Click on an image below to learn about the environmental impact of your food choices.
You are contributing to global warming. The 2006 UN Report, "Livestock's Long Shadow", said 18% of greenhouse gases were caused by livestock production. Other scientists say the actual contribution is closer to 51%! Even the convervative estimate shows that more greenhouse gases are produced by animial agriculture (18%) than transportation (14%). If you really want to decrease your carbon footprint, eat plants.
Unlike human waste, where processing is highly regulated, pig waste is crudely stored in large, open-air ponds of sludge. These ponds, larger than several football fields, often leak. In 1995, an eight-acres waste pond in North Carolina infamously leaked, killing 10 million fish and spoiling over 350,000 acres of coastal wetlands. Unfortunately, these episodes are common and likely to increase as the demand for pigs increases.Image courtesy of Learn NC
Pigs are smart, social animals that have been shown to have more intelligence than a three-year old human child. They form complex social communities, are smarter than dogs, and can even be taught to play video games. They are affectionate towards humans - even though humans in the U.S. kill over 100 million of them per year for food.
Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang wrote an article in World Watch titled, "Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are ... cows, pigs, and chickens?" They wrote:
Whenever the causes of climate change are discussed, fossil fuels top the list. Oil, natural gas, and especially coal are indeed major sources of human caused emmissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs). But we believe that the life cycle and supply chain of domesticated animals raised for food have been vastly underestimated as a source of GHGs, and in fact account for at least half of all human-caused GHGs. If this argument is right, it implies that replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects in GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations - and thus on the rate the climate is warming - than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.
Livestock are already well-known to contributors to GHG emissions. Livestock's Long Shadow, the widely-cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimates that 7,516 million metric tons per year of CO2 equivalents (CO2e), or 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions, are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs, and poultry. That amount would easily qualify livestock for a hard look indeed in the search for the ways to address climate change. But our analysis shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.
The Natural Resources Defense Council has highlighted how livestock farms pollute fresh water supplies. They write:
Giant livestock farms, which can house hundreds of thousands of pigs, chickens, or cows, produce vast amounts of manure, often generating the waste equivalent of a small city. A problem of this nature and scale is tough to imagine, and pollution from livestock farms seriously threatens humans, fish and ecosystems. Below are facts and statistics that tell the story.
The Humane Society of the U.S. calls pigs "The underestimated animal". Their web site describe pigs:
Pigs are highly intelligent, curious animals who engage in complex tasks and form elaborate, cooperative social groups.
Their uncanny physiological and behavioral similarities to humans have given pigs a mysterious and often mythical quality that lends itself to folklore and fables.
Pigs were once considered wicked and dirty, but science has helped to shed light on the depths of their remarkable cognitive abilities and to extend a greater appreciation for these often maligned and misunderstood animals.
Ecologists, zoologists and naturalists now remark on their impressive ability to survive and adapt to different environments around the world.
The Humane Society web site continues with a list of surprising things about pigs, such as:
When you visit a farm sanctuary, you can see the lives of pigs rescued from Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs). They show visitors their unique personalities and their peacefulness. However, even rescued animals have difficult lives because they have been bred - and sometimes filled with antibiotics - to reach a huge size that cannot be easily supported on their small legs and feet, so they have trouble moving.
It is discomforting to realize that these rescued animals are the very lucky ones. Their brethern (over 65 million of them at any one time) on CAFOs are confined in miserable conditions: 1,000 to 2,000 in a single building, up to 20 confined in crates the size of a small bedroom with not straw, mud, or way to be a pig. Once they grow big enough, they are transported to slaughter (it is legal to transport pigs for up to 24 hours with no food, water, or way to move around). At slaughter houses, they are stunned to render them unconsious (although stunning fails in up to 20% of cases because of fast production quotas) and they then have their throats cut so the animals bleed to death.
Some locavores argue that you should purchase your dead pigs from locally-sourced, organic farms. While this may result in better living conditions, these locally grown pigs are slaughtered in in the same, miserable factory operations. They still are killed way before their natural lifespan is over. In addition, there is not enough land, water and other resources to support the local, free-range conditions needed to support the world-wide demand for dead pigs used for human consumption.
You are paying for this ill-treatment whenever you eat the flesh from pigs. In addition, you contribute to environmental degradation around CAFOs, tacitly approve of the terrible conditions endured by slaughter house workers (some of the poorest and most powerless people among us), and provide a market for the suffering of these animals. Eat plants instead!Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter, information on CAFOs. Facts on pig slaughter from Vegetarian Society in Great Britain