“Much of the vigorous growth in meat production is due to the rise of industrial animal agriculture, or factory farming,” said Danielle Nierenberg, Director of the Nourishing the Planet Program. “Factory farms pollute the environment through the heavy use of inputs such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used for feed production.”
Large-scale meat production not only has a negative impact on the local environment, it also has significant implications in terms of climate change inputs. Animal wastes release two potent greenhouse gases – methane and nitrous oxide. Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, while nitrous oxide is a whopping 300 times more potent than the carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels. The global demand for meat is an extremely significant contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, and it is one of the main reasons why emissions are continuing to rise at the rate that they are.
Large-scale meat production results in animals being ‘factory-farmed’ in intensive, unhygienic conditions that are conducive to disease outbreaks. Diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, swine flu, avian flu, and mad cow disease result in huge stock losses annually, and consequently also results in grave economic losses in efforts to control these outbreaks. Diseases can also be passed on to humans and pose a serious public health risk.
Impact on Human Health
In order to maintain the health of the livestock and minimize losses due to disease, intensively farmed animals are routinely treated with antibiotics, which ultimately leads to antibiotic resistance in both the animals that are fed the drugs and the humans that inadvertently consume them. According to the Wordwatch Institute’s report, 80% of all antibiotics used in 2009 were used to treat agricultural animals, while only 20% was used to treat human health conditions. Drugs used to maintain the health of intensively farmed animals are not always completely metabolized by the animals and can leach into soil and groundwater where they can contaminate drinking water sources and crops grown for food, posing a severe health risk to humans.Organic farming systems that are based on traditional pastoral farming methods not only offer health benefits to the livestock being raised and to the people that consume them, these methods also benefit the environment. Livestock raised on grassy pastures produce meat that is rich in nutrients yet low in fat compared to meat derived from intensively farmed livestock, which is high in fat and low in nutrients. Eating free-range meat reduces many of the health risks associated with consuming meat products, including the risk of inadvertently consuming growth enhancing hormones, antibiotics and other chemical toxins that are fed to intensively farmed livestock in order to promote growth and maintain herd health. Furthermore, a properly managed pastoral farming system can offer carbon sequestration benefits that can mitigate the climate impacts of meat production to a degree.
“Pastoral farming systems, especially in developing countries, improve food security and sustain the livelihoods of millions of farmers worldwide,” said Nierenberg. “Eating less meat and supporting pastoralist communities at every level is essential to combat the destructive trend of factory farms.”