Factory farming has increased exponentially over the last half century as the demand for mass produced, cheap food has increased. It means developed nations often have food surpluses and low production costs. But this efficiency has a cost, and it’s animals, the environment and natural resources which are paying the price. As much as one third of global greenhouse gas emissions are as a result of our food production, much of it from these intensive farming practises.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
It’s estimated that fossil fuels used in the factory farming industry contribute to more than 90 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Methane, a gas commonly produced by livestock, has the potential to contribute 20 times more towards global warming than CO2 emissions, and over 37% of global methane emissions are caused by factory farming. Some scientists argue that livestock farming is actually a greater cause of air pollution than all our transportation emissions combined.
Loss of Forests and Natural Habitats
The US Department of Agriculture reports that almost 10 billion animals are slaughtered each year for human consumption in the United States alone. The consequences extend far beyond the fate of just these creatures, as intensive farming is required to feed these animals over their all-too-short lifespans. The UN calculates that, quite staggeringly, over 30% of earth’s land mass is used for feeding and rearing these animals.
To meet the demands of these intensive farming practices, deforestation is happening at an alarming rate. The US has lost 260 million acres of forest to animal feed production, and it’s estimated that the rate of global warming could have increased by 50% due to farming-driven deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
Industrial agriculture is incredibly water-intensive, being responsible for 70% of the world’s freshwater use. As well as using up reserves of fresh water, the industry is also responsible for devastating pollution of waterways around the world. The United States Environmental Protection Agency attributes 75% of all water quality problems in the country’s waterways and rivers to industrial farming practices, a result of animal waste, pesticide use, and toxic algae blooming from animal antibiotics.
Lack of crop rotation
In order to meet the incredible demands of animal feed production, industrial farming has had to turn to single-crop production processes, or monoculture farming. Dedicating vast swathes of farmland to the production of just a few crop varieties leverages significant risk upon society, as it exposes us to the possibility of climate change or crop epidemics decimating our capacity to produce enough food. As well as these risks, monoculture farming requires intensive use of pesticides to combat insects, and synthetic fertilizers to replace the naturally occurring minerals that would result from mixed-variety production.
Non-renewable energy sources
The production of pesticides and fertilizers requires fossil fuels. Significant amounts of fossil fuels. The carbon emitted from these processes alone equates to 41 million tons of CO2 per year. That figure doesn’t even include the fuel used for transportation of livestock or waste disposal.
Animal farming is incredibly inefficient, and it’s been calculated that producing a calorie of animal protein requires 10 times the amount of fossil fuel energy than a calorie of plant protein does.
What you can do to help
Studies have highlighted that one of the most significant contributions we can make as individuals in the fight against climate change is to consume less meat. There is no question that meat production is one of the biggest culprits in rising global temperatures. We’re not going to suggest everyone become vegan overnight, but we can all make a significant impact by simply replacing meat from a couple of meals per week with plant-based alternatives.
While the world does continue to produce such high levels of greenhouse gas emissions as a result of factory farming, we can focus our efforts on absorbing those emissions and preventing further destruction of the environments which act as carbon sinks.
We can all make simple choices such as buying rainforest-friendly products, and avoiding palm oil-containing goods, and we can also support the efforts of incredible individuals who are working on the ground to protect and restore forests.
It’s clear that factory farming isn’t just terrible news for the animals, but for us and our planet as a whole. Thankfully, this intensive farming industry only exists because as a population we are demanding so much cheap meat, meaning it’s only a change of habit that is required from us in order to improve the situation.