Is Choosing to Eat Factory Farmed Meat Morally Wrong?

By Rachel Parent

At this time in history, moral issues are rampant and have an impact locally and globally. An example of an ethical controversy that has a broad influence is factory farming. Factory farming is a process that includes intensive cultivation of livestock in confined spaces, which is then sent for processing into meats, to be sold to the consumer. While factory farming may make products less expensive to the consumer, it has a wide variety of health and environmental concerns that affect the municipalities surrounding the farms and impacts the environment internationally through climate change, for example. Factory farming is associated with a broad range of issues, including deforestation, world hunger, environmental degradation and global warming, all of which affect future generations and the right to a clean environment and healthy food.

The environment is a key issue in modern society. There is more concern about climate change, global warming, and sustainability than ever before in history. While

transportation, fuel, and gas are a large part of the problem in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, they are not the entire story. According to EcoWatch, animal agriculture, specifically CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) contribute up to 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions and 37% of methane gas release; that’s a bigger release of toxins into the environment than all forms of transportation combined (Ronnie Cummins, paragraph 7). Greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for a good deal of the changes we are seeing in the climate, including rising global temperatures. These emissions are extremely taxing on environments and ecosystems, yet it is not the full extent of the problem. In addition to greenhouse gasses, nitrous oxide is also being released, which is 300% more damaging per ton than CO2 (Berkeley Lab News Centre, paragraph 5). These gasses are creating massive changes to global temperatures and to ecosystems worldwide. It is predicted that if the world continues to heat at the quickening rates that are being seen, a quarter of all animals could become extinct within the next 100 years (EPA Kids Climate Change, paragraph 2).

Pope Francis said, “Climate Change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our ‘common home’, we are living in a critical moment of history.” Pope Francis has publicly addressed concerns about how the food production system, especially issues related to genetic modification and animal welfare, adversely impacts the climate. He stated his concerns on World Food Day to promote the idea of safe sovereign food for everyone and a clean environment for generations to come.

While global warming is a serious concern, the environmental impacts of factory farming go beyond global temperatures. Farming waste runoff is worrying many in the science community and citizens too. Raw manure waste from animals in confined farms can be toxic for both soil and water health. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farm animals in CAFOs generate more than 450 million tonnes of waste per year (Humane Society Animal Agriculture and Climate Change, paragraph 3). Often this waste is pooled into ‘waste lagoons’. These waste lagoons allow for toxic components as well as salts and heavy metals to leech into the water supply. Water is a resource for humans and our ecosystem. When water is contaminated, it can affect our world very deeply. Chemical run-offs from these farms can pollute the oceans, thus affecting marine life, some of which are already endangered. Currently, 35,000 miles of rivers have been contaminated and polluted due to animal waste in the United States alone (Organic Consumers, paragraph 4). Groundwater has been contaminated in 17 states because of waste (Organic Consumers, paragraph 4). When this waste enters the soil, it brings with it high levels of pollutants. Salt, which may seem harmless, along with trace minerals and heavy metals, can over time render the soil infertile (Risk Assessment Evaluation For Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, page 98).

Another concern associated with farm waste involves the antibiotics and hormones that enter the soil and water systems. These hormones and antibiotics have the potential to create massive issues in the future when they leak into water streams and drinking water. With the introduction of antibiotics into an environment, new superbugs are created that are then resistant to certain drugs. These superbugs can include diseases or bacterium.

