Food and Environment

I spend a lot of time talking about the ethics of industrial farming as it relates to the treatment of animals.  Now, I want to say a few words about diet, environment and the law.  On average, Americans consume forty-five more pounds of meat per year than they did fifty years ago.  According to the Pew Commission on Industrial Farming Report, that increase translates into Americans eating 2.8 times more pig, 2.5 times more eggs, 2.3 times more chicken and 1.3 times more beef.  This upsurge forms part of a global trend.

Demand worldwide for animal products is growing by 3% per year in developing countries.  Worldwide, demand is expected to increase an additional 35% by 2015 and to double by 2050.  These increases in demand will inevitably lead to increased production.  Increased production of animals will necessarily and significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.  One has to wonder exactly how we are going to manage that without cooking the planet.

But of course, climate change is not the only problem.  Five thousand pigs produce as much raw sewage as a town of 20,000 people.  The pig waste is more concentrated and tends to contain both pathogens and antibiotics.  Yet, the pig waste does not go to a sewage treatment facility; it usually goes straight on to the ground, where it eventually makes its way into the groundwater and also into the air.  And there are millions of pigs.

This is just a glimpse of the environmental damage caused by agriculture.  Habitat loss and degradation, erosion, water depletion, pollution and salinization, agrochemical contamination, the above-mentioned animal waste, and air pollution are all serious and growing problems.  Nevertheless, agriculture remains virtually unregulated; very few laws govern its operation.  Of the major environmental statutes, only the Clean Water Act applies at all, and that only sporadically.  See here for a fine article by Professor J.B. Ruhl on this topic.

This – all of this – ought give us pause.  Industrial farming is an environmental catastrophe.  Yet, there are effectively no laws governing it.  Why is that?  When will it stop?

–David Cassuto

One Response

  1. It’s laborious to find educated folks on this subject, but you sound like you already know what you’re talking about! Thanks

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