dozens of other governors and mayors in recognizing the health, environmental and animal-welfare benefits of plant-based diets. These proclamations don't have legal teeth, but they're a way to raise awareness about the need to transform how we eat. Nonetheless the meat industry bit back, with the state's cattlemen's association declaring a "Meat In" day. The controversy crossed state lines when Nebraska's governor said Polis' Meat Out proclamation was "a direct attack" on his state's way of life.

The real threats to Nebraskans, farmers and all Americans are the increased risk of diseases associated with high meat consumption and the climate emergency's impact on food security and biodiversity. It'll take more than a Meat Out Day to fix these problems, but it's a place to start — and considering the consequences of U.S. diets, a single day without meat shouldn't be too much to ask.

Here's one thing you can do: Learn more about the connection between colonialism and beef production in this interview with Senior Food Campaigner Jennifer Molidor.

Alligator snapping turtle

Wildlife Spotlight: Suwannee Alligator Snapping Turtle

Alligator snapping turtles are built like tanks, with spiked shells, large claws and strong, beaked jaws — some call them the "dinosaurs of the turtle world." These large freshwater turtles spend most of their time underwater, often camouflaged in algae, luring prey with their worm-like tongues. As with many other magnificent creatures, their greatest threat is people.

After more than 5.5 million years of isolation from other alligator snappers, the Suwannee alligator snapping turtle was only recently recognized as a distinct species. Habitat destruction in the Suwannee River basin — along with pollution, illegal harvest, fishing bycatch and climate change — has sent the species swimming toward extinction. Following a petition and legal action from the Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed Endangered Species Act protections for these impressive turtles.

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Photo credits: Pigs via Canva; Stephanie Feldstein; girls at Gorongosa National Park by Brett Kuxhausen; birth control pills via Unsplash; Contraception Conversations courtesy Center for Biological Diversity; charcuterie board by Jessica Ruscello/Unsplash; moving boxes by Michal Balog/Unsplash; vegetables by Thomas Le/Unsplash; alligator snapping turtle by Christopher Evans/Flickr.

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