Vegetarianism and Investing

Investing in animal-based companies may appear to be a good strategy, but in the long run it could represent a threat to personal finances, and an economy based on such companies may threaten the economy itself. Also, it eventually could lead to a world where few of us would want to live. By contrast, vegetarianism has great potential as an investment. First, let us consider four considerations that are not directly financial:

1. Vegetarianism is a great investment in ourselves, in our health, since animal-centered diets have been directly linked to heart disease, several forms of cancer, strokes, and other degenerative illnesses. No matter how successful one's financial investments, what good are they if one lacks the good health to enjoy them?

2. Vegetarianism is a great investment in a cleaner, more sustainable world, because modern intensive animal agriculture is a significant contributor to soil erosion and depletion, air and water pollution, widespread use of pesticides and other chemicals, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, and global warming. What is the value of a large house and other assets if one does not have a decent planet on which to enjoy them?

3. Vegetarianism is a great investment in a more peaceful, less violent world, because animal-centered diets, by wasting valuable resources, help to perpetuate the widespread hunger and poverty that eventually lead to instability and war. What is the value of extensive financial assets in a world plagued with war and violence?

4.. Vegetarianism is a great investment in a more humane world, because animals are raised for food today under cruel conditions, in crowded, confined cells, where they are denied fresh air, exercise, and any fulfillment of their basic needs.

Vegetarianism is also a great investment in the kind of world where investments flourish. Animal-based agriculture threatens the environment and resource base necessary for a thriving economy, and animal-based diets result in diseases whose treatments require much of a nation's financial resources.

In 1993, almost 1,700 of the world's scientists, including 104 Nobel laureates, a majority of the living recipients of the Prize in the sciences, signed a "Scientists' Warning to Humanity" which stated that, "Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about." One of the most important of these fundamental changes necessary to avoid this very bleak future that would also involve devastating consequences for the economy is a shift to vegetarian diets.

Some of the negative effects of animal-based diets are already being felt. Overfishing has caused the collapse of many prime fishing areas. Overgrazing by cattle threatens to convert range land into desert. Rapid deforestation to create additional pastureland results in increased soil erosion which drains the earth of its productivity and causes the rapid extinction of plant and animal species which can eventually result in ecosystem collapse. Widespread irrigation to grow feed crops for farm animals (70 percent of the grain produced in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter) depletes aquifers.

If these and other environmental trends related to animal-based agriculture continue unimpeded, they will very likely result in increased food prices as farmers and fishers will be unable to keep up with the demand fueled by rapidly increasing population and affluence. Because of this affluence, countries such as Japan and China are moving up the food chain and eating far more animal products. One result is that China changed in 1995 from a grain exporting country to a major grain importing country. Since China has over 21 percent of the world's people, this is a major factor in future grain availability. Also, for many years, over 70 percent of the grain in the United States has been used to fatten up animals destined for slaughter. According to the highly respected Washington DC-based "Worldwatch Institute" these facts and trends indicate a great threat of severe grain shortages and this can exacerbate already serious environmental threats and lead to political instability in poorer countries, with very negative economic implications.

In summary, animal-based agriculture is very irrational from health, ecological, and resource consumption perspectives, and the high health and ecological costs will put a drag on the economy that can have very negative effects on markets and investments. In the final analysis, economic and health issues are economic issues.

Let us consider future prospects for a person who invests in a company that produces animal-based foods compared to those for a person who invests in a company that produces plant-based products, such as soy-based foods. While the short-term prospects for an intensive livestock company may look relatively good now as increasing affluence is moving many people in developing countries up the food chain toward animal-based diets, there are many major pitfalls on the horizon.

Here are just a few of the questions and issues that could spell major trouble for animal-food based companies: Will the abundance of evidence directly linking animal-based diets to heart disease, several forms of cancer, and other degenerative diseases, become so great that there will be a major shift toward plant-centered diets? Will recent signs of global warming continue to increase to such an extent that governments will recognize the strong contributions that modern intensive livestock agriculture is having and mandate or legislate changes to more sustainable agricultural systems? Will other environmental threats related to animal-based agriculture - pollution of rivers and streams by animal wastes and runoff of agricultural chemicals, soil erosion and depletion, odors from animal wastes, deforestation and desertification - become so great that governments will see the need to reduce livestock agriculture? Will shortages in land, water, fuel, and other agricultural inputs greatly increase the costs of producing animal products? In short, will the irrationalities of the current mass production and widespread consumption of animal products finally catch up with animal-based agriculture and force major changes?

By contrast, prospects for companies specializing in plant-based foods are looking increasingly good. Marketing Intelligence, a product- reporting firm, projected that more than 90 new food items with either "vegetarian" or "meatless" in their names would debut in 1998, a 290 percent increase over 1990. Vegetarian burgers are sprouting up all over. Restaurant chains such as Hard Rock Cafe and TGI Friday boast briskly selling veggie burgers on their menus. In October, Oprah Winfrey ate a Boca Burger brand veggie burger on the air and fed them to her audience as part of her show about preventing and treating breast cancer through diet. Then, in November, Rosie O'Donnell picked the Boca Burger in a meat versus soy "taste test" on her show, and she raved about the veggie burger. On the highly publicized final episode of the very popular Seinfeld TV show, a 30 second commercial by Gardenberger, a producer of a vegetarian burger, has led to a sharp increase in its profits, and other veggie burger manufacturers have also seen their sales skyrocket. Retailers report that they can't keep meat substitutes such as Unturkey and Tofurky on the shelves, and Tofurky's sales for 1998 are more than four times 1997 sales. Frequent news reports of health problems related to animal-based diets, recalls of meat and poultry due to outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella, and of environmental threats related to livestock agriculture have led many people to consider shifts in their diets. Dr. Benjamin Spock's new "Baby and Child Care" recommends that children be raised on a completely vegetarian diet. Said Spock, "A vegetable-based diet for children is generally more healthful than a diet containing the cholesterol, animal fat, and excessive protein found in meat and dairy products."

These are just a small sample of the evidence that there is a trend toward vegetarian diets. It is a common observation that, whereas 20 or 30 years ago vegetarians were often asked how they got enough protein and other questions that indicated strong doubts about the health effects of vegetarian diets, today many non-vegetarians are on the defensive and volunteer that they have cut back on their consumption of meat, that they no longer eat red meat, and similar statements.

It has been said that "Nothing is as irresistible as an idea whose time has come". It is becoming evident that vegetarianism will be the diet the world's people will increasingly turn to. Investors should take note and look to vegetarian-based companies and consider divesting from animal-based ones. This has great potential for their improved financial health, as well as the health of our precious but imperiled planet.

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