The short answer is yes: meat production and consumption on a mass scale currently does pollute the environment, worsen climate change, and exhaust our natural water supply. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a carnivorous diet in a more sustainable way.
HOW DOES MEAT PRODUCTION CAUSE POLLUTION?
Animals on US factory farms generate about 500 million tons of manure every year. That’s a lot of poo to manage. At the same time, we don’t have any animal sewage processing plants to take care of all of that manure in a safe way.
So what happens to the millions of tons of animal waste? Without adequate containment, it usually winds up in surrounding groundwater, lakes, and streams as a result of farm run off. When combined with phosphorus-based fertilizers, this manure run off does a lot of damage to the ecosystems humans and wildlife depend on.
Some farms will attempt to fix this problem by spraying manure into the air. However, the same water-polluting bacteria, viruses, and other toxins can also damage our air quality.
DOES MODERN FACTORY FARMING CAUSE CLIMATE CHANGE?
Globally, animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than any other source. That massive carbon footprint is one of the major reasons climate change is accelerating. As a matter of fact, the United Nations has even recommended a global shift towards a plant-based diet in order to combat this problem.
The reason why is because raising and transporting animals produces a lot of CO2 and methane gases. Farm animals not only expel toxic amounts of greenhouse gases during their lifetimes, in order to move meat products all over the country, we use all kinds of carbon-generating vehicles.
HOW MUCH WATER DOES ANIMAL AGRICULTURE USE?
Unfortunately, it’s not just meat itself that can harm the environment – dairy products do too. It can take up to 683 gallons of water to produce just 1 gallon of milk and 1800 gallons to produce 1 pound of beef.
This is because cows, pigs, chickens, and other farm animals need to drink a lot of water in order to survive. The more of these animals (and their milk) we consume, the more animals we have to raise and care for.
It also takes even more water to produce the crops all of those animals eat. As a result, some states devote up to 80% of their total water consumption to farming and ranching.
WHAT IS ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY FARMING?
Don’t worry – you don’t necessarily have to choose between the planet and enjoying a hamburger. Sustainable farming is possible if we are willing to implement new strategies.
Beneficial changes to an animal’s feed and care practices can lower their total greenhouse gas emissions by 30%. As a bonus, more environmentally conscious farming also improves animal health and quality of life. Cleaner, happier, healthier animals also produce higher quality meat and lower the risk of humans contracting pathogenic bacteria and disease from that meat.
Shifting to an agricultural model that relies on smaller farms also reduces the impact of toxic farm run-off on local lakes and streams. Fewer animals on a farm can also prevent our essential aquifers from becoming exhausted before they can naturally recharge through the water cycle.
Protecting our environment doesn’t require drastically altering our diets, but it does require a financial investment in better farming practices and strategies.
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