Environmental Impact of Meat Production

meat production

Meat Consumption is Killing the Planet!

Meat production and farming are currently two of the largest industries in the world and they’re turning quite a few heads. They’ve also been on the rise as human populations grow and the demand on them increases. It’s been noted in many pieces of research that these two industries have a bigger impact on our planet than anything else. To put it simply, the meat industry is not only rapidly ruining our planet, but it’s also ruining our health. The 2006 report Livestock's Long Shadow, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, states that "the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.” Meat consumption is also known to cause substantial health effects like cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. In this text, we will cover the environmental impact of meat production & agricultural production.

So how exactly do the meat industry and meat consumption affect our planet?

1. Water Consumption Livestock production — which includes meat, milk, and eggs — contributes 40% of the global agricultural gross domestic product, provides income for more than 1.3 billion people and uses one-third of the world’s fresh water. It takes an enormous amount of water to grow crops for animals to eat, clean filthy factory farms, and give animals water to drink. A single cow used for milk can drink up to 50 gallons of water per day—or twice that amount in hot weather—and it takes 683 gallons of water to produce just 1 gallon of milk. It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef while producing 1 pound of tofu only requires 244 gallons of water.
2. Pollution According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the livestock industry produces over 300 million tons of waste per year—twice the amount of waste produced by the human population of the U.S! And according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), animals on U.S. factory farms produce about 500 million tons of manure each year. With no animal sewage processing plants, it is most often stored in waste “lagoons” (which can be seen in aerial views of factory farms) or it gets sprayed over fields. Not only does this waste contribute a huge deal to air pollution, but it also contaminates the water. Sometimes these lagoons leak and many tons of waste end up in giant pits in the ground or on crops, polluting the air and groundwater. According to the EPA, agricultural runoff is the number one source of pollution in our waterways.
3. Land Use The FAO has declared that livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources. It takes one acre of land to sustain one cow and of all agricultural land in the U.S., 87 percent is used to raise animals for food. That’s 45 percent of the total land mass in the U.S. About 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to produce feed for animals raised for food. The meat industry is directly responsible for 85 percent of all soil erosion in the U.S. According to National Geographic, the world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation. The amazon rainforest is under special risk for example.
4. Using up crops and food resources More than 80 percent of the corn we grow and more than 95 percent of the oats are fed to livestock. Vegan author John Robbins writes in his 1987 Pulitzer Prize nominated Diet for a New America: “The livestock population of the United States today consumes enough grain and soybeans to feed over five times the entire human population of the country. We feed these animals over 80% of the corn we grow, and over 95% of the oats. Less than half the harvested agricultural acreage in the United States is used to grow food for people. Most of it is used to grow livestock feed.” "The world's cattle alone, not to mention pigs and chickens, consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people. It takes sixteen pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. According to Department of Agriculture statistics, one acre of land can grow 20,000 pounds of potatoes. That same acre of land, if used to grow cattle feed, can produce less than 165 pounds of beef."
5. Cruelty to Animals (Animal Production) Besides gravely polluting and harming the environment, the meat industry puts animals under terribly abusive conditions. Animal’s welfare doesn’t concern the factory farming industry as much as producing milk, meat, and eggs as quickly as cheaply as possible. This results in animals being crammed into filthy cages in which they can’t move freely and are most likely surrounded by their own waste which leads to the spread of infections and diseases among these animals. Most factory-farmed animals have been genetically manipulated to grow larger or to produce more milk or eggs than they naturally would. Some chickens grow so unnaturally large that their legs cannot support their outsized bodies, and they suffer from starvation or dehydration when they can’t walk to reach food and water. Antibiotics are used to make animals grow faster and to keep them alive in the unsanitary conditions. Research shows that factory farms’ widespread use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten human health.

Animal production and animal feeding is a costly business

At our current rate of livestock production and consumption, scientists predict that we are set to exceed global targets for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Taking into account the roughly two billion more people who will be on the planet by 2050, to meet demands for meat, dairy and eggs, we are going to need 42 percent more land to grow livestock feed, and all the additional animals needed are projected to spew an astounding 58,615 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So what can we as a global population do?
A lot of people are getting more aware of the environmental impact of meat product and their personal diet, and they’ve transitioned into a vegan or a plant-based diet. Switching to a vegan diet would greatly reduce one’s ecological footprint. A start could be to leave red meats aside and then focus on other vegetarian food products. A team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University calculated just what would happen if every American made one dietary change: substituting beans for beef. They found that if everyone were willing and able to do that—hypothetically—the U.S. could still come close to meeting its 2020 greenhouse-gas emission goals, pledged by President Barack Obama in 2009. Regulating your meat consumption or switching to an altogether vegan diet would cut greenhouse gas emissions, preserve species and habitats, conserve water, and improve your health. Be aware of the environmental impact of meat production and be part of the change to create a better world. If you are also interested in bees read our blog post to understand how to save their lives.