For as long as humans have existed, we’ve raised animals to turn them into food, but our methods of doing so have changed dramatically throughout the years. Today, livestock animals in the US are almost exclusively raised on factory farms, or animal farms as they’re commonly known. And, while these farms account for only 5% of all farms in the country, they produce more than 95% of all farmed animals that end up on dinner plates at home and abroad. But just how bad are factory farms, really? Let’s take a closer look at this prevalent and controversial practice.
The benefits of a vegetarian diet
While factory farming is not good for animals, humans or society as a whole, there are some upsides to animal farming. For example, wool from sheep and goat farming has been used to make warm clothing for thousands of years. In addition, in highland areas where many goats are raised, they’re an important part of local economies. Highland cows are also popular with farmers because they produce less methane than other types of cattle. (Methane is a gas released by cows during digestion.) This makes them more environmentally friendly than fluffy cow breeds such as Holsteins, which have been bred specifically for milk production rather than meat.
The health impacts of eating meat
Animal farming has many harmful effects on our health and environment. Most meat, fish, eggs and dairy are produced in factory farms. Factory farming involves cramming as many animals into a confined space as possible for maximum profit. The conditions at these farms are so bad for both animals and workers that working conditions often violate labor laws. When animals spend their whole lives in cramped, filthy conditions, they’re more susceptible to diseases, which can then spread to humans. In addition, manure from livestock is often used as fertilizer on crops, increasing exposure to harmful bacteria. Also, animal waste releases ammonia and hydrogen sulfide into the air, creating smog and acid rain. Furthermore, animal agriculture is one of largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions—more than all forms of transportation combined! And finally—and perhaps most importantly—animal products contain high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol; eating too much red meat increases your risk of heart disease and cancer.
Environmental and animal cruelty issues
These are issues for people who believe animals shouldn’t be farmed for meat and don’t want to contribute to environmental degradation, or those who want a fluffy cow instead of a goat. A fluffy cow has not only been treated better in its short life, but has had enough space to graze and is allowed to live out its natural lifespan. Highland cows can live up to 20 years old and grow their own food in green pastures, as they would in nature. Their lowland cousins, however, are bred to produce more milk than their bodies can handle. They’re kept indoors and fed an unnatural diet of grain. This causes them to develop painful stomach ulcers which require daily medication just so they can continue producing milk. For some people, it’s worth paying extra for humanely-raised highland cows (or goats) over factory-farmed goats (or cows). For others, it isn’t.
What you can do about it
Goat farming doesn’t receive as much media attention as other types of animal agriculture (with good reason). However, it is a growing trend in many developing countries around the world. In Kenya, for example, goat farming accounts for 32% of livestock production. While goat farms may not yet be common in your country, they are important to keep an eye on moving forward. The more we learn about what’s going on behind factory farm doors, and how these systems operate, we can better advocate for change. If you live in a developed country, there are plenty of ways you can get involved with local advocacy groups and spread awareness about topics like humane farming practices. If you live elsewhere, make sure to check out Mercy For Animals’ list of organizations operating in your area.
Whether or not you eat meat, it’s undeniable that mass-produced animal products contribute to a host of problems. Animal farming is one of biggest sources of carbon emissions, as well as producing millions of tons of manure—which pollutes waterways and harms fish populations. According to PETA, billions of chickens and other animals are also killed in slaughterhouses every year. These massive factories breed disease and infection, making animals sick and suffering before they are slaughtered.