There are many factors that contribute to water pollution, but the one that would be discussed is animal agriculture. We are not talking about small farms; we are talking about industries whose only purpose is to raise animals for profit. These animals are raised in large quantities, and in the past, in some places, they have been found in inhumane conditions. These types of farms create large amounts of waste and pollution that is transferred to the water, to the earth and even to the same air we breathe. Every time we consume products we should probably wonder where are these products coming from and what we are sustaining. Although chicken sounds like a good idea for dinner tonight, eating chicken causes more harm than good to us and the planet because animal agriculture accounts for most of the water consumed in this country, emits two-thirds of the world’s acid-rain-causing ammonia and is the world’s largest source of water pollution.
In animal agriculture even though pollution is one of the main concerns, there are other factors that are as important and in some cases are being disregarded. There are some instances where it has been noted that, in some of this agricultural farms, there is little or no regard for the animal’s well-being. According to Deemer and Lobao (2011), few U.S. studies examine specific quality-of-life concerns regarding on-farm practices such as use of gestation crates for sows and battery cages for egg hens (p. 184). There are several factors that influence human behavior towards farm-animals, religion, politics, and sociodemographics. Studies were conducted within different groups separated in different categories such as race, religion, marital status, employment status, gender, vegetarian, no vegetarian, childhood residence. There was no significant difference within all of the groups but it was observed that “Catholics, mainline Protestants, and those with no religious preference hold less dominionistic views than evangelical Protestants, as shown by significant coefficients. As noted, insofar as religious traditionalists read the Bible more literally, they may have a stronger belief in human superiority over animals. Similarly, religiosity as measured by frequent church attendance is significantly related to higher dominion orientation. Those who reflect on the place of animals in their belief system hold somewhat less dominionistic views” (Deemer and Lobao, 2011, p. 184). During this study it was found that people that care less about human well-being are the ones who tend to be more concerned with animal welfare (Deemer and Lobao, 2011, p. 184).
There are still debates about animal’s well-being, how they should be kept, bred, moved, used and slaughtered. EU and British governments count with the minimum standards on animal welfare (Woods 2012, p. 14). Since the early 1960s concerns about livestock farming grew, “particularly in pig, poultry and calf production, farmers were attempting to keep larger numbers of animals in ever-smaller spaces, and to exert tighter control over their health and productivity. By the early 1960s, 35% of the nation’s laying stock was located in densely stocked battery cages, with another 50% in indoor deep litter houses. Two thirds of broiler chickens were kept indoors in units of more than 20,000 birds (Woods 2012, p. 16). Since then de-beaking in chickens was a common practice as well as tail docking in pigs to prevent cannibalism. Small spaces where there was not even enough room to turn were also popular; veal were also kept in small crates and fed with milk (Woods 2012, p. 16). Today some of these practices still being used “however, the tension between scientific and ethical perspectives remains unresolved. Consequently, the question of how animals should be kept on farms continues to be a highly contentious and a highly political problem” (Woods 2012, p. 21). “A growing popular literature has depicted commercial animal production as 1) detrimental to animal welfare, 2) controlled by corporate interests, 3) motivated by profit rather than by traditional animal care values, 4) causing increased world hunger, 5) producing unhealthy food, and 6) harming the environment. The New Perception debate raises important and complex ethical issues; in order to provide useful guidance, both scientists and ethicists must consider these issues as research problems that are worthy of genuine investigation and analysis” (Fraser,. 2001, p. 634). There are always different perspectives, but animal abuse is animal abuse, and anything that will cause suffering is abuse.
Genetically Engineered livestock has become a recent topic particularly with respect to welfare concerns. This work is not only to increase animal productivity, increase growth, and feed efficiency, but also in more important factors such as studying the same to reduce environmental pollution from animals “and to improve both animal and human health” (Maga, E.A., Murray, J.D., 2010, p. 1588). Animal welfare was affected in some instances in the past, but presently the well-being of these animals is as important as the well-being of any other animals used in modern production systems (Maga, E.A., Murray, J.D., 2010, p. 1588). Fahrenkrug et al (2010) explains that “indirect modification of animal genomes” has been used over more than 10,000 and that “improvements in the efficiency and precision of genetic technologies will enable a timely response to meet the multifaceted food requirements of a rapidly increasing world population” (p. 2530). If there would be animals that produce greater amounts of resources less animals would be required decreasing their footprint (Fahrenkrug et al, 2010, p. 2533). Another scientist goal is to create species that would be more resistant to diseases.
