With 6 billion people living on planet Earth, most of whom are not vegetarian, the reality is we need a lot of meat. For the last few decades, we have honed the technique of producing massive amounts of cheap meat for human consumption in a process called factory farming. Factory farming is the process of intensively farming animals to produce meat and animal products as cheaply as humanely possible.
In the United States alone, 9 billion chickens are killed for meat each year, and 305 million hens are used for their eggs. In Australia, over one million chickens are slaughtered daily for their meat. Chickens are the most farmed animal on Earth. These staggering numbers alone suggest that there must be negative repercussions from farming so many animals.
For other types of animals such as cows and pigs, the statistics are just as alarming. In the US, more than 29 million cows die in the meat and dairy industries yearly. In Australia, 4 to 5 million pigs are slaughtered for food annually. And then there’s the lesser-consumed animals such as turkeys, fowl, rabbits and goats. In some Asian countries, even dogs and cats are raised and killed for our consumption.
Environmental impacts of factory farming
Factory farming is poisoning the air. Mostly, this is thanks to methane gasses produced by cows. In fact, over 37% of global methane emissions come from factory farming. Methane itself is far more destructive to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Most people have absolutely no idea that their steak is harming the atmosphere more than the car they drive.
What’s more, factory farming is a leading cause of deforestation. Admittedly, farming itself doesn’t use a lot of land due to the space efficiency of the intensive farming model. However, the immense amounts of feed needed to grow so many animals take up huge amounts of land.
In fact, most cleared land in the United States is used to grow feed for livestock – not for people. The UN says that 26% of the Earth’s terrestrial surface is used for livestock grazing. Most of this land was once covered by forests. As demand for meat products increases, forested land decreases and so too does the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Factory farming has also befouled our waters. Modern pig farms produce so much excrement that it can only be stored in massive “lagoons” at the factory farm site. These lagoons, full of pig excrement, routinely contaminate the waterways and any nearby bodies of water. In Illinois, USA, there have been 80 serious instances of factory farming polluting waterways since 2002. Clearly, the contamination of water is not only an environmental issue but a public health issue as well.
Factory farming must be severely curtailed if the planet has any hope of surviving in a habitable state long term. We have developed these intensive farming techniques with no long term view as to how they will affect our planet.