The consequences of our current laws and attitudes towards non-human animals are incredibly far-reaching: what we put on our dinner plate is not an isolated event, but part of a long chain of global issues. It is a colossal problem that needs addressing swiftly; not only is it a violation of the animals’ liberty, but it is devastating for ourselves and the entire environment.
In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) described livestock farming as ‘…one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems’.
The overwhelming majority of meat is factory farmed – in the US 99% of meat has been ‘manufactured’ in this way. According to the Worldwatch Institute, in 2006; 74 percent of the world’s poultry, 43 percent of beef, 50 percent of pork, and 68 percent of eggs were produced using intensive factory farming systems.
Factory farming creates a range of pollution problems that have huge effects on both the natural environment and the billions of animals and plants that inhabit them. Factory farming is not only a grotesque moral atrocity, but it is also potentially the greatest environmental disaster in the making. If we continue our reckless and ignorant exploitation of fellow animals we will end up causing irrevocable damage to entire ecosystems – ecosystems that we ourselves live in and rely upon with be ruined, not only for ourselves but for billions of other sentient beings.
Industrial animal farming is poisoning the earth’s water system, endangering human public health and contributing to global warming equally or moreso than worldwide transportation. Factory farming accounts for 37% of methane (CH4) emissions. Methane has more than 20 times the global warming potential of CO2.
Environmentally, our insatiable demand for flesh brings with it an incredible harm to huge amounts of life. The sheer amount of faecal waste is staggering – it is several times the amount of the human population. Let’s not forget the scale of factory farming: there are tens of billions of animals worldwide, each year living and defecating.
The manure and urine gets funnelled into massive waste lagoons. These giant cesspools often leak and overflow, sending dangerous microbes, nitrate pollution and drug-resistant bacteria into the water system. These vile lagoons also emit toxic gases such as ammonia, hydrogen sulphide and methane. In the US, the pork industry alone produces 650,000 tons of manure every single day.
Furthermore, animal waste is a prime source of disease-causing pathogens, including Salmonella, E. coli, Cryptosporidium, which is often the source for contaminated fruit and vegetable produce.
Aside from the massive contribution to global warming, human health is also damaged severely, mainly due to the excessive and reckless use of sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics fed pre-emptively to entire populations of farm animals. It turns out that actually generally half of all antibiotics (80% in the US) are given to farm animals. This creates the perfect training ground for super-bugs and other strains of super-resistant viruses. MRSA, H1N1 (swine flu) and H5N1 (bird flu) all originated in factory farms. Antibiotics used to treat a wide variety of diseases – including TB and gonorrhoea – are becoming increasingly less effective.
Not only does our desire for meat create super-bugs that are super-resistant to antibiotics, but our capability to fight other diseases is reduced.
When you consider that half of antibiotics go into the very meat that people are consuming, you are contributing to multiple world problems, as well as harming your own health. People are consuming animals that have been raised in tremendously cruel and diseased conditions, kept alive using antibiotics to manufacture their sickly flesh; we are simultaneously causing great environmental damage and nurturing super-bugs that could potentially kill millions of people worldwide as well as rendering human medicine less effective.
Our moral blindness and refusal to give up eating meat is self-sabotage. We must change our meat eating ways; both ethically and practically, we cannot afford to continue – it is time for a change in perspective. For those who refuse to be swayed by the robust moral arguments, factory farming is simply further evidence that our culture of animal consumption is intrinsically harmful. Also, the stark realities of the damage caused illustrate the sense of urgency of the situation – the need to act sooner rather than later. It is a reminder of the penalty we will pay if we fail to act quickly enough and decisively enough.
In summary, we need address the core issue: that consuming animals is morally untenable and environmentally destructive. We must realise the need for collective action. With the population continuing to grow and total meat production only increasing, the animals will continue to be even worse off; continued reckless antibiotic use will continue to threaten world health and waste billions on dealing with ongoing impact of factory farming on human health and medicine.
Further Reading, Facts and figures: