This is the part three of a multi-article series on the connection between animal agriculture and various societal and environmental problems. This article covers the relationship between animal agriculture and wildlife habitat encroachment, species extinctions, concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) odors, financially marginalized communities, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, world hunger, tax subsidies for animal agriculture, hidden costs of animal agriculture (including subsidized fast foods), slaughterhouse PTSD and alcohol/drug abuse, domestic abuse, human rights issues, and more.
Part one covered the climate change connection to animal agriculture as well as other animal agriculture issues, such as biodiversity loss, acid rain, air pollution, topsoil erosion, and desertification.
Part two covered animal agriculture’s connection to freshwater use, freshwater quality, water pollution violations, fishes and other sea animals, ocean hypoxia, and declining phytoplankton in the oceans.
Wildlife Habitat Encroachment and Extinctions
As the world’s population grows, so grows the demand for animal agriculture land. The loser in this expansion is too often wildlife habitat and wildlife — directly through government-sanctioned killing programs.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the US “Agriculture Department Killed 1.3 Million Native Animals in 2017.” The site states: “The arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture known as Wildlife Services killed more than 1.3 million native animals during 2017, according to new data released by the agency last week.
“The multimillion-dollar federal wildlife-killing program targets wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds and other wild animals for destruction — primarily to benefit the agriculture industry. Of the 2.3 million animals killed in total last year, more than 1.3 million were native wildlife species.
“‘The Department of Agriculture needs to get out of the wildlife-slaughter business,’ said Collette Adkins, a biologist, and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. ‘There’s just no scientific basis for continuing to shoot, poison and strangle more than a million animals every year. Even pets and endangered species are being killed by mistake, as collateral damage.’
“According to the latest report, the federal program last year killed 357 gray wolves; 69,041 adult coyotes, plus an unknown number of coyote pups in 393 destroyed dens; 624,845 red-winged blackbirds; 552 black bears; 319 mountain lions; 1,001 bobcats; 675 river otters, including 587 killed ‘unintentionally’; 3,827 foxes, plus an unknown number of fox pups in 128 dens; and 23,646 beavers.
“The program also killed 15,933 prairie dogs outright, as well as an unknown number killed in more than 38,452 burrows that were destroyed or fumigated. These figures almost certainly underestimate the actual number of animals killed, as program insiders have revealed that Wildlife Services kills many more animals than it reports.”
This mass slaughter of wildlife would be rendered unnecessary if the country went to plant-based diets due to the fact that vegans require only a small fraction of the land required compared to omnivorous dieters. This change would reduce the farmland footprint, which would contribute to a healthy return of wildlife habitat.
In an article entitled, “Industrial farming is driving the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, says leading academic,” The Independent states: “Industrial agriculture is bringing about the mass extinction of life on Earth, according to a leading academic.
“Professor Raj Patel said mass deforestation to clear the ground for single crops like palm oil and soy, the creation of vast dead zones in the sea by fertilizer and other chemicals, and the pillaging of fishing grounds to make feed for livestock show giant corporations cannot be trusted to produce food for the world.”
The Independent continues: “This is just one reason why geologists are considering declaring a new epoch of the Earth, called the Anthropocene, as the fossils of soon-to-be-extinct animals will form a line in the rocks of the future.”
The esteemed Science Magazine agrees with the above claims. In an article titled “Meat-eaters may speed worldwide species extinction, study warns,” Virginia Morell writes: “Diets rich in beef and other red meat can be bad for a person’s health. And the practice is equally bad for Earth’s biodiversity, according to a team of scientists who have fingered human carnivory—and its impact on land use—as the single biggest threat to much of the world’s flora and fauna. Already a major cause of extinction, our meat habit will take a growing toll as people clear more land for livestock and crops to feed these animals, a study in the [August 2015] issue of ‘Science of the Total Environment’ predicts.”
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) Odors and Water Pollution are Sometimes Concentrated in Financially Marginalized Communities
Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences in an article entitled “Air Quality and Animal Agriculture: The Basics” states: “The most notable air emission from animal agriculture operations at the local level is an odor from manure generation, storage, and, ultimately, land application to farm fields. For some, these odors affect the quality of life and are considered a nuisance.”