If the animal was raised in filthy conditions, with disease widespread among the livestock and the constant use of hormones and antibiotics to kill the bacteria, is its meat considered healthy to eat? Currently, the excessive use of antibiotics is making it more and more difficult to treat bacterial infections that could be potentially dangerous. Due to the fact that people are ingesting antibiotics every time meat in consumed, antibiotics now do not work when treating millions of individuals across Canada and the United States (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, paragraph 2). According to the Centre For Disease Control and Prevention, at least 23,000 people die each year from untreatable antibiotic resistant bacteria. (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, paragraph 2). Organic Consumers states that it costs the U.S Government $30 Billion per year to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria, which has an overall impact on tax payers (Organic Consumers, paragraph 24). About 80% of all antibiotics made in the United States goes towards animals, specifically animals in factory farms (Consumers Union, paragraph 3). While antibiotics take care of some of the diseases on these farms, they do not always work due to the resistance of pathogens. This is why some diseases are passed on to the food that people consume, resulting in food borne illness. Every year there are 5,000 deaths recorded due to food borne illnesses, especially related to meats (Center for Disease Control And Prevention, paragraph 1). The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that food borne illnesses also account for 76 million recorded illnesses and 325,000 hospitalizations per year (Centre for Disease Control And Prevention, paragraph 1). Additionally, there are also health risks linked with living near CAFOs. The health problems experienced by those living near such places result from breathing in the toxic chemical fumes from the runoff on the farms and include: sore throats, brain damage, depression, miscarriage and birth defects (Natural Resources Defence Council, paragraph 4).

The factory farm industry has not only one of the highest injury rates, but it can also be outright dangerous for workers. Poultry processing has almost double the injury and illness rate than trades like coal mining and construction.

Animal cruelty is a common moral debate when it comes to factory farms. Many people wonder if confining animals to be slaughtered is considered ethical. Annually, in Canada, more than 650 million animals are slaughtered for meat consumption (Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, paragraph 3). The animals live in small areas for their entire life without being exposed to fresh air, sunlight or natural diets. These animals are exploited for the system and receive no compassion.

For humans to progress, our compassion for other living beings must develop. Factory farming has a complete lack of regard and dignity for the animals and for the surrounding environments. Eating meat has one of the largest environmental footprints, which varies depending on the way the animal was raised. It takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat (equivalent to about 50 bath tubs) on a factory farm and yet only 2.5% of the planet’s water is fresh water and just 1% that is easily accessible. Our water supplies are being contaminated with waste from factory farms at rates that are too quick to cope with. Without intervening to at stop this contamination of our water supply, as humans we could be seriously jeopardized. In addition, I feel very strongly that animals in the system of the food industry are treated unjustly. Animals in factory farms are crammed into small cages where they are confined for their entire lives. These animals never get to breath fresh air, see real sun, eat from the earth or feel what it is like to be loved. All they see for their often short lives are the dark living quarters and the cages that surround them. Yes, animals may be mentally less capable then humans, but in my opinion that gives us no right to force horrible living conditions upon innocent creatures.

While I understand that not all of the people in the world will suddenly become vegetarian, I do believe what needs to be worked on is understanding how every bite of food we take has an impact on the world around us. There are so many alternatives such as organic and meat substitutes that are becoming more popular in today’s market.

In the end, it’s up to each individual to make choices about what’s on their dinner table. This is a complex topic, but knowing the potential consequences for our current world and for future generations, we must ask ourselves, is it morally wrong to eat factory farmed meat?

Works Cited

"Animal Agriculture and Climate Change." The Humane Society of the United States. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Jan. 2017.

"Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 July 2014. Web. 2 Jan. 2017.

"CFHS | Realities of farming in Canada." Canadian Federation of Humane Societes. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2016.

Cummins, Ronnie. EcoWatch. "How Factory Farming Contributes to Global Warming." EcoWatch. N.p., 2016. Web.04. Nov. 2016

"Disturbing Facts on Factory Farming & Food Safety." Organic Consumers. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.

"Food-Related Illness and Death in the United States." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Dec. 2010. Web. 23 Dec. 2016.

“The Human Victims of Factory Farming." One Green Planet. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Jan. 2017

Martinko, Katherine. "Free-range meat can be worse for the planet than long-haul flights." TreeHugger. N.p., 24 Dec. 2015. Web. 8 Jan. 2017.

"More Potent than Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide Levels in California May be Nearly Three Times Higher Than Previously Thought | Berkeley Lab." News Center. N.p., 23 May 2014. Web. 11 Jan. 2017.

"The Overuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals Threatens Public Health." Consumers Union. N.p., 07 May 2013. Web. 23 Dec. 2016.

"Plants, Animals, and Ecosystems." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 6 Jan. 2017.

"Risk Assessment Evaluation for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 6 Jan. 2017.

"Three Benefits of Eating Meat." Medical Daily. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2017.

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