The way we mass-produce animal products today is a serious threat to the environment, public health, and animals.
- 18% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock farming. By contrast, global transportation accounts for 13%.1
- 26% Earth’s ice-free surface is used for livestock farming. This represents 70% of all agricultural land.2
- 27-29% of humanity’s freshwater footprint is used for the production of animal products.3
- Livestock farming is a top contributor to deforestation, land degradation, water pollution and desertification.4
Public Health Impact
- Viral Outbreaks: Epidemic viruses arise from the crowded conditions of livestock farming. Swine and avian flu, which affected people all over the world, originated from livestock farming.
- Antibiotic Resistance: About 80% of all antibiotics are given to livestock. These are the same antibiotics used by humans, and is therefore the largest contributor to antibiotic resistance.
- Food Contamination: Virtually all bacterial-contamination-caused foodborne illness arises from livestock farming. Foodborne bacteria like Salmonella spp. and E.coli come from animal waste and can contaminate animal products as well as fruits and vegetables.
Further, by their very nature as living, sentient beings, animals pose potentially costly risks all along the livestock product supply chain.
- An Insecure Supply: Disease can spread very quickly among crowded animals, leading to drastic losses for farmers. For example, in May 2015, as a result of an avian flu in the Midwest United States, 48 million chickens were culled, costing the American taxpayer almost $1bn, sending the price of eggs up by 84.5% between May and June 2015.5
- An Inconsistent Supply: Animal products must be constantly quality controlled, as the product is affected by the environment, diet and health of the animals. There is a huge amount of variation in animal products, despite major efforts to maintain consistency.
- An Unsafe Supply: Animal products are regularly recalled due to, among other things, contamination from foodborne-illness causing bacteria. Food-borne illnesses are estimated to cost about $152 bn a year in the United States.6
The Impact on Animals
In 2007, the FAO estimated that more than 56 billion land animals were raised and slaughtered for food. A large proportion of these animals are raised in very poor welfare conditions in factory farms. Some of the practices that farmed animals endure include:
- Intense confinement
- Castration without painkillers
- Illness without veterinary care or euthanasia
- Trampling and suffocation from overcrowding
- Being transported long distances, live
- Being dragged or prodded to slaughter
- Imperfect slaughter procedures
The FAO anticipates global demand for animal products to increase by 70% in 2050, to feed 9.6 billion people. The further mass production of animals will only lead to more animal welfare challenges.
Considering the impacts, threats, and challenges of livestock farming, it is extremely important that we explore different ways to feed our growing global population.
Cellular agriculture could be how we safely and sustainably feed our growing global population.
- Steinfeld, Henning (2006) Livestock's long shadow: environmental issues and options. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
- Ibid FAO (2006) and in FAO 2012 Report Livestock and Landscapes
- Hoekstra, Arjen Y. (2012) The hidden water resource use behind meat and dairy, Twente Water Centre, University of Twente, PO Box 217, 7522AE Enschede, the Netherlands
- Koneswaran, Gowri et al. (2008) Global Farm Animal Production and Global Warming: Impacting and Mitigating Climate Change. Environmental Health Perspectives. 116.5 (2008): 578–582. PMC. (retrieved 28 Apr. 2015)
- US Department of Labor statistics
- Hoffmann, Sandra et al. (2012) Annual Cost of Illness and Quality-Adjusted Life Year Losses in the United States Due to 14 Foodborne Pathogens, Journal of Food Protection®, Number 7, July 2012, pp. 1184-1358, pp. 1292-1302(11)