Factory Farming and its Enormous Environmental Footprint

Factory Farms and Air Quality

In other sections of our website, we talk about the impact of factory farms on water quality.   But poor air quality in and around CFOs and CAFOs is also 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.

Factory Farms and Greenhouse Gases

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.

Factory Farms and Water Use

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.

Factory Farms and Sustainability & A Practical Step You Can Take

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.

On a practical level, we can all move towards a more plant-based diet.

HEC’s work on industrial livestock agriculture is made possible by many individual supporters of HEC as well as foundations like the Herb Simon Family Foundation, the McKinney Family Foundation, and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.