"The world must create five billions vegans in the next several decades,
or triple its total farm output without using more land."
Dennis Avery, Director
of the Centre for Global Food Issues
Unless you are eating a plant-based (vegan) diet, large scale damage is
being caused to the environment by the very food you are choosing to put
into your mouth. Read on to find out why...
When the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere and oceans
increases, the phenomenon is called global warming. Causes of warming: The
chief causes are burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas,
and releasing them into the atmosphere, and the emission of carbon dioxide
and other greenhouse gases due to human activities such as industrial
processes, fossil fuel combustion, and deforestation.
More that one third of all fossil fuels produced in the United States go
towards animal agriculture. According to a study in the American Journal of
Clinical Nutrition, the production of one calorie of animal protein requires
more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein.
This means that ten times the amount of carbon dioxide is emitted as well.
So, where does all this waste occur?
Each animal that is slaughtered for food must be fed with grains, soy and
other crops. The production of these crops requires energy consumption. This
feed must then be harvested and transported to feedlots. From the feedlots,
animals are then transported to a slaughterhouse, the carcasses are often
taken (in refrigerated trucks - another energy consumer) to yet another
processing plant before the meat is ready to be transported to a grocery
Environmentalists often bring up carbon dioxide emissions and their role
in cooking the planet. But CO2 isn't
the only greenhouse gas worth
worrying about. Methane is actually a lot more toxic to the environment than
carbon dioxide. Methane is responsible for nearly as much global warming as
all other non-CO2 greenhouse gases put together, in fact methane emissions
cause nearly half of the planet's human-induced warming! Methane is produced
by a number of sources, including coal mining and landfills, but the number
one source worldwide is animal agriculture. Animal agriculture produces more
than 100 million tons of methane a year. And this source is on the rise:
global meat consumption has increased fivefold in the past fifty years, and
shows little sign of abating. About 85% of this methane is produced in the
digestive processes of livestock, and while a single cow releases a
relatively small amount of methane, the collective effect on the environment
of the hundreds of millions of livestock animals worldwide is enormous.
A report in the New Scientist estimated that driving a hybrid car rather
than an average vehicle would conserve a little over one ton of carbon
dioxide per year. A vegan diet, however, consumes one and a half tons less
than the average American diet. Adopting a vegan diet actually does more to
reduce emissions than driving a hybrid car! For example, with the energy
needed to produce a single hamburger, you could drive a small car twenty
The United States imports roughly 200 million pounds of beef from Central
America every year. Aside from the fuel used in
transport, grazing land is needed for all of these animals. Where does all
that land come from in a densely forested region? The
answer: from clear-cutting the forests.
A Smithsonian study estimates that the necessity for more grazing land means
that every minute of every day, a land area equivalent to seven football
fields is destroyed in the Amazon basin.
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.
"70% of rainforest deforestation is the result of cattle farming. “We
all heard of the web of life. The way we live threatens to trap us all in a
web of death." ~Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General
The global effects of meat consumption don't stop on land. Agriculture
also requires water consumption, and animal agriculture is no
exception. Animal production consumes an amount of water roughly equivalent
to all other uses of water in the United States
combined. Besides grains, animals need water to survive and grow until they
are slaughtered. One pound of beef
requires an input of approximately 2500 gallons of water, whereas a pound of
soy requires 250 gallons of water and a
pound of wheat only 25 gallons. Meat production is inefficient as it
requires the consumption of an
extensive amount of resources over many months and years before becoming a
usable food product. With the water used to produce a single hamburger, you
could take a luxurious shower every day for two and a half weeks.
Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies agriculture as
a major water pollutant. Agricultural pesticides and nitrates used in
fertilisers and manures seep into our groundwater, eventually spilling out
into the oceans creating so-called "dead zones" (expansive areas so toxic
that neither plant nor animal life can survive) viewable from space in
places like the Gulf of Mexico where the Mississippi spills out into the
sea. Besides the chemicals used in cultivation, accidental pollution though
chemical spills and manure dumps are an ongoing source of water pollution
from feedlots. The manure created from the billions of animals killed for
food has to go somewhere, and often, it ends up in rivers and streams,
killing millions of fish in one fell swoop.
Going vegan is the most effective action you can take to reduce your
carbon footprint. Make a pledge today to evolve in a way that will really
make a difference to the future of our planet!
David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel, "Sustainability of Meat-Based and
Plant-Based Diets and the Environment," American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition 78.3 (2003)
The New Scientist,"It's Better to Green Your Diet
Than Your Car," 17 Dec.
Smithsonian Institution, "Smithsonian Researchers Show Amazonian
Deforestation Accelerating," Science Daily Online, 15 Jan. 2002
Talk, "The Environmental Beef With Meat," The Bay Weekly, 6 Jan.
US Environmental Protection Agency. 1984. Report to Congress: Nonpoint
Source Pollution in the US Office of Water Program Operations, Water
Planning Division. Washington, D.C.
Merritt Frey, et al., Spills and Kills: Manure Pollution and America's
Livestock Feedlots, Clean Water Network, Izaak Walton League of America and
Natural Resources Defense Council (August 2000)