The Real Price of Factory Farming

Jared Brenner – The need for food is probably the one thing every person on this planet has in common. Throughout the world, many people unknowingly struggle with an addiction to eating meat. Though early humans hunted and killed animals to survive, many people have no idea about where their meat comes from nowadays.

To keep the price of animal protein at its astoundingly low level compared to other foods, the farming industry has been forced to radically transform from the family farm to the factory farm. Although there is no single definition of factory farming, the idea behind it is simple: focus on profit and efficiency at the expense of animal welfare.

How does this demand for cheap meat affect consumers economically?  The two easiest places to begin this discussion are factory farming’s effects on both climate change and our healthcare system.

Many people aspire to purchase hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles because they want to do their part to help the environment. And yet, this has much less of an impact on the environment than do the actual purchases they will make at the food store they drive to. A University of Chicago study found that food choice can contribute at least as much as our transportation choices to global warming. A study by the Livestock, Environment and Development Initiative (“LEAD”) found that farmed animals across the globe contribute to climate change than transportation does. This same study found that animal agriculture is responsible for 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, which offers twenty-three times the global warming potential (“GWP”) of C02, as well as 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, which provides a staggering 296 times the GWP of C02. The study concluded that the “livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale form local to global.”

Our taste buds are directly contributing to the need for expensive and time-consuming construction projects that are necessary to combat the rise of global sea levels. One need drive not too far on Miami Beach, Florida to find a road being raised or a pump being installed to push the influx of sea water back out to the ocean. In 2015, the Miami Herald estimated that these improvements would cost between $400-500 million.

Similarly, it is estimated that Americans spend more than $10,000 per year on health care. Unfortunately, many people are consuming food on a daily basis that is detrimental to their health. People have known for decades about the health problems associated with the widespread use of agricultural chemicals, growth hormones, and antibiotics found at a vast majority of the nation’s factory farms. The associated health risks include reproductive problems, various forms of cancers, heart disease, attention deficit disorder, and a variety of food allergies.

One of the causes of this health care epidemic could well be our food choice. In 2001, the Union of Concerned Scientists, which campaigns (among other issues) to dial back use of agricultural antibiotics, estimated that 24.6 million pounds of antibiotics are used per year for “non-therapeutic purposes”—that is, to make animals grow to market weight faster and to prevent them catching diseases in the close quarters of confinement agriculture. There are major implications for ingesting meat laced with these antibiotics because they stimulate the emergence of drug-resistant organisms. It is possible that we are spending more money on healthcare because we are consuming antibiotics in our meat that are helping to create more drug-resistant pathogens within us.

Many people prefer not to face these realities head on. However, the costs associated with these issues are forcing members of society to face the reality that these problems do in fact exist.

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