In an Animal Legal Defense Fund report entitled CAFOS: Plaguing North Carolina Communities of Color, author Christine Ball-Blakely describes in Section II how “some of these communities, located on the North Carolina Coastal Plain … are home to many African American, Latino, Native American, and economically disadvantaged people. This section also describes the significant environmental damage that CAFOs deal to these vulnerable communities, which in turn causes plummeting property values and endangers health.”
Ball-Blakely continues: “There are 9.5 million pigs in North Carolina—the other victims of the state’s $3 billion pig industry. The pigs are spread across approximately 2,100 different operations and they produce a total of 10 billion gallons [37.85 billion liters] of waste each year, which is “enough to fill more than 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.” The pigs are confined to large indoor facilities with slatted floors, and their waste is pumped outdoors to what the pig industry calls a “lagoon.” Lagoons are vast open-air cesspools filled with untreated manure, urine, and after birth. Some lagoons are as large as seven-and-a-half acres [3.035 hectares] and hold 20 to 45 million gallons [75.7 to 170.3 million liters] of waste. There are more than 4,000 of them in North Carolina. These lagoons “have broken, failed, or overflowed, leading to major fish kills and other pollution incidents.” When the lagoons become full, CAFO operators manage volume by spraying this waste through sprinkler systems onto “sprayfields” in large quantities. “Operators have sprayed waste in windy and wet weather, on frozen ground, or on land already saturated with manure,” causing runoff and leaks into the aquifer. These waste management strategies fail to protect surrounding communities from the environmental impacts of the industry. Instead, CAFOs heap further injustice on surrounding North Carolina communities by polluting their water and air, depressing their property values, and harming their health.”
Later in the section, Ms. Ball-Blakely comments: “The health impacts of polluted water are serious, particularly for those community members who have weakened immune systems. Symptoms of illnesses caused by contaminated water include “nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, muscle pain, death,” and kidney failure. “Those who have weakened immune systems are at increased risk for severe illness or death. Those at higher risk include infants or young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those who are immunosuppressed…”
Of the antibiotics produced in the US, which were designed for human health, 80% are now fed to farmed animals
Sustainable Table writes: “Today, antibiotics are routinely fed to livestock, poultry, and fish on industrial farms to promote faster growth and to compensate for the unsanitary conditions in which they are raised. According to a new report by the FDA, approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to farm animals.”
A residual amount of these antibiotics stay in the flesh served to humans, which omnivorous dieters then ingest. This can cause resistance to the same antibiotics if and when the omnivorous dieter becomes ill and may need these antibiotics for her or his own health. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports: “Antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Illnesses that were once easily treatable with antibiotics are becoming more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat.”
The Antibiotic-Resistant Bacterial Danger in Manure that Enters the Food System
According to Colorado State University, “Root crops and leafy vegetables have the greatest risk of infection from manure application to soil. They can also become contaminated through direct or indirect contact with cattle, deer, and sheep. E. coli O157:H7 is most prevalent in ruminants in general and in cattle in particular (both beef and dairy).” This is to say that the animal ag industry is responsible for E. coli found on greens and vegetables. Veganic farming (see below section) avoids this health risk.
According to the U.S. Cooperative Extension System: “The increased frequency of antibiotic-resistant pathogens has become a serious public health concern as demonstrated with outbreaks of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and antibiotic-resistant Salmonella such as Salmonella DT104. Little research and information is available on the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria originating in manure and manure land applied environments, and, thus, little is known about their fate and transport in soil, water, crops, and agronomic systems.”
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs states: “Livestock and poultry manures naturally contain a wide range of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Some of these are known for their adverse effects on people. Bacteria known to be human pathogens include certain strains of E. coli, including 0157: H7, Salmonella spp., Listeria, Streptococcus spp., Campylobacter, Clostridium spp. Protozoa include Giardia and Cryptosporidium.”
