On this page I would like to share some information pertaining to the environmental impact of our individual food choices. More specifically, livestock production. By livestock I am referring to all farmed animals, including egg-laying hens and dairy cows. Unfortunately, in North America, the methods for meat, milk and egg production are not sustainable. These methods have a significant effect on climate change, water consumption, land degradation and loss of biodiversity.
With fluctuating temperatures, rising sea levels, melting ice caps and glaciers, shifting ocean currents and weather patterns, climate change is one of the most serious challenges facing the human race. The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for close to 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock are also responsible for almost 2/3 of ammonia emissions which contribute significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems.
The livestock sector is a key player in increasing water consumption, accounting for nearly 10% of global water use, mostly for the irrigation of feedcrops. It is one of the largest sources of water pollution, 'dead' zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems and the emergence of antibiotic resistance. The major sources of pollution are from animal waste, antibiotics and hormones, fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops, and sediments from eroded pastures.
The growing scale and concentration of animal feeding operations produce large amounts of waste in small areas. For example, a single dairy cow produces about 120lbs of wet manure per day, equal to the amount of waste produced by 20-40 humans per day. The global population ratio of cows to humans, at any given time, is approximately 3:1. Manure, and wastewater containing manure, can severely harm river and stream ecosystems. Manure contains ammonia which is highly toxic to fish at low levels. Increased amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous from feedlots can cause algal blooms which block waterways and deplete oxygen as they decompose. This can kill fish and other aquatic organisms, devastating the entire aquatic food chain.
The expansion of livestock production is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America where the greatest amount of deforestation is occuring. 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and feedcrops cover a large part of the remainder.
The livestock sector may be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driving force of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species.
According to The Audubon Society, roughly 70% of grain grown and 50% of water consumed in The United States and Canada is used by the meat industry.
The corn used as feed consumes more chemical herbicide and fertilizers than any other crop. If you consider that a steer eats 25lbs of corn per day and reaches a weight of 1200lbs, he will have consumed in his lifetime almost 300 gallons of oil.
All things considered, if we truly want to reduce our carbon footprint, we need to shift to a more plant-based diet.