Factory farming causes massive environmental damage and plays a significant role in climate change.
Water: Factory farm industry consumes an unsustainable amount of water. It is estimated that nearly half of all water consumption in the United States goes to the process of raising animals for food. Most of it not used for hydrating animals, but for growing feed and to cleaning factory farm and slaughterhouse floors. A pound of beef requires about 2000 gallons of water – 10 times the amount used for a pound of soybean.
A person can save more water by skipping one hamburger than by skipping daily showers for 2 months.
Further, factory farming is also one of the largest threats to healthy drinking water. It is estimated that animals raised for food create 130 times the waste that humans create.
A dairy farm with 2500 cows creates more feces and urine than a city the size of Cleveland, Ohio. Yet there are no sewage management systems in place as are required in human communities.
That waste is filled with pathogens, pharmaceuticals, and excessive nutrients harmful to the environment. Polluted water from waste is stored in large onsite cesspools or is used as fertilizer on crops. Rivers, streams and ground water gets contaminated when these cesspools rupture, leach or leak or through run-off from fertilized crops. Industrial crop growing for animal feed also creates water filled with huge amounts of pesticides, fertilizer and heavy metals. Contaminated water is a serious threat to both aquatic ecosystems and public health.
Air: Confining large numbers of animals together causes the release and concentration of emissions that both degrade air quality and add to greenhouse gases. Factory farms are responsible for releasing particulate matter and dangerous compounds, including ammonia, methane and hydrogen sulfide. These emissions can cause foul odors and serious negative health effects on farm workers and the local community. Studies show residents who live near chicken factories suffer high rates of asthma, lung cancer and other pulmonary diseases. Air pollution of from waste containment cesspools has been shown to also cause headaches, nosebleeds, depression and brain damage.
Land: In addition to pesticides, fertilizers and waste that contaminate and degrade the soil, hurting wildlife and humans, we lose land equal to 27 football fields every minute (18 million acres a year) due to intensive farming. The beef industry is responsible for 70% of deforestation in the Amazon and nearly half of all cropland is used to grow animal feed. Forests are home to 80% of all wild land animals and are essential to moderating global warming. Deforestation adds to climate change, mass species extinction and a critical loss of biodiversity.
Deforestation also creates more opportunities for new and dangerous zoonotic pathogens to spread from animals to people, as it forces stressed animals in closer proximity to people.
The United Nations recently declared factory farms to be the leading cause of greenhouse gasses.
Greenhouse gases trap heat from the earth’s surface causing the earth to warm leading to climate change.
Billions of animals confined on factory farms are believed to contribute more to climate change than all cars, trucks, trains and planes put together.
Both methane (expelled from cows and animal waste) and nitrous oxide (from waste and fertilizers used for crops to feed “food animals”) are considered many times more potent and damaging than CO2.
There are also many indirect ways in which factory farms contribute to climate change, such as the use of fossil fuels and through deforestation. The release of CO2 as a result of clearing forests is believed to be responsible for 10% of greenhouse gases. While there are several industrialized agricultural trends behind deforestation, the raising of cattle for beef has the largest impact.
Environmental Justice: Many people who live near factory farms live below the poverty line. They experience serious health consequences from air and water pollution. Studies show higher rates of chronic health issues like respiratory and neurological problems, particularly harmful for pregnant women and children. They also suffer quality of life issues, as they can’t spend time outside or even open their windows due to the stench in the air, and reduced property values. But they often can’t afford to move or fight powerful corporate entities.
Weak Regulation and Weaker Enforcement: The fact is that neither animals, humans nor the environment is being protected.
Most people are shocked to learn that there is no oversight of animals on factory farms. No government body is ensuring humane treatment or adequate sanitation on industrialized animal feeding lots.
The USDA only oversees the slaughter and meat packing process. The FDA regulates food safety by inspecting food production facilities. The EPA enforces environmental laws. But resources for all are extraordinarily slim. Even where there is regulation, oversight is minimal and penalties, if imposed, are minimal. According to a recent poll more than half of Americans believe there should be tighter regulation on factory farms.
Ag-Gag Laws: Most people, regardless of whether they consume meat and dairy, want to see animals treated humanely. The food industrial complex is well aware of public sentiment and knows consumers would be outraged by the routine, systemic abuse experienced by animals raised for meat, eggs and dairy. As such, numerous laws have been passed to silence whistle-blowers and undercover activity meant to expose animal cruelty. In some areas of the U.S. the industry is so afraid of the public seeing what happens behind closed doors that people can be charged as terrorists just for exposing violent animal abuse.