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Ten years from today, everybody in America will be a vegetarian, predicted an ex-cattle rancher who changed his diet 17 years ago to help beat a cancer that threatened his life.

"Organic farming is growing at a rate of 25 percent a year," Howard F. Lyman told about 40 people in the Harlem Road Youth Community Center Thursday night. "Keep voting with your dollars."

Lyman, 58, of Great Falls, Mont., grew up on a farm and operated a multimillion-dollar farming business before he was struck by a cancer that caused a thumb-sized tumor next to his spinal cord.

"When you get a wake-up call like that, it gets your attention. What kept going through my mind was why I became a farmer in the first place -- to be close to the birds, the trees and living soil," he recalled.

Lyman said he survived a "one-in-a-million operation" and never forgot his vow to work for a better world and discard the chemical-based, mechanically driven farming he had been indoctrinated with at Montana State University.

"What we are doing today with our chemical, mechanical agriculture is absolutely wrong," Lyman said.

He contends that 91 percent of the toxics that cause cancer and heart disease, the two leading causes of death in the nation, could be removed from the body by foregoing animal products and eating organically grown foods.

"Seven out of 10 Americans die of something contributed to by their diet," he said.

Lyman also pointed out that it takes 16 pounds of grain, used as feed for animals, to produce one pound of meat. That factor, together with human population growth, which is outstripping food production, means that becoming a vegetarian is one way to help preserve the planet for future generations.

However, Lyman, who sprinkled his one-hour talk with humor, told vegetarians to "lighten up" and stop shaking their fists and preaching at people.

"It's about doing what you do every day. We don't change anybody by shouting. Just smile and do what you do," Lyman said.

He added that people will ask vegetarians about their lifestyles as they begin to perceive the health benefits of a non-meat diet.

Lyman, a member of the Humane Society of the United States, directs its Eating With a Conscience Campaign and makes more than 1,000 appearances every year in scores of cities around the world.

Lyman, who will be in the Buffalo area for several days, will speak at 7 p.m. today at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 205 Ensminger Road, Town of Tonawanda.

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