When we do think of farms, we conjure up a pastoral scene with languid, plump, cheerful animals milling around in fields of green grass and wild flowers. The reality of farming in North America couldn’t be more different from the farms we see in movies and photographs.
Americans, as some of the largest consumers of meat in the world, practice some of the cruelest factory farming methods in the world. Part of greening our diets means acknowledging and reconfiguring the current system of water pollution, greenhouse gases, misuse of land and animal cruelty associated with factory farming, meat, milk and egg consumption.
Meat Consumption & Cruelty
Factory farming is an undeniable source of animal suffering and cruelty. Unfortunately, as so much of it is done behind closed doors, the consumer is unaware of the reality of factory farming. The David Suzuki Foundation explains, “Factory farming, whether it's for pork, beef, chicken or salmon, treats animals like raw materials that are processed and turned into an end product — meat. Animals in these systems are literally treated like inert matter. Little thought is given to their welfare”.
Think occasionally of the suffering which you spare yourself the sight.
More than 340 million laying hens are kept in battery cages in the USA. More than 9 billion broiler chickens are kept in windowless metal sheds, fed antibiotics, growth hormones and slaughtered in the USA each year. An estimated 35 million cattle live on feedlots in the USA; many slaughterhouses kill more than 250 cattle an hour, not leaving any room for compassionate or humane slaughter. Pigs, highly social and intelligent animals, die at the rate of 112 million per year in North America. Veal, or baby calves, are kept in confined crates until they are slaughtered at approximately 16 weeks old. Captive ducks are force fed corn several times a day to engorge their liver to ten times its normal size. It is an impossibility to consume factory-farmed meat, poultry or eggs without contributing to a system of animal cruelty. Eliminating meat and chicken from your diet will save more than 100 animal lives each year.
Meat & Climate Change
The David Suzuki Foundation advocates for reducing meat intake by having one meat free meal each week; meat production and processing requires far more water than any other form of food production. In 2000, 41% of all freshwater consumed by humans in the United States was used for agriculture reports Sustainable Table, a natural food advocacy group. It takes more than five pounds of grain and 2,500 gallons of water to make just one pound of beef.
An estimated 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is now used for animal pasture.
Cattle, sheep and goats are considered to be the world’s major contributors to methane production. The National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science reports that producing a kilogram of beef results in greenhouse gases with a warming potential equivalent to an estimated 36.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide. Professor Tony McMichael, with the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University, reports that the high-income world consumes about 200-300 grams per day of meat; Sub-Sahara Africa consumes about 1/8 of the American meat intake.
Meat & Pollution
Industrial agriculture is one of the leading causes of water pollution in the United States reports Sustainable Table. Agricultural activity was identified as the source of pollution for more than 48% of stream and river water, and for 41% of lake water, reported the Environmental Protection Agency in a 2002 National Water Quality study. The Toronto Vegetarian Association reports that meat production contributes to wilderness destruction, soil erosion, energy waste and water pollution; livestock now use more than 30% of the earth’s entire land surface. An estimated 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is used for animal pasture.
Animals reared in industrialized conditions are much more prone to diseases than animals reared in pastoral settings. Animals are fed an unnatural bulking diet to guarantee that the animals go from birth to slaughterhouse in the shortest amount of time, coupled with an additive, hormone and antibiotic-intensive diet, factory farm animals are deliberately kept sedentary in confined spaces to increase ‘fattening’ and maximize meat productivity. The close quarters and unhealthy diets place factory farm animals under considerable stress and create a ripe environment for disease to spread.
Green Your Diet
Consuming even 10% less meat is a significant contribution to reducing climate change, pollution and animal cruelty. If you do decide to pursue what best-selling author Michael Pollan describes in the Omnivore’s Dilemma — the decision to consume an omnivorous diet — Pollan stresses the need to “know thy farmer”.
Numerous small, non-industrialized farms exist where animals are raised in accordance with their natural needs and are slaughtered humanely. Organic or naturally grown meats are free from hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified feeds or additives, and the animals have not suffered unnecessarily during their lives. Reducing factory farmed meat and poultry consumption is an important step in supporting sustainable agriculture, reducing greenhouse gases, water waste and fostering respect for all living beings.
Animal Liberation Front: http://www.animalliberationfront.com/
Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals: http://www.humanefood.ca/
Compassion For World Farming: http://www.ciwf.org.uk/
Chicken Out: http://www.chickenout.ca/
Dr. Temple Grandin: http://www.templegrandin.com/
Farmed and Dangerous: http://www.farmedanddangerous.org/
Factory Farming Farm Sanctuary: http://www.farmsanctuary.org/
Go Veg: http://www.goveg.com/
Sustainable Table: http://www.sustainabletable.org/
Toronto Vegetarian Association: http://veg.ca/
To find out what goes on behind closed slaughterhouse doors, visit Meat: What the Meat Industry Doesn’t Want You to See: http://www.meat.org/
The Meatrix highlights the problems with factory farming. Join heroes Moopehus, Leo, and Chickity as they help save family farms: http://www.themeatrix.com