Eating Like Americans = More Factory Farms

This week, Guardian ran the article, “Rise of mega farms: how the US model of intensive farming is invading the world,” which the title alone was enough to make my blood boil without reading the actual story. As an ethical vegan, dietitian, and a sustainability advocate, the thought of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) increasing in number across the globe is highly problematic for the animals, our health, and the overall well-being of the environment. According to the article, in the last 17 years, 9 BILLION more animals are being raised as livestock – 15 billion versus 24 billion – with the vast majority on large intensive farms. 

How did we get here? Our food system is a multi-faceted one with farm consolidation, poor agricultural policy, absurd nutrition policy advocating for ‘leaner’ meats (especially chicken), globalisation, and the need for ‘cheap’ food to feed the masses all serving as reasons why we are where we are. I plan on addressing many of these reasons in future blogs. 

Why should you care? For simplicity’s sake, let’s just look at the numbers as outlined in the Guardian article. As defined in the US, CAFOs house 125,000 broiler (meat) chickens, 82,000 egg-laying hens, 2,500 pigs, or 700 dairy or 1,00 beef cattle. There are over 50,000 CAFOs in this country alone. Bottom line - that is a lot of shit. Feces is a big environmental problem with animal ag because it is a pollutant and can also carry harmful pathogens. Additionally, we cannot ignore that roughly 75% of antibiotics used globally are given to farm animals. Resistance to antibiotics is something we should be trying to avoid, ya’ know. Further, I am tired of the absurd justifications for large-scale farming of animals, which includes the argument that housing animals in such large numbers allows for better care because the elements are easier to control and they are protected from predators. Just stop. We ARE the predators in this disturbing mass production of living beings.

And more animals being raised for food means that American dietary patterns are spreading, and the last thing we need is the world imitating our meat consumption patterns. The USDA recommends 5-6 ounces of protein per day for adults. While this can totally be from vegan options like beans, nut butters, and nuts/seeds, the vast majority of Americans consume animal foods as their main protein source. Today while driving to work, a radio ad came on encouraging folks to ditch the standard ¼ lbs. burger and go for the 8 ounce roast beef sandwich. And we all know people will – and they will consumer excessive animal protein again and again, day after day. Reassuring folks that they can go a meal without animal protein, and instead enjoy fantastic plant-based options, is an ongoing struggle I face as a dietitian.

Meat is so incredibly entrenched in our culture, and the fact that other countries are follow suit is frightening. There is no way to produce BILLIONS of animals in a sustainable manner. We have eaten our way into sheer and utter disaster, and we must act now in order to slow down the mess we have created.