With all of the recent emphasis on going green, it has become hard to read a weekly magazine or watch a television program without encountering some expert blasting factory farming of livestock and advocating, if not demanding, a return to the simpler, cleaner, more ethical system of producing agricultural commodities.
A recent research paper from the University of Georgia (published in the Journal of Animal Science) compared a typical dairy farm from 1944, when management was largely pasture-based, to a typical modern dairy farm in 2007.
Compared to the 1944 dairy, to produce the same amount of milk, the modern dairy needed only 21 percent as many animals, 23 percent as much feedstuffs, 35 percent as much water and 10 percent as much land.
In addition, for the same amount of milk, the 2007 dairy produced only 24 percent as much manure, 43 percent as much methane and 56 percent as much nitrous oxide and had a carbon footprint only 37 percent as large. A comparison of grass-fed beef production compared to current feeding systems yielded similar results.
To fulfill the increasing requirements of the U.S. population for dairy and beef products, it is essential to adopt management practices and technologies that improve production efficiency, allowing milk and beef production to be increased while reducing the impact on the environment.
The Humane Society of the United States, a McDonald’s stockholder, has proposed purchasing 5 percent of the company’s eggs from cage-free sources. McDonald’s rejected the proposal on the grounds that there is not enough scientific evidence to do so and that cage-free systems may increase risk of infectious disease.