Connecting Themes & Recommendation for Action: Incorporating Animal Welfare into Sustainability Studies

Water pollution caused by animal agriculture is a major problem that people worldwide need to acknowledge and work together to mitigate. Water is contaminated with manure that comes from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are also known as factory farms. Factory farms intensively produce and slaughter animals at an alarming rate and mass scale in order for humans to consume meat, eggs and dairy. 1 million tons of manure are produced per day on factory farms in the UnitedStates alone, which is three times the amount produced by U.S. citizens per year.[1] 

Factory farms do not have adequate space to safely store this overwhelming large amount of manure. The manure is put inside open air lagoons that are usually the size of several football fields, and are prone to leaks, spills, and over flooding.[2] The risks of over flooding will increase as climate change continues to exacerbate the scale of natural disasters. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew flooded at least 14 open air lagoons,resulting in manure entering surrounding water, as well as the drowning of tens of thousands, if not millions of farm animals.[3]The same type of damage took  place as a result of Hurricane Florence this past September.[4]The animals on factory farms are left to drown since they are seen as mere objects made for profit, as opposed to the living beings they are, whose lives have value in themselves. In addition to risks of manure in open air lagoons entering surface water, manure also enters groundwater through infiltration as excess manure is used as fertilizer. The water pollution caused by animal agriculture leads to a variety of serious human health issues including antibiotic resistance and diseases, as well as environmental health issues including eutrophication and biodiversity loss.[5]

The animal agriculture industry is fueled by the demand for cheap meat and other animal products, as well as the corporate control the industry has over the government. Thus, it is vital that people do their part to stop funding the animal agriculture industry. If the industry receives less profit, the government may react to this drop in demand by removing the subsidies that power the industry and allow it to avoid internalizing externalized costs like environmental injustice, water pollution, and violation of animal welfare.Consumers can take a stand against the industry by refusing to give it financial support through reducing their intake of animal products, or better yet, switching to vegan diets. However, we do not only have a responsibility to change our own diets, but we all must educate others on the externalities of the animal agriculture industry. We must have people take personal responsibility for the cruel and unsustainable industry that benefits from the consumption of animal products.

Increasing awareness of the issue and making people want to reduce their intake of animal products will take a huge systematic shift in the way people view the animals that produce their meat, dairy, and eggs. Many people are trained from a very young age to dissociate their appreciation for animals from what is on their plates. People often view pigs, cows and chickens as objects that produce animal products, while they view dogs and cats as animals that deserve happy lives. Thus, in order to reduce or eliminate people’s support of factory farms,we need to educate people on how animals on factory farms are just as sentient and deserving of our consideration as the dogs and cats we care for. One way this can be done is to get the government to repeal Ag-Gag Laws, which silence whistle blowers who take pictures or record footage of the abuse, as well as environmental hazards take take place on factory farms.

I propose that the integration of consideration of animal welfare into the framework of the field of sustainability is a vital, and logical step to increase awareness of issues related to factory farming. The process of determining whether something’s initiatives, actions, or impacts are sustainable involves examining effects on economics, social justice, and the physical environment. I claim that animal welfare must be incorporated as part of the social sector of sustainability.This would likely have two main impactful effects, with one being that it would help eliminate the false idea that animals on factory farms are mere objects humans can use at their disposal for profit and taste. Rather, it would put them in a more accurate light of being individual sentient creatures deserving of moral consideration. The incorporation of animal welfare into the field of sustainability would also most likely result in environmental nonprofits fighting against the injustices of animal cruelty. The environmental movement has garnered public support in recent years as the threat of climate change has become more known, and it could use this attention to expose the injustices taking place on factory farms. This increased exposure will increase the population of people who feel they can no longer eat meat and animal products for ethical reasons.

https://www.amazon.com/Animal-Welfare-Michael-C-Appleby/dp/1786390205
https://www.amazon.com/Animal-Liberation-Definitive-Classic-Movement/dp/0061711306

One way to get the sustainability and environmental movements to include animal welfare in their scope of consideration is to include the topic of animal cruelty in university and graduate programs on Sustainability Studies. Increasing numbers of academic institutions are offering degrees in the area of Sustainability Studies including Muhlenberg College, Columbia University, and Tufts University to name just a few. By incorporating animal welfare into the social sector of sustainability at colleges and universities, the upcoming members of the environmental movement will not only be more likely reduce their intake of meat and other animal products, but will also have the passion, tools, and knowledge on how to bring this awareness to others. Animal Welfare edited by Michael C. Appleby, J, and Animal Liberation by Peter Singer are books that would be useful to have students read as they study animal welfare within the scope of sustainability.  Animal Welfare is a textbook that provides an introduction to key topics addressing the welfare of farm, companion and zoo animals. The textbook covers a variety of topics including ethics, animal pain, social conditions of animals, solutions to welfare issues, and so much more.[6]  It is vital for students to read Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer as it exposes the realities of what takes place on factory farms, and addresses the problems associated with the illogical justifications people offer for exploiting animals. Since the book’s original publication in 1975, people have been awakened to the existence of speciesism,which is discrimination based on species membership. Speciesism involves treating animals belonging to a certain species as morally more important than animals belonging to another species, despite their interests being equivalent.[7] Through students in academic programs in Sustainability Studies reading these books, they will be more understanding of the necessity to to consider animals within the social scope of sustainability.

A necessary way to measure the success of the integration of animal welfare into Sustainability Studies is to measure the increase of organizations in the environmental movement that are addressing animal cruelty. An increase in the scale at which the environmental movement advocates on behalf of animals will lead to the public being more aware of the consequences of their food choices. If more people are changing their diets, reducing the number of states with Ag-Gag laws, and exposing the truth about what happens inside factory farms environmental advocates will not only be taking a stand against animal cruelty, but also mitigating the harmful water pollution that comes along with it.


[1] “Factory Farming and the Environment,” Farm Sanctuary, accessed December 06, 2018, https://www.farmsanctuary.org/learn.factory-farming/factory-farming-and-the-environment/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Hurricane Florence Could Flood North Carolina With Tons of Pig Sh*t,” Mercy For Animals, September 12, 2018, accessed December 08, 2018, https://mercyforanimals.org/hurricane-florence-could-flood-north-carolina.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Niesenbaum, R., Sustainable Solutions: Problem Solving for Current and Future Generations, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

[6] Michael C. Appleby, AnnaOlsson, and Francisco Galindo, Animal Welfare, 3rd ed. (Wallingford, Oxfordshire: CABI, 2018).

[7] Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (London: Bodley Head, 2015).

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