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Our environment is in serious trouble.

We are in the midst of terrible ecological devastation. Raising animals for food is the single greatest human-caused source of destruction to our environment. It is the largest source of greenhouse gases, land use and degradation; the number one source of water pollution and rainforest deforestation. It’s also a major contributor to air pollution, ocean dead zones, habitat loss, and species extinction. And when we include all the resources that go into raising animals for food – the land, fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides, fossil fuels and freshwater – animal agribusiness is shockingly inefficient and a costly and wasteful use of our limited natural resources. Veganism is the solution.

Resource Depletion

A diet that includes animal products and byproducts doesn’t just come at a high price to the animals, it comes at a high price to our environment as well. For instance, it takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie from animal protein as it does to make one calorie from plant protein (1). We only have one environment and one set of resources- we must protect them.

The Land

Raising animals for food uses 45% of Earth’s total land (2) and is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction, with 1-2 acres of rainforest being cleared every second. (3) The Amazon Rainforest covers over a billion acres, encompassing areas in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, and the Eastern Andean region of Ecuador and Peru. If Amazonia were a country, it would be the ninth largest one in the world. It’s been described as the “Lungs of our Planet” because the rainforest provides the essential environmental world the service of continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen; more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest.

RELATED READING: Save the Rainforest

“For each hamburger that originated from animals raised on rainforest land, approximately 55 square feet of forest have been destroyed. And it’s not just the rainforest. In the United States, more than 260 million acres of forest have been clear-cut for animal agriculture. With increased per capita meat consumption, and an ever growing population, we can only expect to see more deforestation in the future.” (4)

The Water

Water scarcity is the lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of water usage and it affects every continent. More than 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, lack access to clean drinking water. Another 500 million people are approaching the same situation. (5)

Much of the fresh water available globally for consumption is used for animal agribusiness. The amount of fresh water it takes to produce animal products is absolutely astonishing:

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of water consumption, more than any other activity in the United States. (6)
  • Animal agribusiness is responsible for 20-30% of all fresh water consumption in the world. (7)
  • Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of the water. (8)
  • In the US, 5% of water consumed is by private homes whereas animal agribusiness consumes 55%. (9)
  • One pound of beef requires 2,500 gallons of water. (9)
  • One pound of eggs requires 477 gallons of water. (9)
  • One pound of cheese requires 900 gallons of water. (9)
  • One gallon of milk requires 1,000 gallons of water. (9)

In addition to the fresh water that animal agriculture consumes, it has also polluted millions of gallons elsewhere. Throughout the U.S., animal excrement from factory farms has contaminated groundwater in 17 states and polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states. (10)

The widespread use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers used in the production of feed crops poisons waterways and creates dead zones in the oceans. (11) Dead zones are areas of large bodies of water- typically in the ocean but occasionally in lakes and even rivers- that do not have enough oxygen to support marine life. The cause is usually eutrophication, an increase in chemical nutrients in the water, leading to excessive blooms of algae that deplete underwater oxygen levels. While dead zones do occur around the world, they primarily occur near areas where heavy agricultural and industrial activity spills nutrients into the water and compromises its quality. There are now more than 500 nitrogen flooded deadzones around the world as a result of livestock operations. (12)

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the environment and veganism infographic

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The Humane Myth

There is an idea being propagated by the industries who make money using animals and some animal welfare organizations that it is possible to use and kill animals in a compassionate or humane way. The idea is built upon the concept that there are farmers and ranchers who treat animals with care and respect, implementing best livestock husbandry practices that protect animals’ health and well-being. They raise animals on pasture land, allowing them to move freely and engage in instinctive behaviors, consume a natural diet, and avoid the stress and illness that are often associated with factory farming and confinement. This idea is called The Humane Myth.

Even with intensive confinement factory farming methods currently dominating global animal agriculture, farm animals still use 45% of the Earth’s entire land surface. The United States has 2.3 billion acres of land. However, 375 million acres are in Alaska and are unsuitable for agricultural production. This leaves approximately 1.9 billion acres in the lower 48 states. So, if we attempted to pasture feed all of the roughly 32 million cows in the United States on grass, as humane/sustainable farming advocates suggest, the cows would need (using an estimate of 10 acres per cow) 320 million acres of land- which doesn’t include the land we would need to raise all of the pigs, chickens, sheep, and goats free-range. We simply don’t have enough resources (land, water, etc.) for an agricultural system of that size.

