Watch How One Feedlot Fattens Up Cows by 400 Pounds in 3 Months

‘Vice’ examines the environmental implications of the growing global appetite for meat.
Mar 5, 2016·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Each day, more than 1,500 cows exit a single feedlot in Goiás, Brazil, and are herded into a slaughterhouse. As soon as they leave the feedlot, they are replaced by a new group of 1,500 young cows.

That effort by Brazilian meat producers to keep up with the global demand for beef is the focus of “Meathooked,” the latest episode of the HBO series Vice. In the episode, Vice correspondent Isobel Yeung explores the enormous amount of resources—from water to land—used to raise animals to satiate the world’s appetite for meat.

At the feedlot in Goiás, referred to as a “concentrated animal feeding operation,” efficiency and cost top the list of priorities. Lot owner Pedro Merola feeds his thousands of cows 450 tons of corn silage each day, with each cow gaining about 400 pounds in a three-month period. And with business booming, Merola intends to expand his lot over the next year.

While 3 billion animals are already slaughtered annually for food, that number is expected to rise. As the global population continues to grow, so does the meat industry. Over the past 50 years, meat production has quadrupled, with about 318 million tons of meat produced in 2015. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization expects the figure to jump to 455 million tons by 2050—a number that has left environmentalists worried.

“[Meat production] is completely unsustainable. There isn’t enough land. There isn’t enough water. There isn’t the capacity for the Earth’s atmosphere to absorb all of the CO2 and methane that would come out of animal agriculture,” Ken Cook, a food policy expert with the Environmental Working Group, explains in the episode.

Meat production fuels climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, and, owing to the high amount of water required to produce meat, it contributes to global water shortages. Although farm-to-table restaurants have gained popularity, the majority of meat still comes from factory farms.

“The problem is that our focus is on making the meat as cheap as possible,” Cook explains. “That’s where we often have environmental catastrophes.”