With Earth Day coming on April 22nd, it is a good time to review major nutrition and environmental research that continues to sound the alarm. A plant-based diet will be key to the sustainability of our planet.
This past February, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) published a study that evaluated diet-related environmental impacts. Compared with diets that include meat, the study found vegetarian and/or vegan diets:
- Produced 49.6% fewer greenhouse gas emissions
- Needed 26.9% less energy for food production, and
- Had a 41.5% smaller environmental footprint compared to diets that included meat.
Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.
– Albert Einstein
Authors of the article stated that this was the first study to take into account production methods when evaluating food consumption and its environmental impact. The data reflects a life-cycle assessment from agricultural practices and input through animal feed production to harvest. This is also the first study to investigate the relationship between organic food consumption and its environmental impacts. The study demonstrates that the environmental impact of diets should take into account types of diets as well as production systems.
The authors summarized, “The results reveal a strong suggestion that plant-based eating is the future — or it is the more efficient, cleaner future. The study ends with a suggestion that any future researchers should dig deeper into the production methods of a diet — which is often overlooked on both sides of the food spectrum”2 e.g. plant-based diets Vs. meat-based diets
The ADEME study demonstrates that determining the importance of different diets must take into consideration integrated production methods and environmental impacts. Given the world’s population growth rate, this finding is particularly critical to figuring out how we will be able to continue feeding everyone on the long term.
Thirty percent of the earth's land mass is used for livestock pasture and production of livestock feed, causing mass deforestation, compaction and erosion from overgrazing …Water pollution from animal waste, antibiotics and hormones, fertilizers and pesticides is an increasing world-wide concern.
– The Nature Conservancy
According to a United Nations report published in 2017,3 with roughly 83 million people being added to the world’s population every year, the upward trend in population size is expected to continue even assuming that fertility levels will continue to decline. The current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100. That is 3.6 billion more mouths to feed by the end of this century.
Given the limits of land suitable for growing food, this will be a daunting challenge.
Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., a staggering 80% is used to raise animals for food and grow grain to feed them—that’s almost half the total land mass of the lower 48 states.4 A 2006 report by the United Nations stated that worldwide, raising animals for food (including land used for grazing and land used to grow feed crops) now uses a staggering 30% of the Earth’s land mass.5 That same report stated that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Most of it comes from methane gas generated by manure.6
The negative effects of the meat industry are far reaching.
Raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.
– United Nations
2006 Report, Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options
The organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says, “Forests are being bulldozed to make more room for factory farms and feed crops to feed farmed animals, and this destruction causes soil erosion and contributes to species extinction and habitat loss. Raising animals for food also requires massive amounts of food and raw materials: Farmed animals consume 70 percent of the corn, wheat, and other grains that we grow, and one-third of all the raw materials and fossil fuels used in the U.S. go to raising animals for food.”7
Whether it is unchecked air or water pollution, soil erosion, or the overuse of resources, raising animals for food is wreaking havoc on the Earth. If all of us would adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet, we would help to:
- Avoid excessive CO2 production
- Reduce methane/nitrous oxide production
- Save large amounts of water
- Avoid further pollution of our streams/rivers/oceans
- Reduce destruction of topsoil & tropical rainforest
- Reduce destruction of wildlife habitats & endangered species
- Reduce the use of antibiotics, growth promoters and chemicals
One of the major concerns about moving towards a vegetarian diet is whether it provides sufficient protein. The fact is that eating animals is unnecessary because nature has provided ample vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and dairy products for human sustenance. Learn more about the Great Protein Myth.
Taken together, at the heart of all this information is a fundamental truth. It doesn’t make sense to cycle food through animals to feed humans. Click here to see Down to Earth’s, “Top 10 Reasons Why It's Green to Go Veggie.”
Help make life on planet earth sustainable. And, as always, “Love Life! Eat Healthy, Be Happy!”
1 Frontiers in Nutrition, “Environmental Impacts of Plant-Based Diets: How Does Organic Food Consumption Contribute to Environmental Sustainability?” by Camille Lacour et al, Feb. 9, 2018. (Accessed March 30, 2018)
2 LIVEKINDLY, “New Study Confirms Vegan Diets are More Sustainable than Non-Veg Diets. (Accessed March 30, 2018)
4 United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, “Major Uses of Land in the United States, 1997” by Marlow Vesterby and Kenneth S. Krupa. Statistical Bulletin No. (SB-973) 54 pp Sept. 8, 2001. (Accessed March 30, 20180
5 United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization, “LIVESTOCK'S LONG SHADOW: environmental issues and options, Rome 2006: (Accessed March 30, 2018)