Factory Farming and Its Effects on the Environment
The term “factory farming” has more to it than it sounds. Factory farming is a term that makes up a multitude of disturbing images, from rows of animals packed tightly into gigantic warehouses and misused workers striving for substandard wages, to massive amounts of pollutants spilling into the environment. It is a big business that tries to maximize profits and minimize cost through the mass production of cheap meat, dairy, and eggs.
Factory farms hurt animals and people and also destroy the environment. It has become a major contributor in the alarming degradation of our fragile planet (farm sanctuary). Factory farming is responsible for the inhumane treatment of animals and the horrific conditions in which they live, the negative effects it makes on our health, and the devastating consequences it has on our environment. Here is a little background of what a “factory farm” is and why so many farmers turn to industrialized methods.
With millions of mouths to feed, local farmers can’t keep up and cannot compete with giant, so called “large scale, mechanized mega-farms where hundreds of thousands of cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys are fed and fattened for market, all within the confines of enclosed buildings of crowded outdoor lots” (Kirby, p. 3). The term, CAFO’s, which stands for confined (or concentrated) animal feeding operations; is where the majority of our animal protein comes from; not a very pretty picture, but most people don’t think about it. Most of these animals never see the sunlight.
Most people are very aware of where there car was made, what brand of clothing they are wearing, what is in their makeup, but most people do not question where their food comes from. People might feel differently if they knew the hog they were about to eat was beat to death with a pipe, just before slaughter. The public needs to be aware of the cruel conditions and the poor sanitation that these animals live in and the risks involved in eating them. Small and independent growers are at a huge disadvantage that they end up giving up agriculture altogether or they join these super companies.
A shocking statistic I came across in The Animal Factory is: “two percent of U. S. livestock facilities now raise forty percent of all animals and the vast majority of pigs, chickens, and dairy cows are produced inside animal factories” (Kirby, p. 5). Farm Sanctuary is a houses three shelters to all kinds of animals. They are a rescue shelter that provides lifelong care to animals that were rescued from farm factories and slaughterhouses. The famous courageous researcher Jane Goodall once said: “Farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear and pain.
They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined…they are individuals in their own right” (Goodall, Farm Sanctuary). Billions of animals are slaughtered every year. The animals that are slaughtered and sold in the supermarkets are selectively bred to grow bigger and faster so they produce more eggs and milk than they can handle. Chickens grow so fast that their hearts give out, and they develop deformities. An average chicken should get slaughtered around 90 days old, but in today’s world, they slaughter them at 42 days old, just to maximize profit.
There are 8 billion chickens and turkeys killed each year. Hens beaks are severed off and turkeys toes are hacked off to stop the fighting between the birds, because they are in such tight quarters. They cut the tails off of cows and pigs without the use of any anesthesia. This is mutilation and just plain cruelty. These animals spend their lives in confinement, unable to turn around, spread their wings, lie down or see the sun shine. They have no ability to express their natural behaviors.
The animals that are not subjected to crates, still endure stressful lives, living in such close quarters that they are practically on top of one another, standing in their own feces. In Gail Eisnitz’s book “Slaughterhouse”, she interviews several different employees of these slaughterhouses in the U. S. One particular story came from a hog slaughter in southwestern Kansas, called Morrell. The interview is with a former worker, Tommy Vladak; his job at the plant was a “sticker”, which is the person that slices the hog’s throat after it gets stunned.
He tells of how the hogs were supposed to be stunned before they got to him, but a lot of times, the line moved so fast, that proper stunning was hard to do. This made his job very dangerous, because the hogs would be going wild, and he would have to stick them like that. Sometimes, he wouldn’t get a good stick and the hog would move up the line and be boiled alive. He was injured several times on the job; he got stabbed, broke his leg, and was bitten several times, but that was part of the job. He complained numerous times to the boss about changing the procedure but was ignored every time.
Tommy also tells stories of the abuse that goes on in the slaughterhouses behind closed doors. The hogs are beaten sometimes with lead pipes, called “piping”; if they are trying to get away. He witnessed a worker get so mad at a hog that he hit the hog with a wooden board and broke its back. If the hogs refuse to move through the line, the workers stick them with prods into their eyes or anuses and pull them down the line. The USDA knows these things are happening, but inspections happen very little. The food and agriculture business is so large, that no one seems to care (Eisnitz).
With all this mass production of meat and eggs and dairy, it is no wonder our health is affected as a result of unsanitary conditions and over-drugged and over-stressed animals. The public is at risk for E. coli poisoning, salmonella poisoning, Mad Cow Disease, the swine flu, the bird flu, all which are transmittable from animal to human. Eighty percent of our nation’s antibiotics produced are distributed to farm animals, not to keep them from getting sick, but to make them grow bigger, faster and to be able to tolerate living in crowded quarters.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that this has contributed to the emergence of virulent supergerms that are resistant to antibiotics. In Sabrina Tavernise’s article, “Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny,” she speaks with the director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, and he states, “The single biggest problem we face in infectious disease today is the rapid growth of resistance to antibiotics. Human use contributes to that, but use in animals clearly has a part too” (Tavernise).
