When someone talks about climate change, most people think of the fossil fuels as the chief malefactors of the problem. But there’s another major factor that most people don’t know or don’t want to acknowledge and this factor has been silently contributing to climate change. Animal farming may seem like an apparently harmless tradition that mankind has been practicing over thousands of years but it is a major contributor to global carbon emissions.
Environmentally, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse emissions than all modes of transport combined. Here’s how:
- Methane, the worst part of the problem, is a major by-product of animal farming.
- Methane is 22 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
- One cow easily produces around 55 gallons of methane in just a single day.
- The total cattle population in the world is nearing a billion which leaves us with billions of gallons of methane produced every day.
No wonder global emissions are on a constant rise. But sadly, not only people are unwilling to cut down on meat and other animal products, there’s in fact an increase in their demand. While in part it’s due to the lack of awareness about environmental impact of animal farming, the other reason is the sheer lack of sensitivity towards the environment and the innocent animals.
With increasing population, demand for animal based food has increased significantly. Milk production has doubled in the last fifty years. When it comes specifically to meat, we have been producing over four times what we were producing fifty years ago. Nearly 80 billion animals are slaughtered each year for human consumption and a big proportion of these animals are factory farmed. To meet huge consumer demands, livestock rearing has burgeoned considerably.
Livestock production has visibly impacted environmental on greenhouse gas emissions, land and water use. In fact, within animal products some have much bigger carbon footprint than others. Take lamb for example. It has the highest carbon emission followed closely by beef. Both these meat types leave behind much more carbon footprints than pork and poultry. That does not justify eating pork and poultry. However, it would suit the environment more if people choose poultry over lamb and beef.
The even better option is to avoid meat and dairy products altogether and stick to a vegan diet. Such an abstinence can seem very difficult for most people around the world. But people need to understand that high dependency on animal based foods can lead to water depletion over time. It’s sad to see that most dairy and meat consumers are either not conscious about the ethical aspect of animal farming or they simply choose to overlook it.
- Environmental impact of animal farming is extremely grim in itself.
- Animal agriculture requires mass rearing in limited areas such as factory farms.
- The rearing conditions of factory farms are extremely poor with barely any space and sunlight.
- Most factory farms feed animals with unnatural nutrition that makes them grow profusely thus producing more meat.
- All the abnormal growth coupled with poor living conditions, sickness and lack of natural surroundings makes the animals suffer greatly.
But this environmental-cum-ethical crisis extends beyond factory farms. Whether reared in a factory farm or in natural surroundings, killing another living, thriving animal for our own consumption cannot be ethically justified in any way.
While there are ample vegan and vegetarian options available in the market, meat consumption is still on the rise which not only speaks poorly of our environmental choice but of our ethical disposition as well. Some meat-evangelists may even suggest that there are more humane ways of production such as organically reared poultry, farm fed cattle and the much ironical phenomenon of ‘humane slaughter’. Just assuming that there may be humane ways to raise and kill animals is a terrible justification for a practice that is no longer needed. This indicates a total collapse of compassion among the humans. This apathy arises when people encounter a big problem that requires big solutions.
As if environmental and ethical issues weren’t enough, animal farming has its economic pitfalls as well. It often comes as a surprise to many but the economic antecedents of animal agriculture aren’t very pleasing.
- It is responsible for diverting grains away from the food market to make up for the feeding requirements for the cattle.
- The economically weaker sections of the society are the worst hit due to the grain shortage resulting from this diversion of grains.
- In terms of subsidies and natural resources, animal farming is far more expensive as compared to other food production practices.
- Just one pound of it requires nearly 1,799 gallons of water while a pound of pork takes about 576 gallons.
- The water footprint left behind the animal farming industry is massive while there’s already a visible shortage of potable water across the world.
If that isn’t enough as a warning sign for mankind, we might want to consider the impacts of animal-based products on human health.
- Animal-based food products are not as beneficial for human health as compared to plant-based foods
- Animal-products such as meats and animal fats are known to increase cholesterol levels
- Red meat consumption has long been linked to cardiovascular diseases especially in developed countries where red meat is a regular feature of people’s diet.
- Animal derived products (especially all types of meats) have the potential to carry life-threatening pathogens.
- Viruses and parasites can easily make way into human body via meat consumption
However, all is not lost yet. Animal farming can be and should be curbed gradually. This would require a great deal of understanding about the effects of food production on the environment. We would also require a lot of unlearning about traditional methods of food production. But nothing is impossible if intent and efforts are directed to the right direction.
- Groundwork would involve awareness programs would need to be carried out for both producers and consumers.
- It would require an extensive global plan with several smaller decentralized plans focused on local producers/consumers.
- Awareness programs would also include creation and development of employment initiatives for those leaving behind animal farming.
- Institutional changes could also be of great assistance in bringing this change.
- Development and awareness about food alternatives to meat and dairy would need to be covered through both digital and non-digital awareness campaigns
- These awareness programs would need to clearly mark the benefits of plant-based food products.
The cruel practice of animal farming could be reduced if we act on time. After all, we have only one planet and the rate with which climate change is worsening, we might not have much time at hand. While animal farming is indeed an environmental issue, we must not forget that it is extremely inhuman at its very core. Even the mere idea of killing another being to satiate one’s hunger should have one examining one’s conscience right away.