The Issues

The Environment and Meat: It's Not Green

Pile of feathers, trash, and live and dead chickens at a slaughterhouse

It's a given that eating meat is unkind to the billions of animals raised to be killed for their flesh each year. But it also does untold damage to our planet: according to the United Nations, raising animals for food is "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global."

Here's the lowdown on some of the meat industry's harmful environmental impacts:

Climate Change

Raising animals for food is one of the largest sources of carbon-dioxide emissions and the single largest source of both nitrous-oxide and methane emissions, all of which are major contributors to climate change. Producing fertiliser for crops to feed animals, oil to run the trucks that take them to slaughter and electricity to freeze their carcasses requires massive amounts of fossil fuels, which equals massive amounts of carbon dioxide released into our atmosphere. The billions of animals around the world kept on factory farms produce methane during digestion, and the acres of cesspools filled with the animals' decomposing waste create a staggering 65 per cent of the world's nitrous-oxide emissions.

Pollution

Run-off on the floor of a meat packing plant Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Meat production accounts for 80 per cent of the nitrogen and phosphorus used in farming, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Most of these chemicals return to the environment through wastewater and excrement, contaminating land and water worldwide; harming local wildlife, human health and deep-sea marine life; killing fish, bees and amphibians and creating ecological "dead zones" in the oceans. Factory farms also generate vast amounts of sewage waste, which can also pollute water supplies.

World Hunger

The world is facing a food shortage that hits the very poorest people the hardest. Yet each year, 760 million tonnes of grain are fed to animals on factory farms so that people can eat meat. This is terribly inefficient: it can take up to 16 kilograms of grain to produce just 1 kilogram of meat. The world's cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people, more than the entire human population on Earth. If, instead of funnelling the grain through livestock, it were used to feed people directly, there would be more than enough for everyone.

Water Resources

It takes the equivalent of 50 bathtubs of water to produce just one steak

Huge amounts of Europe's water are used to raise animals for meat and dairy products. A vegan diet requires 1,100 litres of water per day to produce, while a meat-based diet requires more than 15,000 litres per day. That means that it takes the equivalent of 50 bathtubs of water to produce just one steak. With the Earth's supply of freshwater dwindling, we can't afford to waste such massive quantities of this precious resource just to feed a culinary whim.

Land Use

The livestock industry uses up approximately a third of the land on the planet. It decimates forests and grasslands , reducing unique ecosystems to grazing land for animals. Cattle ranching, for example, is linked to up to four-fifths of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Razing forests for meat production, in turn, leads to problems such as soil erosion and greenhouse-gas emissions.

What You Can Do

The simple solution is to go vegan. Quitting meat really is one of the most powerful steps that you can take to make your life greener and healthier. It alleviates pressure on the world's precious resources, helps tackle climate change and world hunger and radically decreases your own risk of contracting life-threatening diseases. Don't forget that it will save the lives of hundreds of animals, too!

Take the 30-Day Vegan Pledge

Factbox

  • A staggering 97 per cent of the world's soya crops are used to feed animals, not humans.
  • Today, approximately 30 per cent of the Earth's land mass is used to graze animals or grow crops to feed them.
  • According to research published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a meat-eater's diet requires 17 times more land, 14 times more water and 10 times more energy than a vegetarian's.
  • Going vegan reduces your carbon footprint by, on average, 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide per year!