Pollution, is the real cost we pay for negligent farming practice, that is why pollution is one the main concerns in agriculture. Giant livestock farms produce vast amounts of waste, often equivalent of a small city, this threaten humans, fish and ecosystems (“Facts,” 2011). There has been a rapid increase in pollution from agriculture due to the rapid growth in livestock farming, particularly in pig, poultry and dairy. The most notorious contaminants caused by agriculture are nitrate, phosphorus, pesticides, soil sediment, salt and pathogen pollution of water (Parris, 2011, p. 33). “Water pollution from agriculture has associated costs in terms of removing pollutants from drinking water supplies, as well as damage to ecosystems and commercial fishing, recreational, and cultural values associated with rivers, lakes groundwater and marine waters” (Parris, 2011, p. 33). Monitoring networks have been established to measure pollution of water bodies, but these are not found in all the countries, neither tracks all the pollutants. Pollution levels can vary depending on the region, conditions, climate, policies and farming practices. Pollutants, even when they take longer, tend to leach through soils into aquifers, contaminating them. Agriculture is a major cause of surface water pollution and the major growing source of groundwater pollution (Parris, 2011, p. 33).
It used to be water pollution, now they are dead zones “nutrients in animal waste cause algal blooms, which use up oxygen in the water, contributing to a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where there’s not enough oxygen to support aquatic life. The dead zone fluctuates in size each year, extending a record… 7,700 square miles during the summer 2010” (“Facts” 2011). ”Estuarine and coastal agricultural nutrient pollution is also an issue in some regions causing algal blooms (i.e. “red tides” or “dead zones”), damaging marine life, including commercial fisheries in coastal waters adjacent to Australia, Japan, Korea, the United States and Europe, mainly the Baltic, North Sea and Mediterranean. This is evident in the widespread problem of eutrophication reported in surface water across OECD countries, and the damage to aquatic organisms from pesticides” (Parris, 2011, p. 39). Two great examples of agricultural water pollution (coastal) are in the Great Lakes of North America and the Australian Great Barrier Reef.
Excess fertilizers, farm nutrients, pesticides and soil sediments that are being washed into rivers and oceans are threatening, recreational as well as sustainment activities and raising the costs of treating drinking water. Water pollutants not only affect humans, they affect different species habitats, and there are no bodies of water being spared. “There is a growing recognition that water policies should be coherent across different scales of decision-making, including from the farm to water catchment, national and international levels, and also between the different users and uses of water (e.g. aquatic ecosystems, recreational uses). The need for policy coherence is also important across agricultural, environmental and water policies, especially to avoid conflicting signals and incentives to farmers in achieving sustainable water management” (Parris, 2011, p. 43). Water is the most important substance on earth, without water there is no life. Polluted water has to go through extensive and expensive purification process before it can be consumed. Water is vital not only for humans, but also for other animal species as well as entire habitats. When water resources get affected there is a chain reaction that will affect everything surrounding the area and not only that but with the help of air, and wind pollution will travel for miles affecting more than we can even imagine.
Current data usually suggests that the major source of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation and the transportation industry, but in reality “industrial animal agriculture is also a significant contributor. Not only do the animals themselves produce methane through respiration and decomposition, but when combining all areas of the livestock sector (e.g. production of feed, rearing, transportation and processing), it produces large volumes of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide” (Bristow, 2011, p. 205). Schiepanski and Bennett (2012) reported that “Agriculture covers more than one-third of the world’s ice-free land area and is a large component of human perturbations to global biogeochemical cycles (p. 256). Gases, odour, and dust constitute the three major types of air pollution from Industrial farming. “High concentrations and emissions of agricultural air pollutants are related to human and animal health, ecological damage, loss of nitrogen as fertilizer, and malodour emissions” (Ni et al. 2010, p. 5918). Ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide are among the gases that cause the greatest environmental concerns from industrial farming. “Hydrogen sulfide is considered the most dangerous gas in animal buildings and manure storage. It has been responsible for many animal as well as human deaths in animal facilities” (Ni et al. 2010, p. 5918).
Animal Manure is a significant source of environmental pollution. Carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide from animal manure are released to the environment. It has been proven that besides the release of gases on its own there are bigger emissions during removal of manure due to the agitation of the manure during storage emptying. It has also been noted that buildings with poor ventilation contain a higher concentration of gases; this gases are harmful for the animals. Population has grown, as a result “meat consumption nearly doubled… As a result, a growing global livestock population now annually produces seven to nine times more manure than the global human population” (Galloway et al. 2007; Steinfeid et al. 2010, as cited in Schiepanski and Bennett, 2012, p. 257). Schiepanski and Bennet (2012) explained that the “livestock waste is increasingly concentrated in confined animal feeding operations,” they also mentioned that usually this operations are not near areas where there is a significant crop production (p. 257). This is important because in some of this areas manure could be used as a fertilizer and at least serve one good purpose.
