The decisions we make as consumers resonate around the world. Some of us enjoy a nice steak dinner, chicken or other animal dishes without much consideration/thought to the production, processes, resources, people, and the impact on the planet. With an increase in animal agriculture, meat consumption has become one of the driving forces behind many of the major threats to humanity’s future.  The purchasing of vast quantities of beef, chicken, pork and fish are driving the depletion and destruction on our health and the environment.

Factory Farm Animals

Most animals are raised on industrial factory farms – an intensive crop production with emphasis on efficiency and profits, and minimal regards to the environment, human health, or humane treatment of the animals. Thousands of animals are raised in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Many spend their lives indoors without sunlight or fresh air, while animals raised outdoors (mainly cows), are often confined to large tracks of barren land, with no grass or trees nearby. These environments restrict the natural movement and behavior of the animals, and with overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, they often becoming sick. To combat disease from these inhumane practices, the animals are given daily doses of antibiotics, and are fed hormones and antibiotics to promote faster growth.

Energy Consumption and Global Warming

According to the World Watch Institute, meat consumption has increased by 500 percent since 1950. The average U.S. diet now requires twice as much water per-person per day, and uses nine times as much carbon as a vegetarian meal made with domestic ingredients that don’t have to be hauled long distances. Producing eight ounces of beef requires 25,000 liters of water. Producing and transporting meat products also takes far more fossil-fuel energy than to deliver equivalent amounts of protein from plant sources. The strong use of heavy machinery, and thus fossil fuels, contribute significantly to the emission of global-warming gases. The denouement of meat consumption and production poses great risk to animals, humans and the environment.

Threat to our environment and health

Animal waste in the U.S. produces vast amounts of manure that pollute our rivers and streams, causing toxic pollution of air, water, and endangerment to human health. On factory farms, man-made lagoons hold millions of gallons of animal waste, and when improperly stored or used, leaks onto the surrounding land polluting rivers and underground drinking water supplies. The fishes we depend on become contaminated, and millions have died from waste spilled from lagoons. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that livestock waste has polluted more than 27,000 miles of rivers. Factory farms also cause air pollution, from dust generated by animal activity, and gases emitted from the decomposition of animal wastes. This may result in respiratory illness, increase vulnerability to respiratory diseases and lung inflammation. Last year, the New York Times reported that “estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from waterborne parasites, viruses or bacteria, including those stemming from human and animal waste”.

As the demand for meat increases, we’ll continue to face these problems along with meat –related diseases, biodiversity and threat to humanity’s future. As citizens of this planet, we have a responsibility to make decisions and lifestyle choices that sustain the environment. Support sustainable farming (or restaurant affiliate), that considers the animals, people and environment in their production methods. Support the local communities in your town to build a demand for alternatively raised meat and economic viability for farmers. And if you should eat meat – eat very little and not too often, or join the millions of people going vegetarian or vegan.

For more information:

Factory Farming and the Industrial Culturehttp://www.sustainabletable.org/2009/04/factory-farming/

Facts about meat http://www.worldwatch.org/node/1495

U.S. EPA report -Animal Waste http://www.epa.gov/region9/animalwaste/problem.html#air

Livestock, red meat and the environment – http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/92/1/Cutting-meat-consumption.html

U.S. Department of Agriculture–Profiling Food Consumption in Americahttp://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.htm

Farm Animal Statisticshttp://www.humanesociety.org/news/resources/research/stats_meat_consumption.html

World News – Truth about meat and factory farms (Video) http://wn.com/factory_farms