According to the US National Institutes for Health Environmental Health Perspectives report CAFOs and Environmental Justice: The Case of North Carolina: “Whereas human sewage is treated with chemical and mechanical filtration before being released into the environment, CAFOs channel waste from hog houses into pits or lagoons, where it is stored untreated until it is applied to land. All lagoons leach to some degree, and during hurricanes and storms they can overflow or burst, spilling raw sewage onto the landscape and into waterways. In 1995 an eight-acre lagoon ruptured, spilling 22 million gallons [83.3 million liters] of manure into North Carolina’s New River, killing millions of fish and other organisms. … Even without spills, ammonia and nitrates may seep into groundwater, especially in the coastal plain where the water table is near the surface.”
As a direct result of humans consuming animals, toxic, untreated waste is generated that pollutes the soil and our water. This waste can and does impact human health from the air and from drinking water sources.
Fecal bacteria found in animal foods eaten by humans is common. It’s very difficult to take an organism, which contains feces and urine, and cut it up in a way that keeps the feces and urine off of the flesh products produced. Business Insider stated in a 2015 article: “A new investigation of ground beef suggests that every hamburger you eat probably has a little bit of poop bacteria in it.” This was consistent across both conventional beef and organic beef samples.
Veganic Food Production, the Antidote to Animal Bacteria in Food
Many are led to believe that we need to raise animals for food so we can benefit from the manure, which is used as fertilizer. This is not the case.
The latest in food production concepts is to not use any animal-sourced fertilizers in the production of crops. This entirely avoids the bacterial dangers associated with animal fertilizers.
Gentle World, an intentional vegan community, states: “Just as vegans avoid animal products in the rest of our lives, we also avoid using animal products in the garden, as fertilizers such as blood and bone meal, slaughterhouse sludge, fish emulsion, and manures are sourced from industries that exploit and enslave sentient beings.”
Another vegan network states: “A report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization concludes that the world’s livestock industry generates 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is even more than the transportation sector. The use of animals in agriculture, as a whole, also leads to water contamination, topsoil loss, and decreased biodiversity. Veganic agriculture uses animal-free techniques, greatly reducing CO2 emissions and environmental contaminants.”
When growing food veganically, soil fertility can easily be maintained. Additions to the soil to keep it fertile include vegan compost food scraps, leaves, and plant mulching, natural minerals from finely ground rock, lime, gypsum, hay, and seaweed. Crop rotation is another technique deployed to keep the soil vital.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the practice of feeding animals the grains that they eat, which could be consumed by humans directly is increasing food insecurity globally. In a report written by Humane Society International published on FAO’s website: “Of the world’s nearly 6.8 billion humans, almost 1 billion people are malnourished. Feeding half the world’s grain crop to animals raised for Meat, eggs, and milk instead of directly to humans is a significant waste of natural resources, including fossil fuels, water, and land. Raising animals for food is also a major contributor to global warming, which is expected to further worsen food security globally.”
There are 800+ million food insecure people in the world. These people would be better served if the world used efficient food systems that consumed foods grown directly, instead of feeding animals and then eating them, which is an inefficient system. A Well-Fed World states: “The grains and soybeans fed to animals in the US alone could provide enough food to feed the world’s hungry.”
Where are the Large Environmental Organizations?
There is an informative documentary on Netflix that addresses the topic of why the large environmental organizations are absent in the issue of the environmental impact of the animal ag industry: Cowspiracy. It alleges that the big green groups are financially conflicted and, due to that point, ignore animal agriculture’s significant deleterious impact on the environment. Since the release of that film in 2014, the environmental groups have finally started to come alive on this issue, albeit slowly.
For example, Greenpeace is still lost in the Meatless Mondays syndrome. Adopting a solitary day of the week to not eat animals, but to continue eating eggs and dairy, is a failed remedy for the planet, which is being environmentally devastated. As an analogy, if we had a case of a person hitting and abusing a spouse, would the solution be to ask the abuser to only abuse the spouse on one day per week? Certainly not, and the same is true when we are facing an environmental crisis. The most reasonable solution is to go full bore ahead to alleviate the problem at its core and ask all people who care about the environment to consider living vegan.
