The argument for more sustainable practices in meat and dairy production has gained popularity in recent years, leaving consumers feeling as though they’re doing themselves, and the planet a good deed by buying “organic, grass-fed, and cage free” animal products. Marketing these products as sustainable, however, is misleading.
If we raised all of the cows in the US on grass, it would require use of nearly half the country’s land. Grass fed cows also emit up to 400% more methane than grain fed cows, and have a longer lifespan, due to absence of growth hormones, which further increases methane emissions and water consumption. In an article by the Guardian UK, the author states that factory farming was created for a reason, which is to “satisfy mega meat demand while being more efficient in water, energy and land use than traditional livestock farming methods.” They also state that raising all grass fed cows “would increase the carbon footprint by the equivalent of adding 26.6 million cars to the road.”
Aside from the environmental impacts of “sustainable” animal agriculture, there is also a huge misconception about humane meat and dairy. Free range and “sustainable” chickens, cows, and other animals are often kept in confined spaces, and are still subject to inhumane treatment. An article by the Daily Mail shows us “16,000 free-range chickens crammed into one shed.” Organic dairy cows are still expected to produce ten times more milk than they naturally would, which means they are extremely prone to infection. As organic dairy farmers must follow the no antibiotics or hormones regulation, this only results in the milk containing more pus. In short, there is no sustainable, or ethical way to produce the amount of animal products we consume, and demand. The only sustainable solution it seems is to stop consuming these products, and consume more plants.
I try not to be overly dramatic in my writing, but I think most of us would agree we live in troubled times. We might define these troubles differently, but most of us have this sense. Most distressing in my view, however, are not the actual problems we face, but our inability to work together to find their solutions.
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