Most North Americans are now familiar with the term “factory-farmed meat.” Though somewhat rhetorical in its use, it is an accurate way to describe the process that has become “conventional” ranching and animal husbandry. There are, of course, many concerns from a humane treatment standpoint, but the pollution concerns from such operations are equally, if not more, compelling.
Consider what happens when you put several thousand cows together who are not part of the same herd. First and foremost, you get a lot of animal waste – enough to fill entire “lagoons” with the stuff. This is rarely, if ever, given much in the way of treatment before being put into the nearby environment. Such lagoons often overflow into river systems during storms, especially in states and provinces without regulation.
The practice of “finishing” these animals on grains allows them to fatten up before slaughter. It also changes their intestinal pH, allowing them to be susceptible to dangerous organisms such as E. coli and others. These grains are also far more likely to be contaminated with heavy metals and PCBs than pasture.