In order to meet the high global demand for meat, we slaughter around 70 billion land animals for food each year, as well as up to 2.7 trillion marine animals. This already high demand continues to rise all over the world, meaning these kind of quantities can only be achieved through factory farming.
Regardless of how and where they are raised, most farmed animals end up in the same slaughterhouses and subject to similar slaughter practices whether they are organic, free range or factory farmed. Slaughter methods vary, but a captive bolt pistol shot to the head followed by having their throats slit, while still alive, is standard industry practice for pigs, goats and cows. This represents the best case scenario for a slaughtered animal, but many reports and videos exist which suggest that due to the high slaughter speeds and intense pressure on workers, cows still being alive and conscious while being skinned or dismembered on the production line is not uncommon. Many of these reports come from the slaughterhouse workers themselves, who are often poor immigrants with no other choice, performing one of the most dangerous, traumatising and exploitative jobs in the world. Chickens in slaughterhouses endure similar fates as other animals, usually being dragged through electrified pools before having their throats slit while hanging upside down on a conveyor belt. It is difficult to witness any of this for yourself, as slaughterhouses are notoriously secretive institutions. In several states, it is actually illegal to film or take pictures of the treatment of animals inside a farm or slaughterhouse.
As well as harm caused to the animals themselves, meat production involves massive environmental destruction and resource use. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transport combined. Cows alone produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day, with a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2 on a 20 year time frame. Livestock is also responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide, which stays in the atmosphere for approximately 150 years. All of this means that even if we cut all other CO2e emissions to zero immediately, we would still exceed our 565 gigatonnes limit by 2030, solely from raising animals for food. In terms of land use, a full 1/3 of the planet’s land surface and 2/3 of available agricultural land is used for farming animals. If we look at cows, for example, it takes 16 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef. That’s 94% more land, and 94% more pesticides than just eating that grain directly. All told, livestock consume 70% of all the grain we produce, 98% of all soy, and a fifth of all water consumed globally. It is for these reasons and many others that even the UN have urged a global shift towards veganism.
It is clear then, that regardless of its source, meat is both unethical and unsustainable. Farmed animals like pigs, chickens, goats and cows are intelligent, sentient beings, with rich emotional lives and deep social connections. Despite this, the industry views them as commodities; as sources of profit rather than beings with their own needs and preferences which must be respected. Even the least cruel farms view their animals this way; due to their very nature as profitable enterprises animal welfare and rights will always come second to profit, if they are factored in at all. This in itself is exploitative. Given the harm that animal products cause and the fact that most of us can be perfectly healthy without consuming them, those of us who have the option to live a vegan lifestyle have a moral obligation to do so.