By Marie Oser
Industrialized animal production has had a dramatic impact on society, human health and the environment.
Modern animal husbandry is a major factor in water pollution, contributing animal waste, antibiotics, hormones and a witch's brew of chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides from feed crops.
In the final decades of the twentieth century, almost five million family farms were replaced by large-scale manufacturing operations.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency these concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) confine thousands of animals in a single facility and generate a staggering 300 million tons of waste annually
The waste is funneled into massive lagoons that emit ammonia, toxic hydrogen sulfide and methane gases. These cesspools often break, leak or overflow, sending dangerous microbes, nitrate pollution and drug resistant bacteria into the nation's water supply.
Almost 40 percent of the world's grain harvest is fed to animals. Pretty shocking, when considering the alarming number of starving children around the world and the fact that grain is an unhealthy diet for cows.
Cattle are ruminants uniquely suited to eat grass. Beef and dairy cattle fed grain have unnaturally acidic stomachs. This diet promotes rapid weight gain and creates an ideal environment for a particularly virulent, acid loving strain of bacteria to thrive, E. coli O157.
In 2003, The Journal of Dairy Science reported that up to 80 percent of dairy cattle carry E. coli O157. It is the infected manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach growing on neighboring farms.
The mechanized, assembly line techniques of industrialized agriculture create an unbalanced environment. Animals raised for food live miserable lives of intense confinement, pumped full of antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals to encourage high productivity.
According to Gene Baur, Founder and President of Farm Sanctuary, the nation's largest farm animal rescue and protection organization, Factory Farming is terribly inefficient.
Farm Sanctuary was founded in 1986 and over the years, Gene has seen firsthand the kind of waste and destruction that is endemic to these huge corporate farming operations.
"We grow vast acreages of crops that are being fed to animals and use huge amounts of water to raise the crops and water the animals and then to process the animals at the slaughterhouse."
"Growing crops and eating them directly is a lot more sensible than feeding the crops to animals and then slaughtering them in these industrialized operations."
Another area of concern is the enormous amount of fuel it takes to produce meat products for human consumption. In a New York Times article called, Rethinking the Meat Guzzler, the author compared the amount of fossil fuel needed for a vegetarian meal with a meat meal and found that it took 16 times more fossil fuel for the meat meal.
Gene says, "The only way factory farming is allowed to continue is through tax support and subsidies that clean up the pollution mess they create and support cheap corn and soybeans used for animal feed, without which this industry could not continue."
"Additionally, 70 percent of our health care costs could be eliminated if we shifted towards a healthier, whole foods plant based diet, instead of these industrialized animal farm products."
"It's a system that is a lose-lose. It's not good for us, it's not good for the environment, it's not good for animals and it is a system that needs to be rethought and reformed."
VIDEO: Gene Baur talks to VegTV Callaway, T.R., Elder, R.O., Keen, J.E., Anderson, R.C., Nisbet, D.J. Forage feeding to reduce preharvest Escherichia coli populations in cattle, a review. J Dairy Sci. 2003 Mar;86(3):852-60.  Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler, Mark Bittman, New York Times, January 27, 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/weekinreview/27bittman.html
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