WHEN WE HARM ANIMALS AND NATURE, WE HARM OURSELVES
By Dr. Michael W. Fox
Senior reporter Josh Loeb’s thought-provoking and professionally challenging Editorial, ‘Cows and the carbon conundrum’ and Feature article ‘COP26: Is change afoot in livestock farming’. published in the British Veterinary Association’s journal the Veterinary Record (Vol.198, No. 9, p. 335 & p. 348-351,2021) is a timely contribution.
CAFOs ( concentrated animal feeding operations), notably pig and poultry factories and beef and dairy cow feedlots are anathema to sustainable farming practices as is the overstocking and over-grazing of grasslands by cattle, sheep and goats with methane emissions, a short-lived but significant greenhouse gas, being problematic.
The issues of climate change, global warming and loss of biodiversity call for a re-examination of our relationships with and treatment of plants and animals wild and domesticated from the integrative perspective of One Earth, One Economy and One Health. Continuing to raise and kill farmed animals for their meat is a major contributor to these planetary problems.
Ecologically sustainable and regenerative agricultural systems such as biodynamic farming where farmed animals are integrated with crop production contribute to nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration or at least significantly reduced carbon emissions. Relatively novel farmed species providing proteins, fats and other nutrients for human, companion animal and livestock feeding are now being selected and range from Tilapia fish to Earthworms and Black Soldier fly larvae. Also, in smallholdings, livestock ( and human) manure can be converted into biogas fuel to reduce deforestation and the remaining slurry used to fertilize crops.
Indeed, the issues of climate change, global warming and loss of biodiversity call for a re-examination of our relationships with and treatment of plants and animals wild and domesticated from the integrative perspective of One Earth, One Economy and One Health. We are learning more of the essential roles of microorganisms in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in nutrient cycling and carbon-sequestration. Industrial agricultural and agroforestry practices have degraded the soil quality and biodiversity, the loss of fungal mycelia now being a documented concern. (1). Correcting such dysbiosis, which some see as no less essential than re-forestation, notably of decimated coastal mangrove forests, would do much to help reduce the severity of climate change and global warming; and improve plant and animal, including human, health.
Our pollution of marine and fresh water ecosystems has decimated populations of nutrient-recycling and carbon-sequestering phytoplankton and zooplankton that form the basis of the food-chain for other species. (2, 3, 4). If Thomas Crapper, who improved the flush toilet in the late 19th century were alive today he would surely wonder about the raw municipal sewage, farmed animal wastes and agrichemical fertilizer run-off causing eutrophication and toxic algal blooms additionally boosted by rising water temperatures. Too much of a good thing in the wrong place creates dysbiosis and pathogens.
Over a thousand endangered Manatees have starved to death in Florida waters because the light needed for sea grass, their main food, to grow, was blocked by algal blooms. (5).
Human feces, and urine, a source of nitrogenous urea, (pharmaceutical residues notwithstanding), should be recycled and returned to the land to nourish crops. But today urea is manufactured from natural gas or gas derived from coal to produce ammonia which is then used to synthesize urea—all adding to global warming and pollution along with other agrichemical fertilizers and pesticides. Carbon dioxide, a byproduct of urea production, is marketed as “food grade” and used to make soda fizz and to inhumanely render pigs and poultry unconscious during slaughter and processing. A shortage of carbon dioxide in the fall of 2021 in the U.K. meant many pigs had to be held back from going to slaughter and even “depopulated” on the farms. A global shortage of urea for farmers is currently being felt worldwide. (6).
According to the USDA some 40% of food is wasted annually in the U.S. Several correctives are called for including upcycling damaged foods rejected for human consumption for entomophagy– insect farming– and livetsock, poultry and fish farming. Municipal waste handling must mandate separation of food waste in trash for separate collection conversion into biogas or compost since going into landfills such waste generates methane production, contributing significantly to global warming. Mandatory recycling of organic waste has been initiated in California beginning in January 2022 and other municipalities are following suit. Municipalities burning waste that includes plastic must cease and desist because of the dioxins and other toxins being released with incineration, a world-wide practice no less harmful than ocean dumping of such waste material.
The economy of Nature, and ultimately, our food-security and health, depend on the ecological services provided by the indigenous biodiversity of plants, animals and microorganisms. Our expanding population, encroachment and decimation of wildlands increases the probability of viral and other pathogen spillover of zoonotic diseases from wildlife. According to the United Nations report, Groundswell, 200 million people may be climate-change migrants seeking refuge from uninhabitable homelands by 2050.
Our over-harvesting of krill for oil and livestock feed for human consumption starves whales and also starves carbon-sequestering plankton of essential nutrients from the fecal wastes of krill-eating whales. (7) This is illustrative of our extractive and consumptive global industries and commerce that must become “Green”; circular and sustainable economies and trade based on the principle of One Earth, One Economy and One Health.
The veterinary profession can rise to these challenges along with other biologically trained scientists and health experts and economists to serve the common good and the good of the Commons. Political support and consumer education nationally and internationally are vital components of ensuring a viable future and quality of life for the generations to come.
1.Toby Kiers and Merlin Sheldrake A powerful and underappreciated ally in the climate crisis? Fungi https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/nov/30/fungi-climate-crisis-ally
2.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Marine organisms produce over half of the oxygen that land animals need to breathe. Available at: https://tinyurl.com/NOAAMarineO2. Accessed April 10, 2019.
3.Vroom R, Halsband C, Besseling E, Koelmans aA. Effects of microplastics on zooplankton: microplastic ingestion: the role of taste. Proceedings ICES/PICES 6th Zooplankton Production Symposium. 2016.
4.Sjollema SB, Redondo-Hasselerharm P, Leslie HA, et al Kraak . Do plastic particles affect microalgal photosynthesis and growth? Aqua Tox. 2016;170:259-261.
5 Scottie Andrew Manatee deaths in Florida surpass 1,000 in a historically grim year for the species - CNN (11/17/2021)
6.Raymond Zhong, A shortage felt worldwide. New York Times, Dec 6th 2021
7.Matthew S. Savoca, Max F. Czapanskiy, Shirel R. Kahane-Rapport et al Baleen whale prey consumption based on high-resolution foraging measurements Nature | Vol 599 | 4 November 2021 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03991-5