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The modern pig farm: efficiency at environmentally-destructive levels

The modern American piggery houses thousands of pigs and gets thousands of animals ready for slaughter every single month. Given the huge volume of modern pig farms, the waste produced by such outfits can reach shocking and horrific levels. Let’s face it-pig feces don’t exactly smell like a bunch of roses. However, when a pig is raised in the traditional way in a spacious barn with a floor lined with dry straw, the stench isn’t very bad.

In fact, with the proper organic controls, free range organic pig feces and waste actually don’t smell at all since they are processed in a way that integrates with the Earth’s natural nitrogen cycle. Not surprisingly, this is the comforting and familiar image many big time pork packing and pork raising corporations would like us to believe regarding their operations. Well, the difference between a traditional pig farm and modern pig factory farms are as stark as black and white.

Modern pig farms stuff as many pigs in living crates as possible. Everything is almost completely automated. The modern pig grow out operation involves tiny metal spaces where many of the full grown pigs can’t turn around. Their feed, water, air, and temperature are automatically controlled from a central source. All their wastes are automatically pumped out of their metal pens and go into vast lagoons of pig shit.

Talk about a smelly business.

These lagoons of pig droppings cultivate certain bacteria that disinfect the pig feces. Once the manure has been lying in the lagoon for a long enough time, it is then pumped out and sprayed into the air. That’s right-pig manure is aerially blasted onto surrounding land. If you have ever driven by a pig farm and caught some bad wind-you can be sure it’s not the Taco Bell burrito you had at last night’s game. The smell of these airborne manure blasts are enough to make anyone retch and heave for hours.

Think of the nastiest smell you’ve had the displeasure of smelling and multiply that by, say, several million times in severity. That’s the smell of the modern pig farm. Thanks to inhumane concentrations of otherwise smart and sentient pigs, pig farm crank out millions of tons of liquefied pig waste every single year. This produces nothing but bad news for the environment.

Cows Grazing Pasture

Industrial demand for meat and dairy leads to wide-scale environmental impact

Class perceptions aside, the massive demand for meat products and dairy by the emerging world’s fast-growing middle and upper classes can spell nothing short of a global environmental disaster. How do I know? Well, you only need to look at the environmental impact of large-scale dairies and livestock yards in the United States to get a clue as to the massive scale we’ll be faced with if this technology is adopted by the rest of the meat-hungry world. How bad can it get? Pig farms are a great illustration of what we’re up against.

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The High Cost of a High End Diet

After reading veteran journalist David Kirby’s ‘Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment,’ I reflected quite a bit on my travels. Frankly, the trends outlined by Kirby frightened me because I see it spreading, like a nasty cancer, all over the world. I’ve traveled quite a bit over the years and one thing I notice when I visit a developing country is that meat is considered a status symbol.

Well, to put it in more precise terms, the more meat you eat, the higher the likelihood you’re middle class. In many developing countries, eating primarily vegetables is, if not looked down upon as ‘low class’, definitely considered part of the trappings of a non-middle class background. Not surprisingly, as economies develop, their meat consumption skyrockets. For example, prior to China’s economic modernization and market opening in the late 1970s, most people ate only vegetables and the occasional fish.

Now that China’s GDP continues to chug along at sustainable and elevated rates, meat consumption has exploded. So has the incidence rates of health conditions associated with high fat and high cholesterol diets like obesity, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, and, of course, Type 2 Diabetes. I’ve always found the class dimensions of food very interesting because in the United States and Europe, a veggie-heavy or veggie-leaning diet is often considered ‘smarter’ or classier-at least in significantly large circles.

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