Forget about the surreal amounts of cruelty that billions of animals suffer annually through industrialized meat production. For this article, we will look at the more tangible effects of the high cost of meat consumption, and what this looks like with specific regard to environmental destruction, the water supply and the further poisoning of the environment.
By Matt Classen
Technology and industrialization have been the mainstay of the consumerist economy of developed nations around the world. The profit motive and science are constantly creating increased efficiencies. Most agricultural procedures have been embellished with this undeniable trend, including meat production. While this has made meat more readily available to people around the world, at lower prices, the increase in meat demand has become a deathly serious threat to the environmental health of the world, tilting us towards a global catastrophe.
The Water Supply
The world’s fresh water supplies are becoming increasingly more scarce, and industrialized meat production requires massive amounts of this life-critical element. The National Water Quality Inventory carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US, such agricultural activity was identified as a unique cause of pollution for 48% of the nation’s streams and river water.
The modern reality is one where industrialized meat production has been a source of vehement imbalance to the ecosystem, especially the water supply. This imbalance is further illuminated by the report Livestock’s Long Shadow, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, which revealed that the livestock sector is a gigantic stressor on our planet.
Industrial meat production has been largely culpable not only for dilapidating our environment, it has also been responsible for destroying massive amounts of wildlife though not only water pollution, but the destruction of huge territories of forest environments to make room for animal farming. Not only are the world’s forests the lungs of the planet, purifying air, providing oxygen and removing CO2, but they are also responsible for recirculating trillions upon trillions of gallons of fresh water into the natural environment.
To compound the issue of destroying the forests that provide a steady supply of potable water, the amount of water it takes to produce one pound meat is staggering. Depending on your information source, the water it takes to produce one pound of beef is between 441 gallons (statistic courtesy Beef Producer), to 1,847 gallons (statistic courtesy of Vice News).
And then there is the issue of the waste water run-off that enters the environment from factory farms. For instance, a dairy farm that deploys an automatic “flushing” system to clean its animal houses from animal manure introduces significant amounts of the infamously dangerous compounds ammonia and nitrates into the environment. When water supply gets infiltrated with these compounds, it becomes highly poisonous to humans. In a survey of wells in rural settlements in the US from 1993 to 2010, it was found that 2% of the public-supply, as well as 9% of domestic wells (more predominant in rural America), were discovered to have higher concentrations of nitrates than the recommended peaks advocated by the EPA. Further estimates from the EPA revealed that no less than 1.2 million households in counties with industrial livestock facilities source their water from wells polluted from dangerously high nitrate levels.
Industrialized livestock farms, on one hand, have been very guilty of inappropriate waste management. Humongous lagoons, which hold millions of livestock urine and manure, eventually seep into local water supplies. This is devastating, as such leaks can release catastrophic amounts of dangerous bacteria and harmful antibiotic residues into water supplies, extensively contaminating it for years to come. And who pays for the costs of the clean-up? Who even knows a clean-up is needed until people start getting sick?
And how do we resolve this issue, or at least slow its progress? The most obvious way is simply to consume less meat. But is this even possible, given the knee-jerk vehemence to any such notion? Can we figure it out in time before a major fresh water catastrophe occurs? In an instant gratification society, this seems unlikely.