What we choose to eat is one of the most significant factors in the personal impact we have on the environment and the fastest path to climate change. A recent study examining the impact of a typical week’s eating showed that plant-based diets are better for the environment than those based on meat. A vegan organic diet had the smallest environmental impact while the single most damaging foodstuff was beef. All non-vegetarian diets require significantly greater amounts of environmental resources such as land and water.
It is noteworthy that the United Nations and many leading environmental organizations have recognized that raising animals for food damages the environment more than just about anything else that we do. These include the Union of Concerned Scientists and the WorldWatch Institute; and in the United States the National Audubon Society; and the Sierra Club.
Our meat addiction is poisoning and depleting our water, land, and air. For example, more than half of the water used in the United States today is for animal agriculture. And as farmed animals produce 130 times more excrement than the human population, the run-off from their waste is fouling America’s waterways. Animal excrement emits gases, such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, that poison the air around farms, as well as methane and nitrous oxide, which are major contributors to global warming.
In its 2006 report, the United Nations said 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.
The negative effects of the meat industry are far reaching.
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: e.g. farmed animals consume 70 percent of the corn, wheat, and other grains grown in the United States. One third of all of the United States’ raw materials and fossil fuels go to raising animals for food. I suspect that the numbers are similar among other meat-eating nations of the world.
Sadly, animals on today’s factory farms are subject to cruel and inhumane treatment including neglect, mutilation, genetic manipulation, subjection to antibiotics and growth hormones, and gruesome and violent slaughter.
- Baroni, L., Cenci, L., Tettemanti, M. and Berati, M. 2006. Evaluating the environmental impact of various dietary patterns combined with different food production systems. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1-8.
- Livestock a major threat to environment,” United Nations FAO Newsroom, Nov. 29, 2006: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html