A recent article published in the International asked the question “Are Factory Farms Inherently Unsustainable?” For those of us who have been following the issue for some time, the question is a rhetorical one; we know the answer is yes.
Putting the animal suffering aside, which is reason enough to close factory farms, the article goes on to document all of the environmental problems factory farming creates. To begins with all those animals produce a lot of methane, a gas that is 21 times more effective in trapping atmospheric heat, and hence contributing to global warming. The problem is exacerbated because cattle are typically fed a diet of cheap corn and soy, and not grass, brush and forage, which is what their systems evolved to digest. Being harder to digest, more gas is produced.
Then there is the waste that goes down. When animals are forced to live in tight, cramped conditions, the ground cannot absorb and neutralize the immense quantities of urine and manure. The waste can seep down into aquifers and find its way into our drinking water as well as our rivers and oceans. In the past this has resulted in enormous in fish kills and created“dead zones” where no animals can live.
While some farms contain waste by keeping animals on concrete floors with collection traps, the collected waste is not treated, and typically gets pumped into a lagoon, where it then just sits and stinks. No one wants it. Lagoons, like any man-made enclosure, can crack because of earthquakes or ground shifts, and heavy rains are a common cause of a lagoons overflowing.
Factory farming is almost entirely reliant on fossil fuels. This includes everything from electricity, heating, ventilation, and lighting, to the trucking in of grain, and the trucking out of animals for slaughter. Unfortunately, the corporations that own these factory farms, convinced our government that their operations are agricultural in nature and not industrial. This effectively skirts many of the laws that regulate industrial pollution.
Factory farms will continue to operate and pollute as long as complacent citizens buy their animal products from factory farm producers. People attracted to the lower prices are actually paying an enormous cost in the way of higher taxes to mitigate the environmental damage these farms cause. If you must eat animals, try to buy only from producers that raise animals naturally and slaughter them humanely.