Industrial Animal Agriculture and Endangered Species

Factory farms and slaughterhouses pose a tremendous threat to clean air and water, communities, wildlife, workers, our climate and a healthy environment. Over the past 40 years, animal agriculture in the United States and internationally has grown and changed. The smaller, diversified farming systems many of us imagine when we hear the word “farm” have morphed into industrialized operations that concentrate hundreds to thousands of animals in one confined location to be raised for meat, eggs and dairy.

This industrial production model is causing serious environmental harm that will keep getting worse unless we fight back.   


Dangers to Air and Water Resources From Factory Farms

Industrial animal operations release a variety of air pollutants from their confinement barns or feedlots, waste-management systems and land-application areas. These noxious pollutants (including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, harmful odorants, and the greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide) can significantly impair air quality.

Industrial animal operations also frequently discharge a variety of harmful pollutants into ground and surface waters. These pollutants (feces, urine, blood, offal, pharmaceutical residues, pathogens and heavy metals) degrade water resources and destroy the aquatic habitats on which many species rely. Pharmaceuticals — like antibiotics and hormones — are heavily used by the animal agricultural industry to prevent the illnesses that arise from overcrowding and confinement and to promote unnaturally rapid animal growth. When these drugs get into waterways, they put communities and wildlife alike at risk of serious health problems associated with endocrine disruption and antibiotic resistance. 

Climate Change, Excess Water Use and Habitat Destruction

Industrial animal agriculture also drives climate change, consumes an immense amount of fresh water, and devastates wildlife habitat. Supplying crops for factory farms also drives some of the worst practices in plant agriculture. Industrial animal operations are fueled by hundreds of millions of tons of commodity crops, such as corn and soy, to feed the huge populations of animals those farms confine. Growing these commodity crops — also on an industrial scale — causes serious environmental harms: habitat fragmentation, heavy pesticide and fertilizer use, water pollution and soil erosion. The dramatic decline of monarch butterflies, for example, is closely linked to the heavy use of the pesticide glyphosate, which kills the monarchs’ host plant milkweed, on commodity corn and soy crops.


The Center believes sustainability is about more than just the bottom line and what we can take from the environment and other species. It’s about sharing the planet and creating a livable future for all of us here on Earth.

We're fighting at every level to address ongoing harm to wildlife and communities from industrial animal agriculture. At the national level, we're seeking to improve federal safeguards to watchdog the factory-farming industry via policy work and litigation. At the state and local levels, we’re working closely with communities across the country to fight for their right to clean air and water and healthy ecosystems. We're even working on those critical issues at the international level, joining with allies to help communities in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries.

On all levels the Center is working hard to educate the public, government officials and judges about the significant risks that people and imperiled species face from dangerous industrial animal agricultural practices. Our goal is to protect biodiversity and human communities from the pollution of these systems while promoting a deeper understanding of the complex ties between human health and the health of other lifeforms. Industrial animal agriculture is a threat to everyone, and we hope you’ll join us in fighting this growing industry.

Captive piglet photo by Kevin/Flickr