Maintaining living space for animals, dealing with their wastes, and managing the fertilizer, irrigation, and land to supply their feed all contribute to pollution of various sorts – especially water, but also soil and air.
Feed animals, especially cows, emit methane when they belch or pass gas. Keeping these animals in the huge numbers required for agribusiness creates a large amount of methane. Methane is another greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, except its effect is several times greater than CO2. Even a “little bit” of methane (compared to how much CO2 we release) is cause for concern.
I found an article (see the citation below) that suggests, in addition to the issues listed by rigibson, the real problem is our expanding population and the resulting demand for food. Regardless of what we choose to cultivate and consume (animals v. vegetables), the demand for food is too high for the industries involved to keep up with out creating huge amounts of pollution and waste. I do not necessarily agree with the author’s conclusion that the real answer is limiting our population through family planning and birth control, but I do think that she has hit upon the real route of the problem. With our expanding numbers, our current farming methods are not sustainable ways to produce enough food. The question shouldn’t be about what we produce as much as it should be about how we produce it.
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