Agriculture has evolved in many directions as populations increase, along with dietary habits. One of the greatest changes has been in demand and the subsequent rise in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or factory farms. The global livestock population topped four billion animals in 2010, keeping pace with increases in worldwide meat consumption.
Conflicts with CAFOs
The state of Iowa has one of the highest concentrations of CAFOs in the country. Nearly 20 million pigs alone are raised in facilities in the state. The industry helps supply the 55 percent of pork production from CAFOs worldwide.
Factory farms carry great environmental costs. The economic cost of feeding livestock alone is staggering. On average, pigs consume three pounds of grain for every pound of weight gain. This factor increases the carbon footprint of raising livestock, and hence, its environmental impacts.
Livestock also represent a threat due to the effects on global warming. Methane has 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. With rising livestock populations comes a greater risk of the impacts of climate change, to say nothing of the increased potential of nonpoint source pollution on water resources.
Meat Consumption and the Environment
One of the driving forces behind the explosion of factory farms is changes in meat consumption, specifically, China. While meat consumption has experienced steady growth in the United States since 1980, it has skyrocketed in China. Pork is the primary meat source. For the eight million tons of pork consumed in the United States, China consumes 52 million tons a year.
Export of meat products has helped fuel the rise in CAFOs. Countries like China have less grazing and farmland available. This factor has contributed to the increase in factory farms in states like Iowa. Agriculture already has contributed to many environmental issues that the state faces. Less than one percent of the original native prairie remains in Iowa. Other ecosystems have experienced similar losses.
In a world where people are more connected then they ever have been, the environmental effects of factory farms show that problems faced by other countries can have shared impacts. For Iowans, the global appetite for meat can increase the local risk of the associated environmental threats.