The effects of factory farming on climate change have made it to the headlines. You have probably heard about the vast quantities of methane produced by cows and seen images of huge feeding lots in the Americas, but this is just one part of our farming systems impact on the environment.
Illegal fire burn forest trees in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil
Farmed animals produce methane and manure, and to raise the hundreds of billions of animals per year, huge amounts of resources are needed such as CO2 absorbing forests that get cut down for grazing. Fertiliser is needed to replenish the nutrient-depleted soil to grow crops. Electricity is needed to light bulbs and keep the climate controlled in the vast barren sheds the animals are kept in.
Over a tenth of global emissions are from factory farming. Pollution from production, processing and transporting animal feed adds up to nearly half of all agriculture emissions. If this wasn't concerning enough, the fact this is a growing trend is a huge problem - agriculture emissions are expected to rise by over 55% by 2050.
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You will have heard about methane, a gas produced by cows, being a major contributor to climate change. Despite its shorter life span in our atmosphere, it is far more harmful than carbon dioxide. But if you think taking the beef off your table will be enough you may want to consider the milk in your tea and on your morning bowl of cereal. Most of the factory farms holding cows in the UK produce milk. Swapping to plant-based or looking for the pasture promise label will help reduce the demand for factory farmed cows.
Chicken is often thought to be more sustainable the beef. In fact the majority of chickens farmed in the UK are fast-growing breeds that needs to be fed soy. Over 1 billion chickens are slaughtered each year in the UK and the average chicken will eat 700g of soy meal in their lifetime. This demand for soy is responsible for huge scale deforestation in South America. While these forests are a major producer of the world’s oxygen, they are also home to millions of species of sentient animals that suffer when their habitat is lost. An area the size of a football pitch is lost every single minute to agricultural uses.
For pigs it’s not just the feed they are given that is impacting our environment. Their manure, often spread on crop fields as fertiliser, is responsible for polluting waterways with dangerous nitrates and superbugs (antimicrobial resistant bacteria) that affects the environment, local wildlife and human health.
Fish, like chicken, is often viewed as a sustainable alternative to beef. Cast aside the idea that your fish is from the sea and sustainably sourced. Most places are selling farmed fish - fed on fish meal from ‘trash’ fish that are wild caught but unsellable for human consumption.
Ultimately, factory farming has no place in a transition to a climate-neutral economy. We need to bring emissions from agriculture down, and the only viable way to do this is to reduce our consumption of animal products.
When you compare plant-based products, particularly soy, to pork and chicken — the latter produce around 25 times more greenhouse gas emissions. One study even shows that ‘global calorie availability could be increased by as much as 70% by shifting crops away from animal feed and biofuels to human consumption’. It’s clear that changing to plant-based diets could be an efficient way of achieving global food security.
Reducing our meat consumption will take the pressure off our food system and make a huge difference to the lives of these animals and free-up resources to help move to smaller scale higher welfare livestock production farming.