Environmental concern about meat and dairy production has been long-standing. The five largest meat and dairy corporations (JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America, and Fonterra) are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the giant oil conglomerate ExxonMobil. Factory farms pollute the environment by releasing large volumes of manure, chemicals, and antibiotics into the water. Antimicrobial resistance in the natural world continues to increase because livestock is frequently treated with antimicrobials for a variety of diseases. And as factory farms make serious contributions to ocean pollution, the resulting algal blooms kill marine life. The list of negative environmental impacts from raising livestock can go on for pages. Meanwhile, global meat consumption continues to rise, prompting companies like JBS to increase production. With climate change being the reality of everyday life, the impact from factory farms and raising livestock needs to be addressed as a public health concern. The government can address the negative impacts that factory farms have by reducing the amount of subsidies that factory farms receive and shift such support to sustainable vegetable and fruit farming instead.
Livestock production in the US became industrialized after World War II and caused the consumption of meat to rise sharply. Nowadays, meat and dairy production in the US receive 63% of federal government subsidies, while fruits and vegetables only receive 0.04%. At the same time, most of the subsidies go to large corporations instead of smaller farmers. This has not only drastically reduced the price of meat in the US, but also made factory farms a necessity to keep up with the demand for cheap meat.
Lowering the percentage of subsidies that factory farms receive is a step in the right direction to address the negative impact on climate and the environment, especially because meat and dairy production constitutes one of the world’s biggest sources of livestock-related CO2 emissions. The price of meat when unsubsidized will better reflect the price of the environmental destruction that it takes to produce it. Furthermore, with plant-based diets and foods becoming increasingly popular over the past decade, eliminating meat and dairy subsidies would also be aligned with the direction of the nation’s diet. Shifting subsidies to sustainable vegetables and fruits will then lower their cost and encourage healthier and more environmentally conscious food purchases. In the end, lowering the subsidies on meat and transitioning that subsidy to more sustainable foods will change how much meat is purchased and produced and begin to reduce the harm that the industry has on the environment.