Today, consumers are paying more attention to how their individual food choices impact the environment. Often, acting in the best interest of the environment means reducing or eliminating meat from their overall diet.
The conventional meat production industry contributes immensely to air and water pollution, and animal agriculture accounts for 80 percent of annual deforestation around the world. Furthermore, livestock consumes about half of all the grain harvested around the world, and in the US, half of the water consumed is used to grow this grain.
However, those who eat meat can still do so in a way that minimizes their impact on the environment. First, they can strive to support local farms, especially those that use sustainable practices. Ideally, these farms produce organic meat products, meaning that the product is both trustworthy for consumption and raised in accordance with positive ecological practices.
Read on for some of the ways in which organically raised meat benefits the environment.
Conventional farms often use pesticides and fertilizers to grow the food that is fed to their livestock or purchase feed from companies that use these chemicals. Synthetic pesticides can have a major impact on ecologic diversity and pose some threats to human health, especially because the residue of chemicals like dioxin, PCBs, and DDT become concentrated in the body fat of the animals that consume them.
Conversely, organic farmers feed only organic items to their livestock, meaning that they do not use these pesticides in the growing of their food or in the food they purchase. Fewer animals and field workers are exposed to these harmful chemicals and less of it is transmitted to the surrounding environment via runoff, which contaminates both groundwater and topsoil. Organically produced meat has very little pesticide residue in its fat, making it a healthier option for consumers.
Animals raised via conventional means often have weak immune systems, which means that farmers rely on antibiotics to keep them free from disease. These antibiotics are not used in organic farming—and they are usually not needed anyway since the animals are healthier and have functional immune systems bolstered by better food and more exercise. The problem with using antibiotics in conventionally farmed animals is that they promote drug resistance among pathogens, which could result in more serious disease for humans and animals alike. Furthermore, the antibiotics can persist in the meat even after cooking, meaning that they are ingested by consumers.
Another issue with conventional cattle farms is the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease. This disease involves an infection from a misfolded protein, called a prion, leading to the destruction of the brain and central nervous system. BSE can occur when cattle are given products contaminated with BSE, such as feed. Often, unused cow parts are ground up into a fine powder for use in livestock feed. If the powder contains infected cattle parts, it will, in turn, infect the cows who consume it. Then, the disease can be transmitted to humans who consume the tainted meat. In humans, it is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Large commercial farms usually dispose of manure using methods that can potentially pollute the environment, especially because of the large amount of waste they produce. Manure can contain bacteria like E. coli, among others.
However, organic farms tend to reuse manure responsibly by transforming it into fertilizer. They are able to do so because the manure on organic farms is purer due to stricter diets comprised of organic and natural food.
Most factory farms run their operations with nonrenewable energy sources, particularly fossil fuels. These fuels are necessary for virtually all processes, from production and processing to marketing and transportation. Organic farms tend to be much smaller, and thus their reduced scale allows them to operate on far less energy.
Furthermore, organic farms do not tend to distribute meat widely, which cuts down on the environmental impact of transporting food. Fewer miles between food and consumers means a reduced impact on the environment. Additionally, if consumers support small, local agriculture by buying directly from these producers, it will eliminate much of the need for energy-consuming processing and shipping.
People often do not think about the impact of animal agriculture on animal diversity. Organic meats must be free of GMOs, meaning that farmers cannot raise GMO species or feed the livestock with GMO feed. Furthermore, organic farms often raise several different species at the same time so that they can work synergistically, whereas commercial farms tend to keep just one species of animal.
The problem with selective farming is that it can interfere with the natural diversity of animals beyond the farm. Entire species can die out because they are not chosen to be raised as livestock. Because organic farmers raise several different breeds and species at once, it helps to maintain a diverse gene pool, which can help to produce more robust offspring.