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Intensive Animal Farming

By: Emilie Baliozian


Industrial livestock production is a type of intensive animal farming designed to maximize the production of meat and poultry products while minimizing the costs. This farming method calls for confining as many animals as possible in small spaces – such as cattle, hogs, and poultry – and using machinery and standardized processes to produce massively. With this model, animals don’t graze or forage – feed, water, supplements and antibiotics are provided to them so that producers can control the health and yield of the animals.


Intensive farming practices have skyrocketed since the Industrial Revolution due to urbanization and changing diets. At the same time, industrial food production has concentrated power and wealth into the hands of a handful of mega corporations, motivated by high production and returns. These large operations are mostly in the United States, followed by Brazil, Argentina and Canada which supply most of the meat and dairy products for markets around the world.


Livestock farming has a scary environmental record, contributing to 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle, raised for beef, milk and other products, represent about 65% of those emissions (source), and to produce 1kg of beef, it takes about 15,000 L of water. Livestock farming is a major cause of deforestation, taking up 30% of the earth’s land surface. Most of the land is used to produce grains for feed, which represents 45% of livestock emissions. Animal waste (manure) releases methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere, and when improperly disposed of, pollutes surface and groundwater (in addition to agricultural runoff and pesticides), which kills marine ecosystems and spreads infectious diseases (source).


Livestock farming, in addition to being an environmental, ethical and public health concern, also widens the gap between the rich and the poor. Producing grains to feed animals increases global demand and drives up the prices for people in poorer countries. If the grain that was produced for animals was given to humans instead, we would be able to feed an additional 3.5 billion people.


The industry is so powerful because they can provide meat products quickly and for very cheap. That’s because confining animals to small spaces allows them to produce massively. They also have the political and lobbying power to escape regulation, shape laws and receive subsidies. Finally, they are powerful because they externalize costs, meaning they don’t have to pay for polluting waters, nor for healthcare related to illnesses, nor for lowered property values when an operation moves into a town. All these reasons make it very easy for farms to price their products low and therefore difficult for consumers to stop buying their products.


There are many things we can do to curb emissions related to meat production and consumption. On the policy side, we need to apply a carbon tax to the meat industry to make them pay for the costs they’ve been neglecting until now. Such a tax would raise billions for farmers to produce more ethical and sustainable food. On the consumer side, the single most important thing we can do is lower our meat and animal product consumption. 


What you can do:


  • Meatless Mondays, or meatless everyday! Reducing your meat and animal product consumption is the single most important step you can take to lower your footprint. Here are countless ways you can introduce plant-based protein into your diet.
  • Get informed. Watch documentaries like Food Inc. and Cowspiracy to truly understand the impact of the meat industry and what you can do to help.
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