Over the past few decades, consumers have grown more conscious of the relationship between factory farming and climate change and this is due to the increase in public awareness of animal agriculture.
Particular attention has been paid to factory farming as a production method that is bad for the environment, people, and animals. In this article, we take a deep dive into the relationship between factory farming and climate change.
Table of Contents
What is Factory Farming?
A form of intensive agriculture known as “factory farming” involves crowding large numbers of animals into appallingly small living spaces to maximize profits for firms that sell the animals’ bodies or milk to consumers.
The industrial production model that underpins factory farming aims to maximize output with the fewest inputs possible to boost farmer profits. The factory farming approach places a strong emphasis on mechanization and efficiency, such as automated milking parlors for cows. Because they are viewed as industrial assets, animals’ needs are subordinated to profit.
Is Factory Farming Sustainable?
Because factory farming consumes excessive amounts of energy, water, and land, it is not sustainable. We need more to continue making it. In addition to releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, clearing forests and other habitats also stops fallen trees from absorbing more of the gas.
Because maintaining stressed animals in unhygienic, crowded circumstances produces disease factories, factory farming is not sustainable. Animals are the source of 75% of newly discovered infectious diseases, and pandemic specialists caution that chicken farms in particular are ticking time bombs.
It is estimated that 75 percent of all antibiotics used worldwide are given to agricultural animals, not just to help them grow faster but also to try to keep them alive.
Consequently, pathogens are beginning to change. If a zoonotic pandemic doesn’t destroy humanity, superbugs resistant to antibiotics might.
Because factory farming harms human health, it cannot be sustained. The affordability of producing large quantities of meat, cheese, eggs, and other animal products encourages people to consume them.
These increase the chance of developing heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and some types of cancer.
Animal products are cheap, and the quantity of illness resulting from their consumption is crushing our health systems. This cannot continue in any way.
Factory Farming and Climate Change – How Factory Farming Impacts Climate Change
We talk about factory farming and climate change because producing animal products requires a lot of energy, ruminants emit greenhouse gases through their dung, and because of the destruction of forests and other wild places, animal agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change.
Specifically, it accounts for 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans, which is greater than the fuel produced by all of the world’s vehicles, including cars, buses, trains, and airplanes.
Researchers from Oxford University discovered that even the least sustainable plant milk is still better for the environment than the most sustainable cows’ milk and that animal goods produce far more greenhouse gases than plant products.
For those who believe that consuming locally sourced meat, dairy, and eggs is more environmentally friendly than consuming imported vegan cuisine, they should reconsider.
Only a small percentage of greenhouse gas emissions from food are caused by transportation; the enormous emissions from the process of raising animals greatly outweigh the expense of carrying fruits and vegetables.
Researchers discovered that eating plant-based just one day a week will have the same effect on emissions as “buying local,” which could, at most, result in a 4.5 percent reduction for the average American household. Consume plant-based foods daily to increase your positive impact seven times over.
Factory Farming Pollution – An Overview
The process of raising animals for food requires a lot of resources. Animals need food, water, medicine, shelter, and climate controls (which frequently use energy from fossil fuels and all of these things produce pollution.
The air, land, and water surrounding factory farms are all contaminated, which is a major problem. Given that chicken manure contains chemicals like ammonia, which irritates the respiratory tract and is connected to lung disease, the Food and Water Watch research goes into detail about the air pollution from broiler farms.
Industrial farming regions are quite common places to find pollution in the water and soil. According to Pace University, 10 billion animals produce an incredible amount of manure—roughly one million tons or more.
Not all of the waste is made up of heavy metals and salt traces, which can build up in water and disrupt the food chain. Additionally, it has hazardous levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, the latter of which can turn water anoxic and incapable of supporting life.
Furthermore, trace levels of undigested antibiotics, which are administered to the animals to stop bacteria and disease from spreading in such cramped, dirty, crowded environments, are found in animal waste from factory farms.
When that garbage finds its way into the water table, it disrupts entire ecosystems at the bacterial level and eventually gives rise to new, hazardous zoonotic germs that can harm humans just as much as bird flu, swine flu, or the Nipah virus.
12 Environmental Impacts of Factory Farming
Numerous difficulties have arisen from factory farming, such as economic hardships, health challenges for the general public, injustice, cruel treatment of billions of animals, and a massive carbon debt.
