Factory Farming, Air Quality, & Greenhouse Gases

Poor air quality in and around CFOs and CAFOs is a problem. The large concentration of animals, feed, manure, and microorganisms creates toxic gases, particulates that can contain human pathogens, and odorous substances akin to the smell of rotten eggs and sewage. Manure storage structures and fields where manure is applied also contribute to poor air quality. This localized air pollution has health implications for neighbors, animals, and agricultural workers nearby or within these facilities.

In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found cowcafothat industrial animal agriculture accounts 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. A study conducted by researchers from World Bank Group in 2009 expanded on that study; bumping that 18 percent to 51 percent. Either way, the numbers are significant. Both top the transportation sector. But how can these numbers be so high? Animals produce methane and carbon dioxide as a by-product of digestion. Manure releases nitrous oxide, another potent GHG; rows of open air storage pits, a common sight on industrial farms, hold millions of gallons of manure. In addition, carbon emissions associated with animal feed production, clearing forest for feedlots, transporting the animals from farm to processing facility to grocery by the burning of fossil fuels, processing the animals by burning more fossil fuels, and emissions from manure sitting in open pit storage tanks and applied to crops all contribute to GHG emissions.

Industrial farm animal production also requires large amounts of water. For example, it takes 420 gallons of water to produce one pound of chicken (Pew report) and 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, which is a conservative estimate  (Ecoscience: population, resources, environment). Water not only goes directly to the animal; it also grows the crops needed to feed the animal and is needed to process the animal after slaughter.

While industrial animal agriculture has brought about increases in short-term farm efficiency and made animal-based foods seemingly more affordable at the grocery store, its rapid development has also resulted in serious unintended consequences and questions about its long-term sustainability. CFOs and CAFOs are the industrial animal farm. Farm animal production – particularly industrial farm animal production – involves individuals, communities, corporations both large and small, consumers, federal and state regulators, and the public at large. As such, we should all be involved in the dialogue around this practice and its implications for health and the environment.