If you’ve ever been on a farm, or near one, you’ve smelled it. That peculiar scent that coats the air, offends the nostrils, and extinguishes any appetite you may have had. It’s that mix of Earthy tilled soil and well … poop. It’s manure – a secret weapon to some farmers, a toxic problem to others. Dairy farmers are very familiar with manure. A cow on a dairy farm typically produces 80 pounds of manure per day. That means if a farmer has 10 cows on his plantation (which is on the low side) that’s 800 pounds of manure a day he has to take care of, and according to USDA research, only 50-80 percent of the manure is “recoverable” or manure that can realistically be collected and managed. Yikes, that’s a lot of manure considered “unmanageable.”

Considering these figures, it’s no big surprise that over the years, dairy farmers and those who live in the surrounding area of these facilities have encountered problems due to manure. We’ve seen water on farms turn putrid because of the excessive dumping of manure, toxic algal blooms and dead zones have started springing up all over the U.S. because of fecal run-off, and unsurprisingly, communities that live near dairy farms have expressed severe discomfort from the fumes they are forced to breathe. These instances have shown the world that manure is much more than just smelly, it’s dangerous. In fact, just recently, excessive manure vapors on a Wisconsin dairy farm led to the death of a 29-year-old dairy farmer and a dozen of his cattle.

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So, what exactly led to this horrific tragedy? Well, it’s quite simple really. Manure pits are pretty much disasters waiting to happen. The thick sludge of manure traps poisonous gases, up to 200 different types of them, especially when there are warm atmospheric conditions. Now, when farmers stir it around or “agitate it” these gases are released. Worse still, on hot and humid days, these gases aren’t carried away by the wind, and instead remain stagnant in the air and can build up near the ground. To give you an idea of how dangerous the USDA considers manure pits and it’s toxic gases, the organization prohibits anyone under 16 from entering a manure pit and requires that two people always be present, that way one can go for help if the other one “goes down.”

Considering how dangerous manure has been found to be, along with the fact that the substances produced on these farms – meat and dairy – have their own myriad of negative impacts to human health, the environment, and animal welfare, we should be looking into more sustainable ways to satisfy people’s craving for meat, dairy, and cheese. The meat and dairy industries are infrastructures that do not leave much room for improvement. Sure, farmers can let the cows roam around for a bit before slaughter and they can possibly lower the amount of antibiotics given to cows, but there are major problems in this industry that are simply ingrained in the system and cannot be changed. Cows will always defecate, they will always have to drink water, and their bodies will always take up land. These are facts we simply cannot change.

That is why the solution is not to try to “improve” the dairy and meat industry, it’s to evolve past it. The problems that these industries face are no issue to the plant-based food sector. Eating plant-based leaves animals out of the picture, has been shown to lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes, and according to research, can literally lengthen your lifespan, and is much less taxing on the environment. If we are going to truly evolve as a species and give other species on Earth a fighting chance at survival, it is imperative that we realize how broken our food system is, and more important, realize that it’s not too late to change it. To learn more about how you can start, join One Green Planet’s #EatForThePlanet movement.

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