Producer demand to lessen the environmental impacts of pig farming (animal agriculture) has increased as a result of the intensification of farms and the global expansion in meat output. Phosphorus and nitrogen are the primary pollutants in the environment that come from pig rearing.
Pig farming harms the environment mostly because its waste and excrement get into the nearby neighborhoods and contaminate the air and water with harmful waste particles.
Pig farm waste can contain heavy metals that can be hazardous when consumed, infections, and bacteria that are frequently resistant to antibiotics.
Pig dung also causes groundwater pollution by waste spray into nearby sprinkler-equipped areas and seepage into the ground.
It has been demonstrated that the materials in the spray and trash drift irritate mucous membranes, induce respiratory problems, elevate blood pressure, increase stress, and lower quality of life.
Factory farms are attempting to be as cost-effective as possible with this method of waste disposal. The environmental degradation brought on by pig farming raises the question of environmental injustice because the communities experience negative externalities like pollution and health problems rather than benefit from the operations.
According to the US Department of Agriculture and Consumer Health, “the primary direct environmental impact of pig production is associated with the manure generated.”
Animal manure from farms is frequently pumped straight into a big lagoon, which has an impact on the ecosystem.
Table of Contents
Environmental Impacts of Pig Farming
- Effects on Water Quality
- Effects on Air Quality
- Disease Spread
1. Effects on Water Quality
Swine excrement is kept in vats, sometimes called lagoons, on a lot of industrial pig farms. Salmonella and other infections, as well as medications like antibiotics and antimicrobials, nitrogen, and phosphate, are frequently found in these lagoons.
If the water from these lagoons seeps into the ground and eventually reaches the water table below, it may result in extensive pollution in the watershed in which the farm is situated.
These lagoons release untreated waste back into the environment, in contrast to human sewage, which is always treated with chemical and mechanical filtering.
Spills are the most common source of pollution; however, even in the absence of spills, toxic substances such as nitrates and ammonia can seep into the water table, which is situated slightly below the surface, contaminating the groundwater that the surrounding populations depend on.
An estimated 35,000 kilometers of rivers, spanning more than 20 states, have been affected by manure leaks. A few contributing factors to the environmental issues are insufficient sewage treatment and a deficiency of innovative technologies.
Due to a lack of suitable wastewater treatment facilities, a large number of farms emit contaminated, untreated wastewater into the environment. Certainly, contaminated waste spills and leaks are not unintentional.
2. Effects on Air Quality
Numerous variables related to industrial pig farming have a significant impact on the environment and public health in the communities surrounding factory pig farms. The waste that a huge number of animals produce is one of the biggest problems with intensive animal agriculture.
Similar to human waste, pig feces are highly ammonia- and bacteria-filled.
Hog excrement is typically stored in enormous open-air pits called lagoons at intensive pig farms. Here, anaerobic bacteria break down the waste, which is then sprayed as fertilizer onto fields.
This is known as the lagoon and sprayfield system, and it is still allowed in the US, even in states like North Carolina where the legislature is actively working to outlaw open-air lagoon and sprayfield system operations and replace them with more environmentally friendly waste management techniques.
After that, the waste spreads to other towns, making it impossible for residents to leave their homes to avoid breathing in the stench of pig excrement. Neighboring towns have seen a rise in cancer cases, infections, respiratory disorders, and other health hazards among other negative health repercussions.
An investigation by a team of scientists from the US Department of the Environment and the US Agricultural Research Service revealed that a variety of genes are involved in the conversion of ammonia into nitrogen in wastewater lagoons in North and South Carolina. This suggests that the nitrogen from pig waste may also contribute to acid rain in the surrounding areas.
In one case study, Environmental Health Perspectives tried to demonstrate the link between stress, mood swings, elevated blood pressure, and the stench and pollution levels from swine operations.
Adult volunteers who lived close to swine operations in North Carolina spent two weeks sitting outside for ten minutes every day. They took their blood pressure and noted the amount of hog stench present.
The study discovered that the unpleasant smells from the swine operations were probably linked to an increase in blood pressure, which may lead to an increase in chronic hypertension, just as noise and other comparable environmental stressors.
3. Disease Spread
There are several cases of disease outbreaks in communities that have been linked to the presence of pig farms, especially industrial pig farms.
Outbreaks of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a form of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, have been linked to a specific person working on a pig farm; this is probably because industrialized pig farms frequently use strong antibiotics.
In pig farms, other illnesses including Salmonella, Toxoplasma, and Campylobacter can also proliferate.
When people follow the appropriate safety procedures, such as cleaning their hands and clothes, using face masks, and covering any open wounds when they come into contact with pigs, many of these infections can be avoided.
The lack of a rise in disease outbreaks in North Carolina, despite a four-fold increase in the pig population in the years preceding 1998, is frequently attributed to advancements in farmer education about illnesses.
One of the biggest problems we will face in the upcoming decades is unquestionably how to meet the increasing demand for food around the world. It will be necessary for the productive sector—which includes agriculture and livestock—to feed a growing population without sacrificing the ability of coming generations to meet their requirements.
Stated differently, the creation of sustainable agri-food systems is a need. Pig farming is already a highly productive industry that contributes significantly to global food security.
However, in terms of environmental sustainability, there is still space for development.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.