Tax Subsidies for the Animal Agriculture Industry
Just as the fossil fuel and nuclear industries influence governments to get themselves subsidies, so too does the animal ag industry. While this happens around the world, it seems to have the strongest stranglehold on the US government. For example, according to Meatonomics: “Each year, USDA-managed programs spend $550 million to bombard Americans with slogans like [‘Beef, it’s what’s for dinner’] urging us to buy more animal foods. Although people in every age group already eat more animal protein than recommended, and far more than our forebears did, these promotional programs are shockingly effective at making us buy even more.”
Meatonomics continues: “American governments spend $38 billion each year to subsidize meat and dairy, but only 0.04% of that ($17 million) to subsidize fruits and vegetables.”
It is time to replace this animal industrial model with a plant-based model for the good of the animals, the environment, and human health.
Hidden Costs of Animal Agriculture, including Subsidized Fast Foods
Have you ever wondered why fast food is so inexpensive? The answer is subsidies and off laid costs. According to Meatonomics: “A $5 Big Mac would cost $13 if the retail price included hidden expenses that meat producers offload onto society.
“Animal food producers impose $414 billion in hidden costs on American society yearly. These are the bills for healthcare, subsidies, environmental damage, and other items related to producing and consuming meat and dairy. That means that each time McDonald’s sells a Big Mac, the rest of us pay $8 in hidden costs.”
Slaughterhouse work may cause PTSD, alcohol/drug abuse, anxiety, withdrawal, injuries, and domestic violence, which makes animal agriculture a human rights issue.
Slaughterhouse work is brutal on the workers. Psychological damage can include increased alcohol and/or drug use, spousal violence at home, crime, physical injuries, and general trauma that can cause PTSD. These worker experiences make the use of animals a human rights issue.
The Texas Observer, hardly a vegan-influenced publication, writes: “The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll. If you work in the stick pit [where hogs are killed] for any period of time—that let’s [sic] you kill things but doesn’t let you care. You may look a hog in the eye that’s walking around in the blood pit with you and think, ‘God, that really isn’t a bad looking animal.’ You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up to nuzzle me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them. … I can’t care.
“It will come as no surprise that the consequences of such emotional dissonance include domestic violence, social withdrawal, drug and alcohol abuse, and severe anxiety. As slaughterhouse workers are increasingly being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, researchers are finally starting to systematically explore the results of killing sentient animals for a living.”
In a PTSD Journal article entitled “The Psychological Damage of Slaughterhouse Work,” the writers state: “Whatever the meat may be, wherever it may be sold, and regardless of what the label says, every piece has one thing in common: there is a slaughterhouse worker who had to take the animal’s life, and that worker is likely experiencing some level of emotional trauma.”
In an article entitled “Former Slaughterhouse Worker Claims the Job Breeds Violent Behaviour,” Live Kindly states: “The mental health problems that come with this job follow slaughterhouse workers into later life. Many who carry out this work have to seek treatment for PTSD.
“So often, those who become slaughterhouse workers are already victims of the system. Historically, a lot of slaughterhouse workers have been African American but recently there has been a rise in the number of Latin American workers to the profession. People of color are subject to systemic racism which often leaves them living in poorer communities and therefore more likely to have to take jobs in slaughterhouses. This work then denies them social mobility due to the mental, emotional and physical impact the job has.”
In addition to the psychological trauma, in a fast-moving slaughter line, there are many physical injuries. In a program by NPR by the title of “Working ‘The Chain,’ Slaughterhouse Workers Face Lifelong Injuries,” the writer states: “The workers, most often immigrants and resettled refugees, slaughter and process hundreds of animals an hour, forced to work at high speeds in cold conditions, doing thousands of the same repetitions over and over, with few breaks.
“This production feeds the average American, who eats about 200 pounds of meat a year. And the furious pace of the work causes a set of chronic physical ailments called musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, an array of injuries to workers’ muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves, that cause sprains, strains, or inflammation.”
Human Rights Watch conducted a study on workers’ rights in the US meat and poultry plants. It reports: “Working in the meatpacking or poultry processing industry is notoriously dangerous. Almost every worker interviewed by Human Rights Watch for this report began with the story of a serious injury he or she suffered in a meat or poultry plant, injuries reflected in their scars, swellings, rashes, amputations, blindness, or other afflictions.”
