As many of us know, big commercial chicken raising operations are often quite nasty places. These chickens are grown to market size in huge sheds like the one in the image to the left. Now it seems the dairy, beef, lamb, and pork produces want to move indoors also. I would have thought this a joke if JD had not sent me a link to this BBC article. Even still, I checked the date of the story to make sure it was not April 1st. I also found another source for the same information. I recommend you all read the article but the summary is as follows.
Cows fart. Cows burp. Cows fart and burp a lot. I can attest to this from first hand experience. I grew up beside a small dairy farm and there is nothing quite as funny to young boys as the explosions cows are capable of emitting from either end of their bodies. These emissions, in addition to causing belly aches from laughter in children, contain the greenhouse gas methane. This methane has been a target of many advocates of a meat free diet, saying that if people reduce the amount of meat they eat, we can greatly reduce the number of cattle raised for food, thereby significantly reduce greenhouse emissions. Apparently sheep, and to a lesser extent pigs, also contribute to global warming.
The meat producers of the world are worried that the evidence does indeed show these animals to contribute to global warming. They are worried that this knowledge will reduce meat consumption, threatening their businesses. So, the meat industry has come up with the idea of raising cattle indoors in the same way that chickens are raised. They claim this will be a more “humane and healthy” environment for the animals. I don’t get that reasoning, as I would think the chickens raised in these artificial environments, full of hormones and antibiotics, are not healthier themselves, or healthier for you to eat, than organic chickens allowed to roam outdoors.
If the benefits to the animals or the consumers of their meat can be debated, some benefits to the meat industry are clear. The huge buildings needed to grow cattle to market would be sealed and the gas produced by the cattle would be captured before it can escape to the atmosphere. These gasses might also be able to be marketed as fuel of some sort. Supposedly the animals can be raised more cheaply indoors. I think this is a big reason for the push to move sheep and cattle into large sheds. The meat producers may be using the global warming concerns to try and do something they have wanted to for years, but which they knew would be politically and ethically unacceptable to most people.
There are several interesting quotes in the BBC article, but one I found particularly odd said that by keeping the animals inside, “animals do not waste food energy on running about and keeping warm”. The idea is that they would require significantly less grain to get them to market size. Another quote in the article says, farm animals “are life forms and deserve respect”. I am not sure that by building huge hanger-like sheds to confine and control cattle, we are “respecting” them.
There is also a lot of recent evidence that free roaming, grass fed beef is much healthier for us to eat than conventionally grain fattened beef. Here, and here, are a couple of articles that discuss the advantages of grass fed beef. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I do enjoy it occasionally. I am not happy that the meat industry is using global warming concerns to bolster their arguments for more controlled, intensive and artificial methods of producing the meat we eat. I have a feeling the benefactors of a change like this will be the big meat producers, not consumers, and certainly not the animals.