The Faint Green Tint of Factory Farms E-mail
Thursday, 25 April 2013 00:00  |  Written by Steve Graham | Blog Entry

Pig photo by Just ChaosMass feedlots and slaughterhouses are inhumane and dangerous—and they generate disease and pollution along with their cheap meat. But corporate agriculture giants are driving innovative renewable energy developments. So all is forgiven. Not really, but it goes to show that everything’s not as black and white as the 1906 stockyard photos from Upton Sinclair’s Jungle days.

Let me preface this by saying that I am a fairly strict vegetarian, mainly for environmental reasons. We desperately need a more sustainable and healthy agricultural system, for humans, animals and the environment.

To be clear, I am no fan of factory farming. Still, while the United Nations mulls a “fart tax” for meat producers, mega-meat companies are developing new ways of turning their mountains of waste into energy. Some of their ideas are reducing their sizable eco-footprints, and can be translated to other companies and industries.

Generating Poop Power
JBS Swift, the world’s largest beef producer, has partnered with Environmental Power to run a biogas plant at its large Nebraska feedlot and slaughterhouse. The plant uses anaerobic digester technology to turn animal waste into methane-heavy biogas. It generates the estimated equivalent of 1.7 million gallons of oil, offsetting 25% of natural-gas use at the Nebraska facility. It also diverts much of the waste generated at the facility.

Smithfield Farms, the nation’s largest pork producer, is more directly capturing piggy methane emissions in modified steam boilers. In 2006, the company claims that it saved 130 billion BTUs of natural gas, offsetting 196,000 metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions.

And the new technology is already seeing wider application. The city of Toronto this month moved toward an anaerobic digestion facility that will turn 90,000 tons of food waste into biogas.

More Energy and Water Savings
Smithfield is making other strides toward sustainability as well. The company just tapped former corporate vice president Dennis Treacy as the company’s first Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). Treacy once ran Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, and was an assistant attorney general in the natural-resources section for the state. Of course, his appointment may just be a greenwash for “the other white meat.”

Yet based on the bragging it is doing about some recent accomplishments, the company at least seems to understand the need for sustainability measures. It saves energy by replacing heat lamps with more efficient heating pads for its piglets, and putting in compact fluorescent bulbs. It also claims to have saved 250,000 gallons of gas through new truck routing software, and reduced water use.

To my mind, these measures don’t really make up for fouling the air and water, not to mention raising unhealthy animals and feeding us unhealthy meat. However, they are interesting developments that can be continued and refined as these companies and others move toward greater sustainability.

In case you think I have been too soft on factory farms, get a second opinion by watching The Meatrix cartoon, which appears in EcoHearth’s Eco Tube collection; reading the Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money book; and renting or buying the Death on a Factory Farm film.

Additional resources
How to Choose Sustainably Produced Food
Swine Flu, Bird Flu and Mad Cow Disease Linked to Factory Farming

Comments (1)add
Written by Azizajalal , April 26, 2010
Thanks for the insight! There is a lot of helpful information within those links.

Tint
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Eco Tip

Grow a garden or a fruit tree. A garden is fun, provides exercise, teaches kids about nature, reduces your carbon footprint (since your food need not be shipped to you), and controls what pesticides or chemicals do or do not go into the food you eat. Not to mention how delicious and nutritious fresh-picked fruits and vegetables are! More tips...

Eco Quote

How long can men thrive between walls of brick, walking on asphalt pavements, breathing the fumes of coal and of oil, growing, working, dying, with hardly a thought of wind, and sky, and fields of grain, seeing only machine-made beauty, the mineral-like quality of life?  - Charles A. Lindbergh, Reader's Digest, November 1939   More quotes...