Another health concern is obesity. With the mass production of cheap milk, eggs, meat, and dairy, the public is consuming more and more. Obesity is a massive problem today and is on the rise. People are consuming massive amounts of meat and cheese products and are developing chronic illnesses like Heart Disease, Diabetes, and Cancer. In turn, this increases America’s health care bill by billions of dollars each year. Another danger to our health is the agricultural waste that runs in our well-water.
At least 4. million people are exposed to dangerously high levels of nitrate in their drinking water, which can cause serious health problems, especially for infants and pregnant women. Manure can contain pathogens, antibiotics, drug-resistant bacteria, hormones, heavy metals, and other compounds that impact human health. Odors that come from these feedlots contain over 170 chemicals. Many of these chemical have been known to cause respiratory issues, violent behaviors, abdominal problems, depression and other health problems.
Factory farming is not beneficial to our health, but is also devastating to our environment. “According to the 2006 United Nations report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, the animal agricultural sector is among the two or three most significant contributors to our most serious environmental problems, including deforestation, land degradation, water and air pollution, climate change, overfishing, and reduction of biodiversity of every scale from local to global” (Farm Sanctuary, Ending Factory Farming).
Factory farming causes issues on a big scale. The animal agriculture business is responsible for emitting greenhouse gases and highly toxic pollutants. These CAFO’s are considered farms, so they are not subject to follow industrial emissions standards set by the EPA, (Environmental Protection Agency). Some of the gases that are produced from factory farms are ammonia and hydrogen sulfide and are breathed in by the public every day. In a report from the EPA, it states that animal waste makes up 80 percent of ammonia emissions in the U. S.
Ammonia is responsible for disturbing aquatic ecosystems, endangering human health, and destroying soil and crops. When ammonia reacts with other compounds in the air, it can lead to health problems, such as respiratory illness, cardiovascular problems, longer hospitalizations, and premature death. A mind blowing statistic quoted on the Farm Sanctuary website is: “Animal agriculture is responsible for more deadly greenhouse gases than all the SUV’s, Hummers, cars, trucks, planes, ships, and other forms of transportation in the world combined.
These greenhouse gases accelerate global warming which, scientists say, will increasingly lead to catastrophic climate-related disasters around the world” (Farm Sanctuary, Factory Farming: Destroying the Environment). Another concern for our planet is our water preservation. Factory farming places an enormous demand on our water resources. According to the EPA, the animal agricultural business uses 87 percent of the use of freshwater in the U. S. and accounts for 93 percent of the water depletion worldwide. It wastes so much water that not showering for 6 months is equivalent to saving as much water as not eating one pound of beef.
As much as 150 gallons of water are used per cow per day. Animal waste is a huge problem as well. Animals produce 100 times more waste than humans do, and their waste is more toxic than human waste. Human waste is treated in the sewer system, but animal waste is not. Instead, it is left to runoff into our rivers and water supply, and contaminates our aquatic ecosystem. This is a major concern for our rivers and has already polluted more than 35,000 miles of rivers in the U. S. and killed millions of fish. DoSomething. org is a website that has many controversial issues that active youth participants can get involved in.
They have a lot of information with some alarming statistics regarding factory farming and its effects on the environment: “Factory farming accounts for 37 percent of methane (CH4) emissions. Methane has more than 20 times the global warming potential of CO2. The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that confined animals generate three times more raw waste than humans in the United States. The animal waste is often over-applied causing dangerous levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in the water supply. In such excessive amounts, nitrogen robs water of oxygen and destroys aquatic life.
The use of fossil fuels on farms to grow feed and to intensively raise land animals for food emits 90 million tons of CO2 worldwide every year. Globally, deforestation for animal grazing and feed crops is estimated to emit 2. 4 billion tons of CO2 every year. Growing corn requires more nitrogen fertilizer than any other crop, and more than half the corn in the world is fed to animals. Manure in waste lagoons also contains salt and heavy metals which end up in bodies of water, in sediment, and move up the food chain. Factory farms contribute to air pollution by releasing compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and methane.
According to a study done by the Environmental Integrity Project, some factory farm test sites in the U. S. registered pollution emission levels well above Clean Air Act health-based limits. The waste lagoons on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) not only pollute our groundwater, but deplete it as well. Many of the farms use the groundwater for cleaning, cooling, and drinking” (Kassoy, Do something. org). Factory farming is not coherent with our own common values or our concerns. People must work together to end factory farming and pave our future for a more sustainable earth.
Changing the way we eat and supporting our local farmers is the first step to a better future. In the past few years, there has been some progress on the behalf of farm animal welfare, but at the same time, in spite of scientific evidence that current standard animal production practices are unhealthy for humans and have a devastating effect on animals, much remains to be done. Eating with conscience; reducing the amount of meat and other animal-based products, switching to cage-free eggs, and adding more greens to our diet are just a few steps to take on the way to a brighter future and more sustainable planet.