My Burger Just Costs $8.99, Right?

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A Farm Cow

Devin Wallace, Science and Technology Middle School Writer

Have you ever wonder what went into that burger on your dinner table? Well, the answer is quite a lot. It takes about 650 gallons of water, 13.5 pounds of grain, 64.5 square feet of land, and four pounds of greenhouse gas emission to produce a quarter-pound of beef for one meal. Is it worth it? 

As a society, humans have been moving in the direction of factory farming for a long time. Ever since we started farming animals, the demand for meat has been growing at a nearly unstoppable rate. The number of animals being farmed and the amount of resources we’ve been using for them has crept up on us without us realizing the full impact. This process affects the environment, the economy, and society, but there is something we can do about it.  

Now, let’s take a step back and look at the impacts on the environment as a whole. We already know what goes into one single burger, but what is the overall impact of that burger? With the 330 million people in the U.S., many of whom eat meat daily, the relative impact of a beef-based meal becomes quite substantial. According to Bloomberg, factory farming takes an estimated 41% of all land in the U.S. to house and feed all of the animals That’s more than six times the amount of land we use to grow fruits and vegetables, and it’s more than the number of urban areas and forests we have combined. In addition, only about 18% of our calories come from meat. According to The Guardian, around 70% of global water use is used by the animal farming industry. The aforementioned uses of water and food just aren’t sustainable on a worldwide scale. Studies from BBC show that if everyone ate like the average American, we’d need about four of our Earths to feed everyone. 

Additionally, since the demand for meat keeps growing, humans keep expanding the amount of land we use for animal farming. It is estimated that in forty years, global meat consumption will double, which will simultaneously cause the amount of land used for agriculture to increase as well. Because of these potential figures, those in the agriculture industry convert millions of acres of forest land into agricultural land each year, taking away from the diverse ecosystems and replacing them with monoculture farms. This practice has a huge effect on those ecosystems and the biodiversity they can sustain. 

In addition to using a substantial amount of land, farming animals uses many other resources throughout the process such as pesticides and machinery, which both release a considerable amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. For example, since about 67% of crops are grown to feed the animals we kill and eat, according to Cornell University, a lot of pesticides are required for the growth of these crops, polluting the air, water, and ground. The excessive use of these pesticides, combined with the amount of machinery used, and the waste produced in the process, emits tons of greenhouse gases. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between 14% and 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to animal farming in the U.S. That’s about 1,100 million metric tons (2.4 trillion pounds) of greenhouse gas emissions. To put that figure into a comprehensible form, that’s the weight of about 157 million African elephants.

In 2005, The World Health Organization declared that eating meat also greatly increases your risk of getting various types of cancer. It increases the chance of obesity and heart disease as well, leading to the average meat-eater living for five to seven years less than vegetarians.”

The practice of farming animals in excess has a big impact on human communities as well, especially ones near factory farms. Factory farms create an indomitable stench from all of the waste generated by the animals. According to Rich Hall, the former head of city planning and land usage in Maryland and South Carolina, and current head of city planning in New Castle County, Delaware, there are a plethora of complaints by people living near factory farms due to the smell and the pollution they create. Often, there are leaks from the farms causing the waste to get into rivers, streams, and ponds. More than two trillion pounds of livestock manure pollute bodies of water across the country, lowering property value and destroying ecosystems. 

Animal farming also affects human health greatly. Historically, animal meat has been considered an integral source of protein in the typical human diet. But, when measured pound for pound, many plant-based foods such as beans and tofu have just as much protein and are generally more nutritionally complex than meats. Also, the animals living on farms have a lot of antibiotics put into them. In fact, according to the FDA, up to 80% of medically essential antibiotics are used in the livestock and poultry industries. In 2005, The World Health Organization declared that eating meat also greatly increases your risk of getting various types of cancer. It increases the chance of obesity and heart disease as well, leading to the average meat-eater living for five to seven years less than vegetarians, according to Time Magazine

Commonly, however, people tend to feel that their potential to make an impact on the harmful practices of the meat industry is quite limited. A student at WFS said, “The animals are already dead. You can’t change that.” While this quote does bring up a harsh reality, there are ways the individual can make a difference. Obviously, eating less meat is an option because the average meat-eater eats 7,000 animals in their lifetime, according to USA Today. So, eating less meat directly correlates to the ethicality and sustainability of your dietary habits, as you lower the number of animals killed for your consumption. Some other actions you can take are to contact a local official to petition for a change in the meat industry proximate to your home. At the micro-level, you can work to spread your knowledge of animal farming and its adverse effects. 

Animal farming is a huge problem that affects us all in some way, but you, as an individual, do have the power to shape markets, communities, and people with the choices you make. There’s already a movement to move away from animal farming. We’re making advancements in plant-based meats such as the Impossible and Beyond burgers and more people are making the decision to stop eating meat. You can make a real difference by joining this movement.