Thankfully, research into the roots of these problems and environmentally responsible solutions is increasingly receiving more attention.
- Air Pollution
- Greenhouse Emissions
- Toxic Environments
- Resistance to Antibiotics
- Toxic Antibiotic Chemicals
- Wildlife and Biodiversity
- Fisheries and Oceans
- Water Wastage and Pollution
- Monoculture Farming
- Excessive Use of Fossil Fuels
- Rural Communities
1. Air Pollution
The confinement of numerous animals in small quarters is the cause of elevated air pollution levels. The majority of people probably don’t know that one of the main causes of air pollution is poultry farms, where birds like ducks, turkeys, and chickens live their whole lives in cramped, tiny buildings. Air pollution may have a detrimental effect on local wildlife as well as workers and inhabitants.
2. Greenhouse Emissions
According to a historic 2006 FAO assessment, the cattle industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation sector. Factory farming produces three main greenhouse gases: methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide.
These gases are released during the whole process of producing meat, including the clearing of forests, the creation and transportation of synthetic fertilizers that require petroleum, the manufacturing of growth hormones, the handling of animal dung and exhaled air, and the burning of fuel for the engines that generate animal feed and move livestock to slaughterhouses and meat to the dell counter.
When food is digested, livestock like sheep, cattle, and goats generate massive amounts of methane gas. Methane is twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide in generating global warming, and factory farming is responsible for roughly 37% of methane gas emissions.
Ninety million tons of carbon dioxide are released into the sky each year by synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, as well as the fossil fuels used in transportation. Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are two more dangerous substances that are released and harm human health.
3. Toxic Environments
Waste accumulation is a typical occurrence on industrial farms due to the confined indoor space containing thousands of animals. Animal feces are where they ultimately sleep, eat, and live.
Pigs, cows, chickens, and other factory-farmed animals release ammonia, a harmful chemical, into the air through their urine and dung. Animals that are exposed to high quantities of ammonia regularly suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory illnesses, tracheal irritation, ocular inflammation, skin burns and lesions, and higher rates of mortality.
4. Resistance to Antibiotics
One pressing issue for global public health is the emergence of antibiotic-resistant illnesses. A 2022 study published in The Lancet estimated that antibiotic resistance may have contributed to around five million deaths worldwide in 2019.
When antimicrobial medications are administered incorrectly, such as when subtherapeutic antibiotics, sometimes referred to as growth boosters, are frequently used in factory farms, antibiotic resistance results.
For many years, animals in industrial farms received modest doses of antibiotics, which led to the development of resistant bacteria. Subsequently, tainted meat, soil, and water exposed humans to these microorganisms. The human population may become infected with resistant infections, making current medications ineffective against them.
5. Toxic Antibiotic Chemicals
Due to their cramped, crowded living conditions and poor hygiene, these animals are more likely to get sick. As a result, those animals are given a variety of preventative medicines to help them stay healthy.
Certain antibiotic compounds accumulate within the animal and may be hazardous to them or to people who purchase meat products from these companies.
Furthermore, these antibiotic compounds have the potential to contaminate waterways, enter human bodies through other routes, and cause toxicity when they are released undigested into urine or dung.
6. Wildlife and Biodiversity
The enormous amounts of land needed for meat production, the increase in pollution, and other factors that are destroying ecosystems pose a threat to the survival of wildlife and a biologically diverse planet.
Globally, there is an increasing demand for meat, which is causing an unprecedented encroachment on natural areas. Of all the proteins that people eat, the cultivation of lamb and cattle for beef takes the greatest area. If habitats are destroyed, animals are doomed, especially those who are already in danger of going extinct.
7. Fisheries and Oceans
Agricultural runoff pollutes marine environments in two ways: it comes from crops cultivated to feed factory-farmed animals, which frequently include high levels of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and it comes from animal waste from the factory farms themselves.
Farmlands that raise livestock and provide fodder for them are recognized sources of nitrogen and manure runoff that cause bodies of water to become “dead zones” with little to no oxygen.
Low oxygen levels in the water can harm marine species’ immune systems, cause stress, slow down their rate of growth, make it harder for them to reproduce, and possibly even kill them. These alterations in individual creatures then have an impact on marine populations, entire ecosystems, and even livelihoods along the coast.
The ocean is absorbing more carbon dioxide as a result of human activities increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which makes the ocean less livable and more acidic.
