The process is incredibly unsustainable and most often not humane to the animals. In their first few months, cows are usually grass fed across huge parcels of grass land. Cows account for approximately 24% of the earths non ice land. These lands are often overgrazed, eroded, compacted, and degraded. Once they have reached a certain weight, cows are brought to much smaller pens or feedlots until they reach the desired weight. Here, they are fed a high calorie diet filled with antibiotics and hormones in order to fight off any diseases they might get in their new environment. Incredible amounts of energy and water are used at these facilities in order to counteract the amount of waste produced. Often times, these facilities are responsible for water pollution and contamination because of improper waste management. Studies by government organizatons have released that feedlots containing cattle are responsible for nine percent of all greenhouse gases, 37 percent of methane, and 65 percent of nitrous oxide.
By concentrating cows in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) it requires that their food be brought to them. So at least half of the cultivated land in the U.S. is dedicated to growing food (corn, oats, wheat, alfalfa) for animnal feed. Since our agricultural sector is not very efficient and uses vast amounts of water and synthetic fertilizers, at least half of this energy usage can be attributed to the meat industry. One arguement in favor of having animals as a part of a small scale farm is that they are incredible at turning things that humans cannot eat (grass, leaves, acorns, branches) into things that humans can eat (milk, eggs, meat) as well as very valuable products such as manure, nutrient rich bones and fat. However, these benefits are lost when we grow food that humans can eat (e.g. oats, wheat, corn) and feed it to animals.
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