Progress, Development, and the Affect on the Environment
Part of what we encounter as civilization marches ever onward is the realization that the built environment doesn’t always “work” with the natural environment. Sometimes, this is a matter of real pollution that affects our water, soil, or air. Universities expand, business grow — prosperity is often the reward of hard work and the nurturing of a truly great idea, or a product that people really need to make their lives better or easier. But what about consideration of the environment, and how we impact the natural world around us?
Taking stock of how development and expansion impacts the environment should always be considered an essential component of growth, whether it’s growth of a corporate campus, or the growth of a successful ranching enterprise. Regardless of the type of development, there will be some type of undue influence on the environment and natural surroundings — trees, habitat, possibly wildlife, waterways, etc. — and all of it will need to be considered (for more information on conducting tree or environmental surveys before you begin development, click here). And today, we look at one type of modern development and its effects on the environment: factory farming.
What Is Factory Farming, and How Does It Work?
Factory farming, also known as intensive farming or industrial animal agriculture, is designed to lower costs and maximize production. This is accomplished in a number of ways. First, the animals are packed as densely as possible, and their movements must be severely restricted, in order to facilitate such cramped conditions. Many animals never see sunlight until it is time for slaughter.
Second, using various methods, such as growth hormones, the animals’ growth rates are artificially increased, dramatically reducing the time necessary to reach slaughter weight. Third, labor costs are reduced by utilizing machines to do much of the necessary work. From a business standpoint, all of this makes sense. After all, what business doesn’t want to lower their costs and keep more of their earnings?
So, What’s Wrong With Factory Farming?
Well, for one thing, the lives these animals are forced to live are nothing like the pictures of cows happily grazing in green fields, that one might see in an advertisement for dairy products. A second, very serious drawback of factory farming is the environmental impact.
As it turns out, factory farming is more detrimental to the environment than anything else we humans are doing. You may be surprised to know that this method of farming creates more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation put together. That’s right… planes, trains and automobiles are no match for factory farming, when it comes to greenhouse gases.
The animals themselves produce large amounts of ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, nitrous oxide, and a host of other harmful chemicals. Not only that, but the fossil fuels, used by factory farms to produce feed, and to process the animals, release 90 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere yearly. And, if that isn’t enough to make you cringe, the deforestation necessary to make room for grazing and feed crops causes CO2 emissions estimated at 2.4 billion tons per year, worldwide.
Factory Farming and Water Pollution
In addition to being a major factor in greenhouse gas emissions, factory farms are also responsible for more than their share of water pollution. For example, excessive fertilization of cropland causes nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen to contaminate rivers, lakes, and streams. This can foster unnaturally aggressive algae growth, and lower the pH level and oxygen concentration of the water, making it uninhabitable for aquatic wildlife.
The close quarters and unsanitary conditions of factory farms also make them ideal breeding grounds for infectious diseases. In order to keep the animals alive long enough to slaughter, staggering quantities of antibiotics must be used. This practice creates drug-resistant pathogens, which are harder to treat, and therefore, very dangerous to human beings.
If you’re still with me, you’re probably concerned about this situation. Other than going vegetarian, what can you, as an ethical, environmentally conscious meat eater, do? Well, if you’re going to buy your meat from big chain grocery stores, you might think that opting for free-range meat would do the trick. Unfortunately, the use of that term (and many others) is not at all tightly regulated, and you really don’t know what you’re getting.
Many ethical omnivores have instead turned to buying their meat from farmers’ markets, where they can ask questions directly of the meat producer. CSAs (or meat collectives) are another popular option. Your typical CSA has established relationships with local farmers, and has already asked all of the important questions, which takes the guesswork out of purchasing meat.
[Photo Via: flexyourfood.com]