For the planet
I never thought that factory farming had such devastating effects on our environment. Not only does it harm animals, but it also harms us and destroys many livelihoods.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The production of meat and dairy is one of the biggest contributors to global warming due to the huge amounts of greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted.
The figures vary but according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, 14.5% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are due to animal farming. This is higher than the combined emissions from the entire transportation sector – including road, rail, air, and ship.
The impacts of global warming are far-reaching and to their full extent, still uncertain. However, some dramatic consequences are already looming. Rising sea levels and melting glaciers, and more frequent and severe extreme weather events, such as floods, tropical cyclones, and massive droughts, already form part of our reality. Our diet is where we can have the biggest impact, and cutting out meat and dairy will do more for the planet than giving up your car.
For a long time I wasn’t aware of how much water is used in the production of animal products. The figures really are incredibly high – 3000 litres for a single beef burger! I could take really long showers every day for two months for that.
Up to 70% of the available fresh surface and groundwater is currently being used by agriculture, 20% by industry and 10% by private consumption.
The production of meat and dairy products uses enormous quantities of water. Vast quantities are used for irrigating feeds, drinking, in slaughterhouses and in processing. The production of a single beef burger requires approximately 3,000 litres of water.
Water is a valuable and limited resource. In some regions of the world there are already water shortages. According to Water.org nearly 770 million people currently live without access to clean drinking water – with disastrous consequences for the health and social situation of local populations. Meanwhile, huge quantities are wasted on products we don’t need – meat and dairy.
Animal agriculture is one of the biggest offenders in terms of polluting our waters. Fertilisers, pesticides and antibiotics – all routinely used when farming animals – along with that poisonous byproduct, liquid manure, are polluting groundwater and nearby waterways.
On top of that, the huge quantities of manure and fertilisers produced are often dumped on cultivated fields, and from there they seep into rivers, lakes and streams and disturb their sensitive balance.
Around 10,000 pesticides are in use globally, some of which are harmful to our health, being suspected of causing cancer and infertility. Yet, these chemicals seep into groundwater and enter our drinking water.
The production of meat requires excessive land use, but it is the least efficient use of that land.
At present, 26% of the planet’s ice-free land is used to graze farmed animals, and a third of all croplands are also used to grow feed for animals. With meat consumption so high in Western industrialised countries, our own land is not sufficient to meet the demands and so more feed is bought from other countries.
This is why countries in South America and Africa are growing feed for farmed animals instead of hungry people.
The consequence? Land that is essential for the cultivation of desperately needed food is instead acquired from local peoples and used to grow lucrative crops for animals in far-off countries.
The increasing global demand for both cattle farming pastures and crop areas to grow animal feed to supply animal farms in Western nations leads directly to deforestation, including the loss of valuable tropical rain forests.
The South American Amazon region is in a particularly precarious position. On average, an area of tropical rain forest the size of three football fields disappeared every minute between the years 2004 and 2013.
The rainforest is home to numerous animals, as well as being a pharmacy, water storage and climate regulator for the earth. Its destruction also destroys the lives and livelihoods of the indigenous human populations who live there.