How Farming Animals Impacts the Environment:
Consuming the Planet Bite by Bite
Global meat consumption has risen nearly 500% since the 1950s.1
The average American now consumes nearly 900 pounds of animal products every year,2
and 10 billion farmed animals are slaughtered each year in the US alone.3
Over 95% of these animals are confined in horrific factory farms like the one shown at right.
This unprecedented consumption of meat, dairy, eggs, and fish has major environmental impacts. It wastes valuable resources, harms wildlife, destroys vast quantities of ecologically valuable open space, and contributes to air and water pollution and global warming. In 2006, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) report Livestock’s Long Shadow stated that animal agriculture is “one of the top two or three significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”4
It causes more greenhouse gas emissions than even transportation, and is the leading source of three of the six greenhouse gases.5
Wasted Resources: Our Future Squandered
Animal agriculture is an energy intensive, water depleting industry, consuming over one third the fossil fuels and nearly half the water used in the US yearly.6 The feeding, housing, transport, slaughter, and packaging of animal products require heavy equipment, complex machinery, and massive amounts of energy and water. The USDA calculates that it takes nearly 11 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of meat, poultry, or fish protein.7 By contrast, soy, a complete protein, is 45 times more energy efficient.8 Water use is also extremely inefficient. Beef production alone accounts for more water use in the US than all fruit and vegetable production combined.9 China, India, North Africa, and the US all use freshwater for meat production faster than it can be replenished.10 Because of animal agriculture, we are headed for a catastrophic drinking and irrigation water shortage. Lastly, animal agriculture is the #1 cause of erosion, polluting waterways and depleting soil needed for plant growth.11
A World of Suffering for ALL Animals
Although animal agriculture only provides 17% of the world’s calories, it uses 30% of the world’s land surface.12 Globally, every minute, the equivalent of 7 football fields of land is bulldozed to make room for livestock.13 In the US alone, over 825,000 square miles are used exclusively for animal agriculture.14 This use of the land causes forests to be cut, grasslands to be trampled, and water to be polluted, harming native species. In the Amazon, 70% of “previously forested land is occupied by pastures, and feed crops cover a large part of the remainder.”15 The world’s most diverse ecosystem is being destroyed for meat and dairy production. Cornell Ecology Professor David Pimentel calculates that animal agriculture causes 80% of world deforestation,16 depriving animals of habitat. Grazing is the leading cause of endangered species.17 Millions of coyotes, wild horses, wolves, buffalo, elk, wild sheep, and deer were and are killed in the U.S. to make room for food animals. Fishing causes equal devastation: over 25% of all sea animals caught every year are “bycatch”, non-target animals injured or killed then simply discarded.18 Fishing kills hundreds of thousands of sharks, dolphins, whales, mammals, and threatened and endangered sea birds yearly.19
Pollution: Water, Air, Human Disease
Animal agriculture causes enormous pollution problems. The EPA estimates that the industry causes more water pollution than all other sources combined.20 In the US, the industry produces 5 tons of manure every year for every person.21 The manure, combined with runoff of pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and other chemicals, regularly overflows into streams and rivers. This water pollution causes miscarriages, exposure to carcinogens, and outbreaks of bacteriological diseases. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions, increasing acid rain and global warming, and killing aquatic life.22
More Trouble Down on the Farm
People living near factory farms suffer a wide range of health problems from respiratory problems to permanent brain damage.23 Numerous health problems from CJD (human mad cow disease) to bird flu to pfisteria are caused by animal agriculture. Pesticide use is so common that 90% of human exposure to dioxin, a teratogen and one of the deadliest carcinogens, comes from animal products.24 And pervasive disease problems have led agribusiness to turn to genetic engineering and irradiation, causing a new set of environmental problems. Our addiction to animal products is changing our very climate. Animal agriculture causes 51% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions (GAGs), and is the leading cause of methane, nitrous oxide, and ammonia emissions.25 University of Chicago geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin calculate that each American meat eater produces one and a half tons more greenhouse gas emissions every year than each vegan.
Real Solutions Needed
Eshel and Martin calculate that the reductions caused by becoming vegan outweigh the reductions caused by switching from driving a mid-size sedan to driving a hybrid.26 Both NASA’s top climate expert Dr. James Hansen and British climate expert Lord Stern have stated that plant-based diets are essential for preventing global warming; Hansen said going veg “in terms of individual action is perhaps the best thing you can do”. 27,28 One oft-proposed solution is organic or free range meat production. This will not alleviate the problems—habitat depletion, pollution, loss of wildlife, excess energy and water consumption, and the continuing unnecessary production and death of billions of animals. Ammonia and methane are produced by ALL animal agriculture. A Cornell University dairy study done in New York proved that over 60% of dairy greenhouse gas emissions come from manure and cattle digestion, which would all be avoided by being vegan.29 And buying local animal products is not a solution either: a 2008 Carnegie Mellon University Green Design Institute study showed that transport only accounts for 11% of GAGs and what we eat matters far more than where it comes from.30 Veganism is the only real solution: a 2004 study by the US Department of Energy found that dairy produces 29% of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions, which account for about half of total greenhouse gas emissions, and the UN FAO stated that dairy produces more GAGs than pigs, poultry (meat and egg laying), & sheep combined.31
Go Vegan—for the Planet, the Animals & YOU!
A plant-based diet offers the only viable environmental solution because it consumes far fewer resources—land, food, water, and fossil fuels. Depending on the type of meat, it takes 6-17 times more land to produce meat than to produce soy.32 US farm animals are fed enough soy and grains to feed the US population 5 times over.33 Being vegetarian also saves 1 acre of trees a year,34 and soy protein requires half the water needed to produce chicken protein and 1/8th the water needed to produce beef protein.35 Lastly, a person who lives 70 years as a vegan will save nearly 11,000 gallons of gas36 and prevent over 100 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.37 We all need to make changes to save our planet. Eliminating animal products is the best, easiest, most humane and cost effective way to do this. Go vegan to boycott cruelty & protect the Earth!
1Worldwatch Institute 2005, 2USDA 2007, Dairy Council 2007, 3Center for Food Safety, 4UN FAO 2006, 5UN FAO 2006, 6Audubon Society 2005, 7USDA 2003, 8Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, PhDs 2005 9E magazine 2002, 10Time 1999, 11UN FAO 2006, 12UN FAO 2006, 13Smithsonian Institute 2002, 14USDA 1999, 15UN FAO 2006, 16David Pimentel, PhD 1998, 17E Magazine 1999, 18Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense, 19Pew Foundation 2003, 20EPA 1999, 21US Senate Agriculture Committee 1997, 22UN FAO 2006, EPA 2002, 23US Senate Agriculture Committee 1997, 24EPA 1996, 25Worldwatch Institute 2009, 26Eshel and Martin, PhDs 2005, 27James Hansen video 2009, 28Lord Stern interview London Times 2009, 29Climate Change and Northeast Agriculture, Cornell University 2007, 30Derived from Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews, PhD 2008, 31Qtd. in Eshel and Martin 2005, 32L. Reijnders and Sam Soret, PhDs 2003, 33Worldwatch Institute 2005, 34E Magazine 2002, 35Water Education Foundation 1991, 36Derived from Pimentel and Pimentel 1996, 37Derived from Eshel and Martin 2005