“Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.”
― George Orwell, Animal Farm
We humans eat a lot of animals, but three mainly; chicken, pig and cow.
We eat so many of the 'big three' that factory farms are the only way that so many animals can be grown and slaughtered. Factory farming is quick and cheap.
The effects of so many of these factory farms, or intensive animal agriculture operations, are major contributors to the current Anthropocene era.
The Anthropocene era started with the industrial revolution. This is when we started to have a serious impact on the planet different from any era previously. This period in history encompasses the production of plastic metal, concrete and the use of nitrates and phosphates. Animal agriculture since the 1950’s is the number one contributor to climate change.
My parents and grandparents were old enough to live through the 1950's and they would have experienced a period when industrialisation and population growth became governments' primary driving force. It was all about feeding the world. It was the birth of the factory farm.
Science has helped factory farming become the huge industry it is today. It worked with modern industrial agriculture. The factory farm was born.
Like a Frankenstein the ‘chicken of tomorrow’ was born in the late '40’s; a Cornish New Hampshire cross specifically for meat and a Leghorn hybrid for mass laying of eggs. Caged and raised under artificial lighting - the chicken industry we have today.
Nearly 60 billion chickens are killed a year after living a hellish life of captivity, confinement and medication.
99% of all land animals slaughtered are farmed birds.
Americans eat 150 times as many chickens as they did only eighty years ago.
Who eats the most chicken? USA, Australia, Argentina then Brazil.
KFC buys nearly 1 billion chickens a year.
The biggest threat to mankind is currently thought to be a pandemic resulting from birds: factory farmed birds.
1 billion pigs are grown for meat.
They are artificially inseminated and piglets are fattened for meat as quickly as science has allowed, which involves confinement and hormones for approximately 8 months of life. Disease is managed by regular use of antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals.
The beef industry is purported to be the more ‘ethical’ of the food industries compared with pigs and chickens. Cattle on pasture, as they are predominately farmed in NZ, gives the impression of happy exploitation as opposed to the alternative reality of industry owned beef feedlots overseas.
But even a grassy paddock cannot lessen the fact that less than 1% of animals killed for meat in America come from family farms.
Who eats the most beef? Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, USA and then Australia.
The cattle's diet, like the chickens and the pigs, consists of ingredients grown and genetically modified to enable the maximum amount of growth with the minimum amount of husbandry.
60% of the world’s agricultural land is used for beef production.
5.5 million cattle beasts are slaughtered for McDonald’s beef burgers annually.
On a typical factory farm a cocktail of drugs are routinely fed to animals with their feed.
On average an American eats the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime. That’s entire head to toe/tail.
As with the meat industry our demand for milk and dairy products adds to the increasing momentum of industrial scale food production.
In the USA approximately 3 million pounds of antibiotics are given to humans a year. 17.8 million are fed to livestock.
Fish farms especially salmon farms are notorious for sea lice infestations, filthy water and all the problems that go with intensified farming from disease control with antibiotics, to genetically modified non-sea-dwelling feed, to pollution.
Shit, Manure, Effluent.
Animal manure used to be the farmer's friend. Today it pollutes water ways. Runoffs include poisonous gases like ammonia and hydrogen sulphide.
What we do with all the pig and cow effluent as a result of intensive animal production continues to create huge environmental concerns. Chances are the effluent contains a lot more than just poo from the factory farm floor.
Conservative international estimates indicate that chicken, pig, and cattle excrement have polluted 35000 miles of rivers in 22 states in the USA.
Entire fish populations have been wiped out when pig effluent seeps into waterways.
Faecal mists are common occurrences for people who live within close proximity to pig and chicken farms. Sore throats, headaches, diarrhoea.
Studies have shown that animal waste emits airborne particles that cause inflammation in humans.
The Plastic and intensive animal agriculture.
Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
The Great Pacific Garbage patch is located in the North Pacific Ocean: 700,000 sq km of plastic is trapped in the ocean's currents. 4% of all seabird species, 22% of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies. Fish caught for consumption is also likely to contain plastic in its flesh, amongst other pollutants in the sea.
93% of Americans have tested positive for chemical BPA in their blood. BPA is Bisphenol A and has been used since 1957 in a lot of wrappings for food products to poly carbonate water drink bottles.