In a Washington Post story, a slaughterhouse worker claims he had to wear Pampers in a production line. The article states: “While concerns about food safety and animal welfare dominate discussions about the perils of the modern food system, there’s a downside that many might find just as troubling: the often inhumane conditions people who work in the industry face.
“A new report by Oxfam America, an arm of the international anti-poverty and injustice group, alleges that poultry industry workers are ‘routinely denied breaks to use the bathroom’ in order to optimize the speed of production. In some cases, according to the group, the reality is so oppressive that workers “urinate and defecate while standing on the line” and ‘wear diapers to work.’ In others, employees say they avoid drinking liquids for long periods and endure considerable pain in order to keep their jobs.”
Why do People often Miss the Significance of this Issue?
Truth or Drought states: “The deeply entrenched and institutionalized social normativity of animal use/consumption means our society remains largely complacent even when faced with the above information.
“Additionally, an almost belligerent resistance to and social stigma against veganism is a result of the taboo nature of openly rejecting and challenging animal consumption, seen universally as a sign of status.
“Because most people (including those in the media) are still not vegan, the dominant narrative surrounding veganism is largely crafted by individuals who fundamentally don’t or won’t understand it or even have vested interests in continued animal production. As children, we accept half-baked explanations for how and why we eat and otherwise use animals, and most people never go on to challenge these shallow rationales even as adults. Despite the fact that it’s outdated, inefficient, and cruel, pervasive animal use is deeply woven into many aspects of our lives. Not only is it institutionalized, but it’s also often romanticized and constantly reinforced by many common rationales and myths.
“Frank, honest discussions about the staggering ethical, environmental, and health consequences of animal use can feel deeply uncomfortable and confronting. Unfortunately, when it comes to this topic, a desire to soothe one’s cognitive dissonance is usually stronger than a willingness to look within and make changes that defy social norms.”
As a given, renewable energy technology is available now to get us to a path for converting our energy sector to 100% renewable energy globally, and it is seen as imperative to devote the financial resources needed to make this transition as quickly as is possible. This article and broader series further calls on all people, especially those committed to the environment, to adopt a plant-based diet, and to forsake the anachronistic animal-agriculture model, and to stop all other animal-use.
The UK’s Independent states: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use.
“‘It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,’ [lead author of a five-year study Joseph Poore] explained, which would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
The prospect of going vegan will be received as a burden or imposition to many at first reading, but it can also be seen as a fun opportunity to explore new foods, improve the environment, live more ethically, and possibly improve one’s health as well, especially over the long run. On the ethical front, most humans already believe in not harming animals whenever possible, and this lifestyle provides one with the opportunity to live in a way that’s truer to one’s existing beliefs. Some vegans have stated that living vegan has lifted a burden that they weren’t aware of before they became vegan.
James Cameron, director of Alien, Titanic, and Avatar released a film in early 2018 focusing on vegan athletes, which is called: The Game Changers. He feels so strongly on this issue that he claims that one isn’t an environmentalist unless the person is vegan. While this point may be debated, the opportunity is here for people to reduce their carbon and methane footprints, and live more sustainably by living plant-based.
It is my personal view that all converted vegans (as opposed to vegans since birth) are open-minded people. One needs to be open minded to question, challenge, and live outside of any dominant paradigm.
The tide is starting to turn for many who are seeing how these issues intersect, and opportunities to discover a new way of living open up for those who take action.
John Robbins, Diet for a New America, StillPoint Publishing, 1987
Eishel, Gordon, et al. “Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs and dairy production in the United States.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vol. 111 No. 33 June 2014
Global Depletion, [Climate Disruption,] Sustainability And Food Choice, by Richard Oppenlander, DDS.
Dr. Richard Oppenlander’s website and book: www.ComfortablyUnaware.com
Cowspiracy, available on Netflix.
Dr. Michael Greger’s NutritionFacts.org
The Emotional World of Farm Animals documentary by Jeffrey Masson.