Factory farms receive a direct application of the water. Large-scale commercial fish farms that raise species like salmon are known as fish factory farms.
Because fish waste and a lot of medicines are used to keep fish alive in extremely unnatural settings, open-water cages pollute the ocean. These enclosures are frequently placed in oceanic regions that are teeming with a diverse array of organisms.
8. Water Wastage and Pollution
Factory farming and other forms of industrial agriculture have depleted seventy percent of Earth’s freshwater resources. Agricultural areas can release toxic runoff into neighboring water bodies, endangering marine ecosystems and harming both people and animals who drink from them.
Because of its many applications, including irrigating crops that farm animals, eat, supplying drinking water for the billions of animals used in factory farming annually worldwide, and clearing the dirt these animals leave behind on farms, the animal agriculture sector has had a significant impact on the availability of water.
One pound of beef for customers requires 1500 gallons of water, which is equal to the amount of water needed for 100 human showers.
Animal feces from livestock ranches are stored in enormous cesspools, which have the potential to leak and seriously contaminate nearby waterways. Drug-resistant bacteria, nitrates, and microbes can proliferate the waterways.
As a result, there may be toxic algal blooms that produce “hypoxic dead zones” and a significant decline in marine life, a condition known as cultural eutrophication. Blue baby syndrome, abortions, and miscarriages may result from drinking water contaminated with toxic quantities of nitrogen.
One of the main causes of deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is industrial-scale cattle grazing. Either feedlots and pastures for the cows to graze on or soybeans are grown on the cleared area and fed to animals so they double in weight before they are killed.
Deforestation causes Native Americans to lose their ancestral lands, destroys plant and animal habitats, increases greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, and may even cause droughts in far-off places like California and São Paulo.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 70 percent of the Amazon rainforests have been converted into cattle pasture areas.
10. Monoculture Farming
Monoculture farming, which is used in factory farming to grow the particular crop needed for feeds, poses a major risk to global food security in the future. The majority of agricultural fields are now occupied by a few commodity crops that are used to support cattle.
A tiny proportion of the world’s population is fed by the vast majority of agricultural lands being cultivated in historically high quantities of corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans. Food waste is a completely different story!
Currently, it’s common practice to plant identical crops across millions of acres to get high yields. However, if environmental conditions change—particularly in the form of agricultural diseases, hunger, or natural disasters—it can wind up becoming expensive.
11. Excessive Use of Fossil Fuels
Farmers begin using “petro-pellets” as animal feed. These are essentially concentrated fossil fuels in the form of tiny pills that are primarily fed to chickens. Even though this was only a mocking demonstration for a TV show, it illustrates the extent to which factory farms depend on fossil fuels for the growth and raising of crops and animals.
Petroleum is a primary ingredient in many synthetic herbicides and fertilizers, and the bulk of the crops that are cultivated with these chemicals are fed to animals.
An acre of factory farming uses roughly 5.5 liters of fossil fuels! This fuel powers concentrated animal feeding operations is utilized in transportation, and produces synthetic fertilizers and insecticides. All of this indicates that factory farms play a significant role in the planet’s carbon emissions, which exacerbate global warming.
12. Rural Communities
Factory farms undercut local small businesses and farmers when they relocate into rural areas, upsetting the social and economic fabric of the area. Residents’ property values are negatively impacted by pollution, water contamination, and offensive odors, which also negatively affect their quality of life.
Living close to a factory farm can cause anxiety, tension, melancholy, rage, and memory and balance problems. They may be more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses and may come into contact with bacteria that cause sickness through environmental contamination. There is a higher chance of asthma in kids who live close to industrial farms.
The world’s most prestigious institutions have produced copious information regarding the effects of nutrition on the environment, and their conclusion is as clear-cut as it gets.
The effects of climate change are already being felt, and they will only get worse in the upcoming years. These effects include forest fires, droughts, floods, storms, and heatwaves. Although the effects of climate change are currently limited to a small area, it won’t be long before entire populations are uprooted, entire villages are wiped out, and hundreds or even millions of people become refugees.
We cannot wait for governments to take action, and it is also improper to assign blame and declare that “they, not me,” should take action. We are all necessary for this planet, which is also our home.
There’s not a moment to waste. We must give up eating animals for the benefit of the environment and our future.
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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.