Factory farming is the mass production of animals for increases in profitability and economic efficiencies. Minnesota is one of the largest factory farming states in the country. We slaughter more turkeys than any other state, we are third in “pork” and mink pelt production, and are also a significant dairy, red meat and egg producing state. Our heavy involvement with animal agriculture makes it even more critical that we understand how factory farming and intensive agriculture negatively impact the environment, human health, animals and small organic farmers.
Eating Veggies Helps Save Energy
John Robbins, author of the book, “Diet for a New America,” reveals some interesting statistics on America’s production of animal flesh and fluid:
If humans switched from a meat-based diet to a plant-based one, the world’s petroleum reserves would last 260 years, as opposed to 13.
Raising animals for food requires more than one-third of all raw materials and fossil fuels in the U.S. If we all adopted a vegetable- based diet, only 2 percent of raw materials would be used.
The creation of a single hamburger patty (often containing the flesh of up to 100 different cows) uses enough fossil fuel to power a car 20 miles and enough water for 17 warm showers.
More than half of the U.S. water supply goes to livestock production.
If water used by the meat industry were not subsidized by taxpayers, common hamburger meat would cost $35 a pound. You need 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat — 2,500 gallons to generate a pound of meat.
This is ridiculously wasteful.
The Environmental Protection Agency identifies 60 percent of U.S. rivers and streams as having impaired water quality, and wastes from animal agriculture create three times more organic water pollution than all other industrial sources combined.
This, all for bacon, eggs and a glass of milk?
Factory farming is resource-intensive and wasteful, which is partly why the Union of Concerned Scientists in their publication, The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices considers reducing our meat consumption as one of the most important things we can do to help the environment. Anywhere from seven to 16 lbs. of grain are needed to create one pound of edible cow flesh. One pound of pig flesh requires three to five pounds of grain, and to make one pound of chicken flesh, one-and-a-half to two pounds of grain are needed. These inefficiencies mean that the resources used to grow crops – land, water, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, gas for tractors, etc. – multiply as much as 16 times when we eat animals instead of plant foods. In the U.S., more than 70% of grain grown is fed to livestock. Our dependence on eating animals has resulted in massive deforestation, topsoil erosion, the depletion of our fresh-water aquifers and the introduction of harmful chemical pesticides and fertilizers into our soil and water.
Grazing cattle is also problematic. It is responsible for plant species extinction, topsoil erosion, desertification of our arable land and the Bureau of Land Management’s wildlife extermination programs. Even worse, most grazing is done on public lands, meaning your tax dollars help subsidize this environmental devastation. Besides squandering resources, animal agriculture pollutes. When thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of animals are concentrated in tiny buildings, the quantities of manure they generate can be devastating. In Minnesota, manure has contaminated drinking water and rivers, killing off millions of fish and destroying fragile river ecosystems. According to the Sierra Club, farmed animals in the U.S. generate 2.7 trillion lbs. of manure each year – that’s roughly 10,000 lbs. of manure per U.S. citizen. That manure has contaminated 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 different states and groundwater in 17 states. Once again, we taxpayers are left to clean up factory farming’s mess.
Even more heart wrenching is the way factory farms mistreat animals. Animals are separated from the love, protection and education of their mothers as quickly as possible. Chickens, turkeys and ducks never meet their mothers as they are hatched in mechanized hatcheries. The infant animals then endure a battery of mutilations without painkillers. Pigs endure tail-docking, eyeteeth removal, ear notching and males are castrated. Hens are debeaked and declawed. Bovines are dehorned and branded. The animals are over-crowded in tiny, filthy, stressful, disease-inducing warehouses. Sick or injured animals are not provided any individualized care and will suffer with their condition until they die or somebody kills them. Manipulation of animals through hormone injections, antibiotics in the feed, selective breeding and other practices are common to boost production.
What You Can Do
1. Eat a vegan diet!
2. Volunteer for and financially support organizations opposed to factory farms
3. Support laws to:
End subsidies to factory farms
Ban cruel farming practices
Get livestock off public lands
Create more strict and better-enforced environmental regulations
4. Support the pro-democracy movement to dismantle corporate dominance
Thankfully, we do not have to support the violent, resource wasting and environmentally destructive practices of factory farms. Millions of people have already chosen to adopt a vegan diet for just this reason. A vegan diet exludes all animals or animal products like milk and eggs. According to the American Dietetics Association’s Position Paper of Vegetarian Diets, research shows that a varied vegan diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, peas, beans and lentils actually reduces one’s risk of heart disease, breast, prostate and colon cancer, obesity, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and other degenerative diseases while providing adequate nutrition.
Eating vegan in the Twin Cities is easy. The numerous co-ops and health food stores stock many vegan convenience foods. Even large grocery store chains have created natural food sections. Because of the wide array of available look-a-like products, most of your favorite recipes can be veganized so you don’t have to miss out on flavor. Certainly, people have certain tastes and you may not like all vegan foods. The good news is that you don’t have to! Just keep trying and exploring and you are bound to find many new foods to enjoy.
Some people fear that if they become a vegan, they will take away jobs from small farmers. The truth is that factory farming is to blame for small farmers losing their jobs. Factory farms use capital-intensive machines to automate animal production so labor is kept to a minimum. This allows them to produce animals in huge quantities and inexpensively. When the market is flooded with cheap animal products, smaller, more labor-intensive farmers cannot compete and are driven out of the industry. In our efforts to combat factory farms, vegans and small farmers should be seen as natural allies, not opponents.
In addition to exploring a vegan diet, there are other actions you can take to oppose factory farms. You can volunteer and financially support organizations opposed to factory farms. You can support legislative efforts to end subsidies for animal agriculture, ban cruel farming methods and create stricter, better enforced environmental regulations. You can support the pro-democracy movement, which seeks to redefine corporations in their historical role as legal fictions subordinate to the will of the people. These changes would hold factory farm corporate directors legally accountable for corporate behavior that breaks environmental and animal protection laws.