chapter  3
17 Pages

Killing for profit: global livestock industries and their socio-ecological implications


In a report released in 2009, Greenpeace (2009) stated that the cattle sector in the Amazon is the single largest driver of global deforestation, responsible for 14 percent of world’s annual deforestation and 80 percent of all deforestation in the Amazon. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2006 study, Livestock’s Long Shadow, revealed that the livestock sector releases 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (measured in CO2 equivalent) – more than the transportation sector (FAO 2006). The pollution, animal cruelty, and worker abuse resulting from factory farming are increasingly covered by the popular press, as illustrated by this chapter’s opening quotation. The rise of the global livestock industry has clear socio-political roots, and distinct ethical-environmental ramifications. It demands closer scrutiny. The multifarious consequences of the global livestock industry are best viewed in the broad lens of political ecology, for it is an industry that “combines the concerns of ecology and a broadly defined political economy” (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987: 17). Our focus will be on the livestock industry, in its industrial form where mass production is predicated on: the concentration of live animals (pigs, poultry or cattle), manure, and urine to small spaces where feed is brought in (concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs or factory farms)); and operations involving large-scale deforestation, irrigation, and improved genetics for “grass-fed” production of cattle. While mainstream discourses on factory farming and mass produced “grass-fed” beef have hitherto centered on the

protection of human health and welfare in general, not least because of recent health crises like mad cow disease and avian flu, there are significant repercussions to workers, animals and the environment as well. To put it simply, the global livestock industry is political, social and ecological (Walker 2005; 2007). This chapter outlines the key economic and ecological issues, particularly relative to factory farms; as well as the implications for human and animal well being. Using various cases, with a specific focus on pigs, this chapter will articulate a political ecology of the global livestock industry and critique the attempts (or the lack thereof) to minimize its negative ramifications.