The animal feed.
Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined. It’ is a huge cause of global warming.
Approximately 80% of total agricultural land is dedicated to the production of feed for animals.
Deforestation is necessary for growing crops and to farm some animals especially in what we call undeveloped countries. Check out the graph below and you can see the meat industries starting up business in these places. Corn and soy production is mainly GM crops, Palm oil plantations in Indonesia and the soy plantations in the Amazon jungle provide a basis of the animal feed we use here in New Zealand.
Transportation of foods, heating and air conditioning, plastic, metal, and concrete all depend heavily on the mining of fossil fuels.
The fertiliser industry is a huge contributor to climate change.
The use of pharmaceuticals is inseparable from factory farming.
The top three genetically modified crops most commonly used in animal feed are corn, soy and cottonseed. 88% of corn grown in the USA is genetically modified, soy 93% and cottonseed 94%.
Herbicides like glyphosate are routinely used when growing these crops. It has never been proven to be safe to us. It’s clear from studies done that as a minimum it does kill frogs. In 2015 the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Lyon-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared that that glyphosate "probably" causes cancer in humans and classified it as a 'Group 2A' carcinogen. In 2016 the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization said glyphosate is "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans" exposed to it through food. The chair of the meeting between the WHO and the IARC, Professor Alan Boobis, also works as vice-president of the International Life Science Institute (ISLI). In 2012, ILSI received a $500,000 (US) donation from Monsanto and a $528,500 (US) donation from Croplife International, a representative of Monsanto, Dow, and others.
NZ alone imported 193,000 tonnes of soy for animal feed, much of which was grown in Argentina where GM crops are grown.
The production of one kilo of beef requires 15,414 litres of water on average. Sheep require 8,763 litres and pig 5,988 litres, chicken 4,325 litres. Vegetables on the other hand require 322 litres.
Good farming practices and good animal husbandry has largely been lost by farming animals so intensively.
The bottom line with all factory farming is that optimal health is not the aim, factory farming is all about optimal profitability.
Our hunger for meat
Farming has only became a problem since we decided to eat more meat than any other culture in history.
The 1950’s saw industry and science combined to take animal husbandry from the farmers and instead gave the control to industries and corporations.
Incidental to the geological Anthropocene story but intrinsically linked, are the health effects on the human population because of our cultural obsession with eating meat. There has been a steady increase in the incidences of food borne illnesses particularly with chicken and pork, common diet related diseases are also linked with meat and dairy consumption. For example heart disease, strokes, auto immune diseases and many forms of cancer.
One cannot talk about factory farming without talking about the many ways that animals are treated in order to feed us. This can be an uncomfortable subject as it raises questions around what we consider acceptable torture.
The protein myth
While the US Department of Agriculture continues to set the dietary guidelines adopted in the western world and supports the meat and dairy industries we can’t realistically expect any change in habits to come from this direction. Until plants are rightly recognised as being more than an adequate source of protein the general public will continue to suffer the effects of not eating enough of them.
Diet for change- Personal Choices
Until governments agree on the issues that negatively impact people and the planet then there is only a small chance of any change.
Perhaps climate change which includes many of these issues is the filter from which we can make amends.
Change is at its most effective when it starts on a personal level. So an easy answer to the problem that is factory farming of animals, is to eat less meat, eat better quality meat. Eat meat from small local farmers who advocate openly for good animal husbandry practices. As Michael Pollen has said "Eat mostly plants". Or don’t eat animal at all.
We are the only species on the planet that is capable of moral decision making.
“Becoming vegan is the most important and direct change we can immediately make to save the planet and its species.” ― Chris Hedges
pLANT BASED EATING
One in eight British adults has now given up eating meat and fish, according to new research by analysts Mintel. Some 12% now follow vegetarian or vegan diets, rising to 20% of those aged between 16 and 24.
Millions more are “flexitarians” cutting back substantially on the amount of meat they eat, and cows milk they drink.
This has led to a booming (£625million-a-year in 2013) market for meat-free products.
Rose Thorn OFM
“The distinguishing mark of man is the hand, the instrument with which he does all his mischief.”
― George Orwell, Animal Farm