Environmental sustainability and climate change have been hot topics since the international climate change talks held in Paris last year. Factory farming, also referred to as industrial agriculture, raises many important issues from ethical dilemmas concerning the treatment of animals to health concerns and environmental impact. Yet, there is still so much that we do not know about where our food comes from. While the state of agriculture was largely left out of the plans to reduce emissions, considerable attention should still be paid to this issue.
Mounting Environmental Concerns
Back in 2010, the UN released a report proposing to reduce carbon emissions globally to decrease consumption in a variety of industries. In that report, meat and dairy production were listed as top priorities due to the cataclysmic effects factory farming has on the environment. However, the USDA has reported a steady increase in the production of livestock, dairy and poultry year after year since 2012. Just over 97 million pounds of beef, pork and poultry, along with 211 billion pounds of milk is projected for production in 2016. If these trends continue in the coming years, the environmental impact will be massive.
Many of the animals included in these projections are kept in cruel and deplorable conditions, crammed into tiny spaces and treated with antibiotics and hormones. These animals are often forced to lay or sit in their own waste – waste that is eventually stored in large water pits. This water is subsequently spread or sprayed onto crops grown on the farm.
Due to an excess in the production of manure, this mixture is often over-applied to crops which results in an increase in air, land and water pollution and a decrease in soil fertility. Manure disposal is already a huge environmental concern for factory farms. What is even more alarming is the fact that cropland is being treated with the manure from animals who are being force-fed some pretty harmful substances including zinc, copper, chromium, arsenic, cadmium, lead and the aforementioned antibiotics and hormones. Many of the food-borne illness cases, such as the baby spinach recall in 2006, are a direct result of this practice.
As if the animal cruelty, environmental issues and gross-out factor surrounding manure production and disposal weren’t distressing enough, factory farms are also leading contributors of air pollution in the United States. Caused by the mishandling of manure, irresponsible animal feed practices and the shipping and distribution of farm products, industrial farms emit foul odors, toxic chemicals and greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Not only do these pollutants affect climate change, but they also cause health problems in agricultural workers, inhabitants of neighboring communities and farm animals.
The 2004 National Water Quality Inventory report lists agriculture as a major contributor to the environmental impairment and pollution of lakes, ponds, reservoirs, rivers and streams in the US. This pollution causes harm to people and wildlife while having a disastrous environmental impact. This contaminated water has also been known to pollute wells that contain drinking water, leading to cases of waterborne disease outbreaks, miscarriages in pregnant women and reports of cancer.
What You Can Do
Americans take third place in per capita meat consumption worldwide at a shocking 279 pounds of meat per person per year. As the environmental impact caused by factory farming is coming to light, it is more important now than ever to move towards a more sustainable solution, and ultimately a better future. While it is often difficult to imagine that you can make a difference, you absolutely can. By committing to reducing or eliminating your consumption of animal products, you can reduce your carbon food footprint by 49 to 55 percent! The average American has a carbon “foodprint” of 2.5, while vegetarians and vegans typically have “foodprints” of 1.7 and 1.5. While this change may seem small, it is huge if you consider the overall picture.
If you are looking for some tips on how to reduce your consumption and contribution to factory farming, check out these articles. If you have any tips on how to make this transition even easier, please share them in the comments below!