Need just one more very good reason to breastfeed? Infant formula wreaks havoc on the environment, from its production to its processing and transportation. In every step of the manufacturing process, the infant formula industry pumps massive amounts of carbon and toxic chemicals into the air and soil, and may contribute to less-considered problems like erosion and deforestation. Infant formula is neither sustainable nor healthy.
Let’s begin by considering where cows’ milk, the base component of most infant formula, comes from. Unless cattle are certified free-range, they are generally kept in enclosed, un-sustainable, sunless factory farms where they are not allowed to graze or even see the sky. Because of this, their food (usually corn) must be trucked to the cattle from another part of the country– a process that consumes massive amounts of diesel and sends carbon smoke, methane, and even poisons into the atmosphere.
The corn or other grain crops that are grown for cattle are also a serious ecological disaster. To cultivate feed for dairy cows and ultimately benefit the infant formula industry, massive amounts of land must be deforested, usually in a manner that is not remotely sustainable on a long-term basis. The crops are then sprayed with pesticides and herbicides– all toxic, nonrenewable, and wasteful of fossil fuels. What could have been a fertile forest instead becomes a field of GMO, toxic grains.
The cows who produce milk for the infant formula industry also have a tremendous impact of their own on the environment. Cattle have repeatedly been implicated as a major contributing factor to global warming, since their belches, flatulence, and feces contain large amounts of methane and carbon– noted greenhouse gases. Their feces also pollutes waterways, leading to serious problems including cultural eutrophication–whereby an entire river ecosystem system can collapse to excessive nutrient runoff from animal waste. Infant formula contributes to this very serious ecological epidemic.
After the cattle have provided their milk for the infant formula industry, additional petrochemical fumes are released into the air and waterways when the milk is trucked to another part of the country for processing. Cow’s milk is made for baby cows, not baby humans, so incredible amounts of energy must be used to convert it into something that is allegedly nutritious for human infants. Not only must more diesel be used to ship the milk to its processing site, but even more un-sustainable energy is wasted as it is dried and processed into infant formula.
The vitamins, minerals, corn syrup, and other additives in infant formula have ecological impacts of their own. Vitamins and minerals must be either extracted from precious natural resources, or created in a synthetic form using petroleum by-products. In either case, the outlook for Mother Nature is grim. In recent times, corn syrup, another key ingredient in infant formula, has been in the news for its catastrophic effects on the environment, and most people who practice green living avoid it on a general basis.
The packaging for infant formula is also less than encouraging in terms of its ecological impact and potential health effects. Infant formula cans are usually a combination of plastics, papers, and metals, all of which use precious resources and can not be recycled effectively. From the plastics, which are made using petroleum, to the metals that are strip-mined and then hyper-processed, cans of infant formula look like a list of materials that are not sustainable or healthy for a young child.
Every step of the process of formula manufacturing places yet another serious strain on the environment, and the unnecessary use of infant formula runs in contradiction to the principles of green living. Because infant formula is an absolute necessity for some babies’ survival and wellbeing, it is important that we move toward the creation of more sustainable varieties of infant formula. Parents who are unable to breastfeed but are concerned about the ecological impact of the formula industry should contact formula companies expressing their concerns. With enough pressure, even the must un-sustainable of industries can alter their methods, for the future of our children.
Source Used: J. Dairy SCIENCE VOL. 51: 7. Dairy Industry and Environmental Waste. Accessed 16 Mar 09.