Industrial Agriculture and its Impact on the Environment

Bobbi Peterson Sustainability Writer
By Bobbi Peterson Sustainability Writer

Industrial agriculture, sometimes referred to as factory farming, is viewed by many farmers as a trend that is the antithesis of traditional farms. Whereas farms once served as friendly, community-centric co-ops that catered solely to the surrounding regions, industrial farms and plots are the exact opposite.

Source: Farm Sanctuary

Perhaps even more troubling, however, is industrial agriculture’s negative impact on our environment.

Air Pollution and Toxic Emissions

Look at a factory farming operation, and you’ll witness its negative environmental impact. Toxic emissions in the form of thick clouds of smoke fill the sky with hydrogen sulfide, methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. Sources currently report approximately 400 different air pollutants that are produced through modern industrial agriculture.

Source: Farm Sanctuary

Other common air pollutants include carbon dioxide, which has the potential to kill livestock and even humans when working in confined spaces, ammonia, various types of particulate matter and numerous endotoxins. As you can see, industrial-sized farms are incredibly dangerous for both the animals and those who work there.

http://nasdonline.org/48/d001616/manure-gas-dangers.html

Damage to Local Bodies of Water

It’s a well-known fact that chemical-based fertilizers and pesticide products are amongst the major contributors of water pollution in the U.S. today. According to studies completed in 2000 by the Environmental Protection Agency, industrial agriculture accounted for 48% of the pollution found in our nation’s rivers and streams, as well as 41% of the overall pollution in our lakes.

Farm Sanctuary

Factory farms consume enormous amounts of freshwater on a daily basis. This water is often left polluted, either through chemical contaminants or animal waste, so it is non-renewable. According to statistics, it takes nearly 1,600 gallons of water to produce one pound of U.S.-raised beef.

Energy Waste in Industrial Farming Equipment

Despite the increasing availability of environmentally friendly equipment and machinery, many factory farms still utilize industrial-grade hardware, vehicles and tools. This equipment contributes to the overall carbon footprint of the operation, and some of it can be undeniably dangerous to the human operator.

Compounding the problem even further is the issue of day-to-day fuel consumption, which can be incredibly costly given the fluctuating prices of gasoline in the U.S.


Some equipment, however, is manufactured specifically with fuel efficiency in mind. CAT’s D7E tractor, for example, features an electric drive system that is capable of providing 30 percent greater fuel economy than its predecessor.

Unhealthy Living Conditions and an Unhealthy Product

The animals raised on factory farms often live in unhealthy and, in some cases, downright barbaric conditions. This is evident through the frequent and numerous food recalls seen within the United States, many of which involve meat from modern industrial agriculture operations.


With billions of chickens, more than 100 million pigs and tens of millions of cows living in factory farms across the United States, it’s easy to see how the unhealthy living conditions of farm-raised animals could result in a tainted product that is unfit for human consumption. It happens so often that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports on dozens of salmonella outbreaks on a yearly basis, many of which go unnoticed until the initial symptoms are seen within the human population.

Farm Sanctuary

Eliminating Our Reliance on Industrial Agriculture

Apart from being counterproductive to the fundamental ideas and attitudes of many of our nation’s farmers, industrial agriculture is unquestionably damaging to the environment. By rebuking such operations, either by shopping at local farmers markets, maintaining community-based farms or even growing your own backyard gardens, you too can play a part in cleaning up unwanted corporations as well as the environment.

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