“Many organizations spend their time fighting sprawl and championing agriculture as a benign use of the land. If a similar amount of effort were directed toward reducing agricultural production, we would produce far greater protection and restoration for declining species, endangered ecosystems and ecological processes.” (13)

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Habitat Loss

Tragically, nearly every action we take as humans contributes to habitat loss and displaces animals. From urban sprawling shopping centers to cutting down trees in your yard, animals and their families are continually forced out of their natural homes, disrupting what remains of an already fragile ecosystem. Little thought is given to where all these animals will go, or if they and their families will even survive.

Animal agribusiness also contributes to habitat loss and species extinction. In addition to the monumental habitat destruction of clearing forests and converting land to grow feed crops and for grazing pastures, the pesticides and chemical fertilizers used in feed crops poison waterways, rendering them uninhabitable.

Predators and animals who are deemed “competition” for the land are hunted because of the perceived threat to the livestock (profits). In the last decade alone, more than 30 million free-living animals – many endangered – have been killed by Wildlife Services, a branch of the USDA established in 1931 to police and destroy free living animals that are deemed a threat to animal agriculture.

Wildlife Services spends millions of tax-payer dollars each year killing native carnivores and predators- coyotes, wolves, bears, mountain lions, and many others- on behalf of animal agribusiness. These animals are viciously targeted and destroyed with violent methods such as being gassed; torn apart by trained dogs; strangled in neck snares or leg-hold traps, or gunned down from helicopters.

Shifting away from factory farming to pasture-based farming will only increase the targeting and destruction of free-living animals.

Wildlife Services also kills tens of thousands of “non-target” animals each year. Collateral victims include: the federally protected golden and bald eagles, beavers, armadillos, badgers, great-horned owls, skunks, antelope, porcupines, great blue herons, ducks, turtles, vultures, weasels, marmots, doves, red tail hawks, black bears, cranes, foxes, and river otters. Thousands of domestic dogs and cats are also killed in traps or by eating poisoned baits.

“When critics suggest that we don’t have the money to buy land for wildlands restoration, they are forgetting agricultural subsidies, which amount to hundreds of billions of dollars. For what we spend to prop up marginal agricultural producers, we could easily buy most of the private farm and ranch land in the country This would be a far more effective way to contain sprawl, restore wildlands, bring back endangered species, clean up water, slow the spread of exotic species and reduce soil erosion.” (13)

Climate Change

Whenever the causes of climate change are discussed, fossil fuels usually top the list. Oil, natural gas, and coal are substantial sources of human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases.

But even when combined, their carbon footprint is still lower than that of animal agribusiness:

  • Methane is 25 – 100 times more destructive than CO2 (carbon dioxide) (9)
  • Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day. (9)
  • Methane has a global warming power of 86 times that of CO2 (carbon dioxide) (9)
  • Livestock is responsible for 65% of all emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas 296 times more destructive than CO2 (carbon dioxide) which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years. (9)

polar bear on melting ice due to global warming

Livestock’s Long Shadow is a widely-cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) which estimates that 18% of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to animal agribusiness. (14) But a report by environmental research organization Worldwatch Institute observes that this percentage is much too low. They assert that raising animals for food has been vastly underestimated as a source of greenhouse gasses, saying, “Our analysis shows that livestock and their by-products actually account for at least 51% of annual worldwide emissions.” (15) The differences are a result of overlooked areas of animal agribusiness such as respiration by livestock, land use, under-counted methane, and other factors such as documented cases of frequent under-counting in official statistics.

Global Hunger

Of the planet’s nearly 7 billion humans, roughly 1 billion people are malnourished and 6 million children starve to death every year- that’s more than 6,000 children every day, or 250 every hour. (18) Feeding half of the world’s edible grain crop to farm animals is a grossly inefficient use of protein, and it also imperils impoverished communities where food and natural resources are already scarce and families cannot afford to feed and provide water to farm animals.