Another major concern is the acid rain, “Sulfur dioxide is one of the six criteria pollutants defined by the U.S. EPA and is a major precursor to acid rain. It contributes to the acidification of soils, lakes, and streams and the associated adverse impacts on ecosystems (USEPA, 2003 as cited by Ni, J. Et al, 2010 p. 5919). Lagoon manure storages are also a big concern, and they are widely used in industrial animal agriculture. These open-air waste lagoons maybe as big as several football fields, and prone to leaks and spills (e.g. in 1995 a hog-waste lagoon, in North Carolina, burst spilling 25 million gallons of manure into the New River killing about 10 million fish and closing 364,000 of coastal wetlands to shell fishing) (“Facts,” 2011).
Antibiotics are extremely important for treatment of bacterial infections in humans as well as for the efficient production of food animals. Most of the antibiotics used in humans have also been used in animals. “Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin over 50 years ago, warned that bacteria could develop resistance to antibiotics that would diminish their effectiveness over time. Sure enough, as each new class of antibiotics was released, resistance has emerged sooner or later in pathogenic bacteria. Historically, the principal strategies to cope with resistance were twofold: develop new or altered drugs to which target pathogens are susceptible, and/or take steps to delay the onset of resistance by limiting use” (McEwen, 2006, p. 239). There is some concern in the ability of bacteria to become resistant to certain antibiotics, but the main concern “is the ability of bacteria to acquire resistance attributes through genetic mutation or transfer of genetic elements from other bacteria of the same or even completely different species and genera.” (McEwen, 2006, p. 241). There is evidence that demonstrates that with antibiotic exposure the likelihood of prevalence resistant bacteria will increase. “There are many examples in which the increasing prevalence of resistant microbial strains jeopardized the continuing effective use of the respective antibiotics in clinical medicine. In addition to resistant infections that occur in health-care establishments, one of the recent challenges is the emergence of pathogens, such as MRSA” (Stain, 2011, p. 314). Since the use of antibiotics in healthy animals contributed to their growth rate, this became a common practice. “Cooking destroys bacteria in food products, pathogens pose a significant threat under several circumstances” (Stain, 2011, p. 317). The more resistant the bacteria become the bigger threat it poses eventually causing an ecological disaster.
Human health is or should be everybody’s priority. Modern agriculture seemed to have become more aware or more interested of these issues. “Our lives are sustained by consumption of foods that are produced almost exclusively by modern agricultural practices. Ideally, these foods are of high nutritional value and free of potentially deleterious compounds or agents (e.g., toxins, pathogens, parasites, chemicals) (Frank, 2011, p. 835). Frank (2011) explained that in reality, we are usually exposed to pollutants, infectious agents and degraded resources “as a result of livestock and crop production” (p. 835). “Practices that disturb the microbiots, such as antibiotic use or dietary manipulation, can lead to dysfunction and increased susceptibility of livestock to infectious diseases” (Frank, 2011, p. 840). Even though several changes have been made, we still need to be educated and learn more about acceptable means of modifying livestock and food products to improve human’s health (Frank, 2011, p. 835).
There are different countries like Ireland, where agriculture “utilizes 63% of total land area and has a big environmental impact accounting for 70% of phosphorus and 82% of nitrogen in surface waters, and for 97% of ammonia, 81% of nitrous oxide and 86% of methane emissions to air. Phosphorus loss to water is Ireland’s most serious pollution problem (Humphreys, 2008 p. 36). To achieve environmental targets there was a decline in “ruminant livestock populations and declining inputs of manufactured fertilizers as a result of increasing emphasis on extensification of production practices in the Common Agricultural Policy during the past decade…a wide ranging set of regulations governing agricultural practices was implemented in 2006 (Humphreys, 2008 p. 36). This is just an example of how a county can overcome pollution, but “The way we farm now is destructive not only for us, but also for the soil, and the environment. Demand for meat and poultry is set to rise 25% by 2015, but the earth can no longer deliver. Unless there is a radical change in the way we grow and consume food, we face a future of eroded farmland, hollowed-out countryside, scarier germs, higher health costs, and bland taste. Each of us depends on the soil, animals and plants, and if we don’t take care of our land, it can’t take care of us.” (Walsh, 2009 p.1)
Changes do not always occur as fast as we would like them, and sometimes the results are not what we really expected, but there is always a starting point. Feeding habits could be one of the little changes that will add up to a bigger benefit. One of the concerns during feeding is bloating; if animals are bloated they could die. There is a plant that has attracted some attention “sanfoin” it contains tannin, which inhibits bloat, and it is a really attractive plant for several animals. Sanfoin never causes bloat. Plant tannins are also effective against intestinal worms. “Sanfoin tannins are more effective than other plant tannins for lowering total worm burdens and egg excretion (Mueller-Harvey, 2009 p. 23). Sanfoin is also tolerant of drought and alkaline soils, provides an efficient use of nutrients in ruminants and produce lower emissions of environmental pollutants (Mueller-Harvey, 2009 p. 23). Lower emissions will help with water contamination, air pollution and obviously acid rain. If more resources like this are found and other little steps are taken, little by little we will not just help the environment, we will also help ourselves.
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