Over the past century, the face of our food system and environment have changed drastically. We witnessed a shift from smaller scale, local farms that provided food for their municipalities to industrialized mega-farms where animals and crops became mass-produced commodities meant to meet the demands of people all across the country – and beyond. As a result, 99 percent of chicken, 95 percent of pigs and 78 percent of cows in the U.S. are now raised on factory farms. This might mean that these products are more widely available for the public but it fails to take into account the enormous environmental impact that our current food system, dominated by animal agriculture, is having on the world.

This destructive industry currently occupies over half of the world’s arable land resources and uses the majority of our freshwater stores. The UN estimates that animal agriculture is responsible for around 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while the Worldwatch Institute estimates it could be as high as 51 percent. Additionally, this system causes rampant air and water pollution, land degradation, deforestation and is pushing countless species to the brink of extinction.

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All of these negative impacts are incredibly daunting to think about, but new research from the journal Geophysical Research Letters, authored by three Columbia University professors, brings the human consequences of the food system home. According to the study’s findings, farms are the number one source of fine-particulate air pollution in the U.S., Europe, Russia, and China. So what exactly does this mean? Well, basically, solid particles of fertilizer and livestock waste that are smaller than 1/30th the width of human hair are not only airborne materials that we breathe in every day – but they make up the majority of this type of pollution. Yes, we are in fact breathing in livestock waste. Adding insult to injury, the study asserts that these particles are primarily made airborne by way of car, power plant, and factory emissions. Nothing like a noxious cocktail of all the pollution wrought by our need for industrialization.

Unfortunately, when we breathe in these particles, they become part of our bodies, able to penetrate deep into lung tissue. It is estimated that 3.3 million deaths each year from illnesses like heart and pulmonary disease, could be exacerbated by these particulates.

What Can You Do?

The researchers suggest that if we can reduce the emissions from cars, power plants, and other industries that we can reduce the ability of agricultural particles from becoming pollutants – which undoubtedly, would be a good thing … but that still does not entirely solve the problem. Prior studies have illustrated the pervasive nature of airborne factory farm waste, finding that areas surrounding cattle feedlots tested positive for airborne waste particles as well as antibiotics that contribute to superbugs. If we truly hope to solve this problem, and not just cross our fingers hoping the wind dies down anytime soon, we need to look at the source – namely, the animal agriculture industry.

Given the breadth of destruction caused by this singular industry, which is not even effective at doing what it sets out to – provide ample nutrition for the world’s people – it has become incredibly apparent that we need to make a shift in our diets if we hope to sustain the population and the planet.

As the leading organization at the forefront of the conscious consumerism movement, it is One Green Planet’s view that our food choices have the power to heal our broken food system, give species a fighting chance for survival, and pave the way for a truly sustainable future.

By choosing to eat more plant-based foods, you can drastically cut your carbon footprint, save precious water supplies and help ensure that vital crop resources are fed to people, rather than livestock. With the wealth of available plant-based options available, it has never been easier to eat with the planet in mind.

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Image source: Fiscal Times

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