The connection between world hunger and our food choices may not seem readily apparent, however animal-based food production systems are directly responsible for many factors affecting hunger, starvation, and even poverty, which then cycles itself back to hunger.

Dr. Richard Oppelander, researcher and author of the book Comfortably Unaware, talks about the correlation between animal agribusiness and world hunger:

“The correlation between animal (livestock and fish) based food production systems and world hunger is, of course, fueled by the demand for these products and can be found in generalized global factors as well as on a very local basis or regionally within countries where hunger rates are high. Together, these two categories of factors (global and local) insidiously manifest themselves in many ways.

82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries

There are two primary groups of people suffering from this poverty-hunger cycle—about 33% are those living in more urban settings (this is the case with those found in the U.S. and other developed countries), while the other 2/3 are those in rural settings and more undeveloped nations.

For both groups, the raising and eating of animals (livestock and fish) by our global community ultimately affects food prices, food availability, policy making, and even education to improve agricultural systems in those developing countries. Global factors include control of seed manufacturing and pricing primarily for livestock feed crops by large companies such as Monsanto and DuPont (Pioneer), buying and selling of grain including futures by Archer Daniel Midland and Cargill, and through the processing/slaughterhouses and packaging by Cargill, Swift, Tyson, and JBS. These few but very large and powerful companies control over 65% of all seed and grain and over 80% of all final animal products in the world. It is a very monopolized production and economic system, manufacturing seeds at one end and spewing out meat at the other.

Because of the global demand for meat (all livestock), cultural, social, political, and economic influences remain strongly supportive of the continued dominance of these large companies and the meat, dairy, and fishing industries in general, which then drives how global resources are being used (land, water, rainforests, oceans, atmosphere, biodiversity, etc.), how money is spent, and how policies are determined. The demand for animal products in developed countries drives resource depletion in developing countries as well as exacerbating poverty and hunger.” (12)

Food insecurity also affects farm workers, from the laborers that grow and pick our produce to the ones that work on factory farms and even in slaughterhouses. Despite the pivotal role these workers play in the stability of our food system, many of them work in unsafe conditions every day in exchange for a salary far below the national poverty level. Often, the workers cannot afford the very food they help produce.

Please learn more about the ways animal farming contributes to global food insecurity and hunger by visiting the following sites:

OUR ENVIRONMENT NEEDS US MORE THAN EVER BEFORE.

OUR NATURAL RESOURCES ARE DISAPPEARING AT ALARMING RATES.

WITHOUT THEM WE WILL PERISH.

“THE BEST TIME TO PLANT A TREE WAS 20 YEARS AGO, THE NEXT BEST TIME IS RIGHT NOW.” – CHINESE PROVERB

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Truth in Advertising

I am committed to providing accurate information to the vegan community. The information and data presented on Your Daily Vegan has been meticulously researched, and is based on information available at the time of publication. Guides are periodically reviewed for accuracy and updated as necessary. Update dates can be found at the end of every guide. Please contact me if you find out-of-date or incorrect information.

REFERENCES FOR ARTICLE

1. ^ The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Sustainability of Meat-Based & Plant-Based & the Environment.” Retrieved April 21, 2015

2. ^ International Livestock Research Institute. “Livestock and Climate Change.” Retrieved April 16, 2015

3. ^ World Bank. “Causes of Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon.” Retrieved April 15, 2015

4. ^ Evolve! Campaigns. “The Environment.” Retrieved April 15, 2015

5. ^ United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). “Water Scarcity | International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ 2005-2015.” Retrieved April 23, 2015

6. ^ USDA Economic Research Service. “Irrigation & Water Use.” Retrieved April 16, 2015

7. ^ Forks Over Knives. “Freshwater Abuse and Loss: Where is it All Going?” Retrieved April 16, 2015

8. ^ Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Six Arguments for a Greener Diet.” Retrieved April 17, 2015

9. ^ Cowspiracy. “Facts.” Retrieved April 17, 2015

10. ^ Food Empowerment Project. “Pollution (Water, Air, Chemicals).” Retrieved April 18, 2015

11. ^ Scientific American. “Ocean Dead Zones.” Retrieved April 22, 2015

12. ^ Oppenlander, Richard A. “Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work.” Minneapolis, MN: Langdon Street, 2013.

