The impact that your dietary choices has on the environment is a real and serious issue. Take a look at the shocking ways that meat production impacts our planet:
1. Preserve habitats
Meat production requires large swaths of land to raise animals on. In the rainforest, which is responsible for 28% of our world’s oxygen turnover, is cleared away in football field-sized amounts in order to raise animals. 70% of agricultural land–a massive amount that could be used to grow plant products that go straight to humans–is used solely to grow animals. A third of crops are used for producing animal feed instead of feeding humans. Producing just one pound of beef amounts to 200 square feet of destroyed rainforest because meat products require three times more land than plant products.
Animal waste products from the meat industry pollute the environment and destroy habitats. The waste gets washed in water systems, where nitrogen and phosphorous cause algae to grow in the water and starve the fish of oxygen. This leads to the creation of “dead zones,” or areas where nothing can live and thrive. As of 2011, 530 marine areas were identified as dead zones.
Livestock farming leads to:
- Overgrazing: This causes soil erosion, desertification, and deforestation. 20% of the world’s grazing land has already been designated as degraded.
- Depleted rainforests: The Amazon region of Latin America has already experienced 70% of deforestation.
- Deforestation and increase of greenhouse gas emissions: This happens when trees are removed and the carbon stores in the trees are released.
2. Conserve water
To those of us in the Western world, it may seem as though water is plentiful, but fresh water is scarce. Even though 70% of the earth is covered by water, only 2.5% of it is fresh. And from that 2.5%, only 30% is available to us for consumption.
In the undeveloped world, the lack of clean water is a life-and-death matter. Over a billion people live without access to clean water. Raising animals requires large amounts of water—to drink, cleanse, and keep living spaces clean.
The water footprint of a veggie burger is 159 liters, while a beef burger has a water footprint of 2,350 liters. That’s fourteen times as much! Plant-food production is much more efficient and nutritious. The production of it requires less energy, land, and water.
- Because animal waste is in overabundance, it enters the waterways. The waste found in water isn’t limited to animals, however. There’s production waste to consider as well: chemicals from tanneries and fertilizers and pesticides from farms.
- Farmed animals in the United States produce about 130 times more waste than the human population. This waste harms rivers and our overall ecosystem. Our cities may have a sewer system in place, but factory farms do not. The wastes contaminate the air and the water systems, causing damage to aquatic life and human life.
- In the late 1990s, more than 2 billion tons of animal manure was produced worldwide. That means about 100 million tons of nitrogen entered the water system.
3. Reduce global warming
Global warming is a real issue and is one of the most serious threats to the global environment. Gases are the main culprits behind global warming. As we’ll discuss in the next section, the fastest way to take a step in reducing global warming is to adopt a plant-based diet.
4. Reduce methane/nitrous oxide production
Why methane? Methane missions cause about half of the planet’s warming. 37% of methane emissions come from cows and sheep. Omitting methane-emitting food sources is much easier than reducing carbon dioxide. Methane cycles out of the atmosphere in eight years whereas carbon dioxide cycles out after an entire century!
Acid rain is correlated to ammonia, and the livestock industry generates 64% of ammonia. Shifting the diet to a vegetarian one can reduce greenhouse gas emissions much quicker than burning technologies and eco-friendly cars, power plants, and zero-emission fuel sources, which could take years.
5. Antibiotics, growth hormones, and chemicals
Antibiotics (penicillin, erythromycin, inorganic arsenic) and growth hormones are used on animals and fish in order to rapidly fatten them and keep them alive in deadly conditions. By consuming these animals and fish and drinking the water tainted by them, we become secondhand recipients of these drugs.
According to the USDA, two ounces of chicken per day exposes a person 3-5 micrograms of inorganic arsenic (the most toxic form) Daily exposure can cause cancer, neurological problems, dementia, and other illnesses and disease. Although hormones are used by U.S. farmers, the use of hormones is prohibited by the European Union, since the hormones are known to cause cancer and reproductive harm.
Antibiotics in fish are also a problem because of their residual effects on humans. The use of antibiotics in meat and fish production is thought to increase antibiotic resistance when treating human diseases.
6. Reduce ecological footprint
By choosing a vegetarian diet instead of one loaded with animal products, individuals can dramatically reduce the amount of land, water, and oil resources that they consume and the amount of pollution they otherwise might cause. Of course, reducing one’s ecological footprint should also mean causing less harm to the Earth’s non-human inhabitants. By switching to a vegetarian diet, a single individual can save more than 100 animals each year from the horrific cruelty of the meat industry24.
7. Help ensure environmental sustainability
As the population continues to grow, the demand for food also increases. Meat is the largest animal protein source in affluent nations, and the demand for meat is expected to more than double by 2050. Meeting these demands only means increasing all the damaging production practices listed above. Adopting a vegetarian diet is a significant part of sustaining the environment.
Food should nourish our bodies in a balanced manner, and should look and taste delicious! Ready to make the change? Comment down below and we’ll introduce delicious and healthy ways to get started!