Not long ago I went to a presentation called “From Farm to Fork: The Environmental Impacts of Animal Agriculture” held at the Bell Museum in Minneapolis. The featured speaker was Gowri Koneswaran, Director of Animal Agricultural Impacts at the Humane Society of the United States. It was a great presentation.
During the first half of her talk, she discussed the conditions on factory farms; namely, she detailed the cruel practices that cause unspeakable pain and suffering to the animals who live on these farms. She showed photographs of egg-laying chickens crammed 6 to a battery cage, with no room to spread their wings, nest, or practice any of their natural behaviors.
There were pictures of sows forced into gestational crates so small that they could not even turn around, calves in veal crates, and animals living in their own filth because they have no other option.
These were all issues I have read about and been disturbed by before.
The second half of the presentation, however, was about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. I was floored by some of the data. This site has a great map of the United States showing where factory farms are located (the Midwest is the worst!), and how much pollution has resulted because of them. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, “the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation.” And while that alone is troubling, animal agriculture is also responsible for a huge percentage of the much more harmful greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide, most of which comes from animal manure. After sitting through this presentation, I thought to myself, “what am I waiting for? Why don’t I just commit to being vegan?” So I did. Everything I had heard and read about seemed to all point in that direction and I really couldn’t argue with it anymore.
If you want to read more about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture, I recommend checking out Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, which you can find here. It’s like 400 pages, so I haven’t read it all, but you can go through the table of contents and pick out chapters you are interested in and read those. That’s what I did, because, man, 400 pages??