13. ^ Watersheds Messenger. “The Truth About Land Use in the United States.” Retrieved April 22, 2015

14. ^ Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” Retrieved April 16, 2015

15. ^ Worldwatch Institute. “Livestock and Climate Change.” Retrieved April 22, 2015

16. ^ Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013.” Retrieved April 22, 2015

17. ^ Comfortably Unaware. “World Hunger Food Choice Connection.” Retrieved April 20, 2015

18. ^ A Well-Fed World. “Global Hunger Relief.” Retrieved April 20, 2015

REFERENCES FOR INFOGRAPHIC “VEGANISM & THE ENVIRONMENT”

1. Cowspiracy. “Facts.” Retrieved April 17, 2015

2. Sustainable Table. “Animal Feed.” Retrieved April 20, 2014

3. HSUS. “2013 Animal slaughter statistics.” Retrieved April 17, 2015

4. Worldwatch Institute. “Livestock and Climate Change.” Retrieved April 22, 2015

5. University of Twente, the Netherlands. “Water Footprint Assessment.” Retrieved April 17, 2015

6. Scientific American. “Measuring the daily destruction of the world’s rainforests.” Retrieved April 17, 2015

7. Climactic Change. “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK.” Retrieved April 17, 2015

8. The Environmental Working Group. “Meat eater’s guide to climate change and health.” The Environmental Working Group. Retrieved April 17, 2015

PHOTO CREDIT

Forest | Agustin Rafael Reyes
Polar Bear | Polar Bear World
Sierra Nevada, California | Alan Grinberg

This guide is authored by KD Angle-Traegner. Last update January 2017.

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11 Comments

  1. […] living things, including the planet itself. At the end of the day, we only have one Earth, and the environmental impact of animal agriculture is severe. If you consider yourself someone who cares about human rights, but don’t care […]

  2. […] Environment […]

  3. […] around the world by choosing to eat animal products and why I believe that if you are serious about saving the environment then a plant based diet is really the only option for you to […]

  4. […] with the impact on people in poorer places, veganism can have a positive environmental effect, too. As the demand for meat lessens, people won’t need to farm as much livestock. Cows are one […]

  5. Why Vegan? – Site Title March 2, 2017 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    […] http://www.yourdailyvegan.com/environment/# (Impact of veganism in the world) […]

  6. Veganism is the solution November 25, 2016 at 10:05 am - Reply

    […] To read more, click here: http://www.yourdailyvegan.com/environment/ […]

  7. […] Many supporters of veganism also have made the change because they are aware of how much the meat and dairy industry affects the environment. According to The Vegan Society, “A plant based diet requires only one third of the land needed to support a meat and dairy diet. Avoiding animal products is one way to help the environment, as well as the animals. There is a scarcity of water and almost one fifth of the world is not fortunate enough to have access to drinking water. One of the components that are responsible for 80-90% of water consumption in the United States is the meat and dairy industry. In order to sustain these animals for slaughter, farmers must provide them with the necessary food ands water needed to grow. For example, it takes 14-16 months for a cow to be ready for slaughter. Within those months, the farmer must provide a large amount of water and land for the cow to grow at a faster rate. In addition, “Livestock is responsible for 65% of all emission of nitrous oxide- a greenhouse gas 296 times more destructive the CO2 which stays in the air for 150 years.” Many would say that livestock is the main component that obstructs the environmental flow according to Your Daily Vegan. […]

  8. […] Environment […]

  9. […] YourDailyVegan. 2015, “The Environment Argument: Can Veganism Save The Planet?”, Internet,  viewed 20 October 2015, available from <http://www.yourdailyvegan.com/environment/#&gt; […]

  10. Veganism & the Environment April 28, 2015 at 8:50 am - Reply

    […] Your Daily Vegan created this infographic to help spread awareness about the connections between our environment and the food we eat. For a thoroughly researched and more in-depth look at these connections please visit Your Daily Vegan‘s resource, Veganism & The Environment. […]

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