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How US Meat Production Is Cruel to People and Animals, and Devastating to the Environment

Updated on December 14, 2015
It's almost like we're been socialized to view farms this way.
It's almost like we're been socialized to view farms this way. | Source

Close your eyes and picture a farm. Are you picturing idyllic pastures, and miles of beautiful rolling green fields lightly dotted with cows calmly grazing? Or perhaps you see a rooster crowing from atop a big red barn? This almost utopian image is something we have learned to associate with farms since childhood. If you look at advertisements or packaging for meat products, you'll find more often than not this same image being perpetuated as a marketing tool. But the reality of farms is much, much more insidious.

American demand for meat is almost insatiable. The average American consumes 270.7 pounds of meat per year per person. In order to produce that staggering number of meat products, farms are streamlined to be efficient at the slaughtering of the over 56 billion farm animals per year it takes to fulfill that demand. However this efficiency comes at a cost - not only to the animals, but to people, the community, and the environment.


Factory Farming Hurts Workers

Factory farm workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and there is surprisingly little government oversight in the meat industry. Farm workers have a roughly 50 percent chance of being either injured on the job or contracting diseases from handling unclean animal corpses. Repetitive stress injuries are common among workers due to the speed at which they are required to work to keep up with demand. An average line worker handles over 1300 animal carcasses per hour. The environment is hot and loud. Workers inhale everything from hydrogen sulfide to ammonia. In one case, in a Hormel co-packing plant called Quality Pork Processors, workers who were assigned to a part of the line called the "head table" were made seriously ill when brain harvesting equipment was - unbeknownst to anyone- aerosolizing pig brain tissue. Workers working this part of the line inhaled the brain tissue. Because pig and human neurological cells are similar, the workers bodies made antibodies that began to destroy their healthy brain tissue after they had destroyed the pig cells. By the time the cause was discovered, nearly two dozen employees had been effected. A large number of them lost their jobs and ended up getting deported due to no having legal immigration status.

Due to very little oversight in the industry, it's common for labor laws to be broken. Many workers are illegal immigrants. Some work "under the table" for cash, and have little recourse when they end up seriously injured or ill. Some farms have even been found to be hiring minors "off the books". Many people who end up working at the plants are desperate for work, and willing to take any job. While you would think that something as strenuous and unpleasant as meat-packing would at least pay a living wage, factory farm workers make on average less than $23,000 a year - putting them at or bellow the poverty line in most states.

Sludge. | Source

Factory Farms Harm the Community

Surprisingly, the US Environmental Protection Agency doesn't currently regulate water or air pollution from factory farms. Because of this, farms dispose of animal waste in large open-air cesspools, or spray it on surrounding lands. Animal waste pollutes the soil and groundwater; it's toxic and often contains harmful gases that have been known to cause respiratory infections. If it enters the water supply it can cause blue-baby syndrome - which can be deadly.

Many animals are fed antibiotics to make them gain weight more rapidly in order to acquire more meat from them. The animals' bacteria become resistant to antibiotics over time. When humans come in contact with this bacteria, they can become seriously ill, and it can be nearly impossible to treat with antibiotics due to resistance. Since most factory farms are located in low-income communities, residence don't usually have a choice to move to a cleaner or safer area - they can't afford to!


Food Used to Feed Animals Is Food That Could Be Used to Feed People

It takes a lot of resources to raise the number of animals it takes to meet the demand. In order to raise animals for slaughter, we have to grow food for them to eat. Roughly 70 percent of grain grown in the US is fed to livestock. Livestock have a huge water footprint. For example, it takes 1847 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef. A cow eats approximately 20 pounds of grains for every 1 pound of meat it produces. Currently, 1 in 8 people in the world are going hungry every day. The amount of soy, corn, and wheat we grow to feed farm animals could feed the whole world several times over, if the food was grown for people to eat instead. While the politics of world hunger are a little more complex than that, you can't argue that it's not more efficient and vastly cheaper to eat the crops directly, rather than feeding them to livestock for meat production.

Gallons Of Water/lb of Meat
lbs of Grain/lb of Meat

Us Meat Production Is Unnecessarily Cruel to Animals

Gone are the days of the family farm. Far from that idyllic scene of rolling hills and animals grazing calmly in beautiful fields, farms are factories. They have to be - in order to meet the insane demands for products. Because of this, factory farms are optimized for speed and efficiency, and operate without any regard to animal welfare.

Peter Dinklage: Face Your Food {Warning: Graphic}

Paul McCartney: If Slaughterhouses Had Glass Walls {Warning: Graphic }


Facts About Animal Agriculture's Role In Environmental Decline

  • 20 percent of US methane emissions come from factory farms.
  • 51 percent of ALL global green-house gas emissions in general come from factory farms.
  • It also takes 11 times the amount of fossil fuels to make one calorie of meat as it does to make one calorie of plant-based foods.
  • Deforestation for animal grazing and planting feed crops is responsible for 2.4 billion tons of CO2 emissions per year. (It's also responsible for endangering small animal species, as well as making some species of plants go completely extinct.)
  • The animal agriculture industry is directly responsible for 85 percent of all soil erosion in the US.
  • Every six seconds an acre of rainforest is lost to farming.

Consider Eating Less Meat or Eliminating It Altogether

Factory farming hurts everyone. Aside of the obvious animal victims, there's no denying that the animal agriculture industry is harmful to the communities in inhabits, the workers it employs, and even the Earth itself. Consider becoming a vegetarian or a vegan. Even cutting out meat several times a week can help a little. Every time you say no to meat, you're voting with your dollars to reduce green-house gas emissions, reduce land lost to grazing, and reduce animal and human suffering.

Would you consider lowering your meat consumption?

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© 2015 Erika Ford


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    • Angel Guzman profile image

      Angel Guzman 8 months ago from Joliet, Illinois

      Great read! I wish the industry was more socially responsible in protecting the workers, environment, and humanely handling of animals.