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 store.
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 miles.
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.
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. 2005
Smithsonian Institution, "Smithsonian Researchers Show Amazonian Deforestation Accelerating," Science Daily Online, 15 Jan. 2002
Earth Talk, "The Environmental Beef With Meat," The Bay Weekly, 6 Jan. 2005
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)
"The American fast-food diet and the meat-eating habits of the wealthy around the world support a
world food system that diverts food resources from the hungry."
Dr. Waldo Bello, executive director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy
There are more than 840 million people in the world struggling for food and going hungry right now. The World Health Organisation calls malnutrition "the silent emergency", and says it is a factor in at least half the 10.4 million child deaths which occur every year.
There is more than enough food being produced to feed everyone in the world twice over. The problem is, our meat-based diet means that land, water, and other resources that could be used to grow food for human beings are being used to grow crops for farmed animals instead. According to a report by Compassion in World Farming, "Currently, one third of the world's cereal crop goes to feed the 60 billion farm animals reared every year to produce meat, eggs and dairy products - the majority of them on factory farms."
In 1984, when thousands of Ethiopians were dying weekly from famine, their rulers continued growing and shipping millions of dollars worth of livestock grains to the UK and other European nations. The growing consumption of meat, poultry and dairy products has created an explosion in livestock populations worldwide. In fact, livestock now outnumbers humans by almost three to one. In the last 40 years, the number of cattle has doubled and the fowl population has trebled.
The meat and dairy industry is also putting a huge strain on our water supply. It was stated during World Water Week that the growth in demand for meat and dairy products is unsustainable. Animals need much more water than grain to produce the same amount of food, and ending malnutrition and feeding even more mouths will take still more water.
When world leaders met at the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization summit in Rome, they vowed to halve global hunger by 2015 and discussed strategies to boost agricultural production, which must be doubled by 2030 to meet rising demands. But no one proposed a convincing way to alleviate world hunger.
Dr. Walt Willett, professor of medicine at Harvard University and author of Eat, Drink and Weigh Less, offers this simple solution: "If we changed the way we ate, modifying what we eat, we could practically end the global food crisis, since eating more crops and much less red meat would free up resources to feed the world."
It would take just 40 million tons of food to eliminate the most extreme cases of world hunger. Yet a staggering 760 million tons of grain will be used to feed farmed animals this year (compared to 100 million tons used to produce fuel). The demand for meat is rising continually and has been especially dramatic in developing countries. "China's meat consumption is increasing rapidly with income growth and urbanization, and it has more than doubled in the past generation," says Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. As a result, land once used to provide grains for humans now provides feed for chickens and pigs.
It may seem fantastical to the average person that reducing their individual meat intake could have an impact on such a huge global problem as world famine but changing the way we eat really can make a difference. According to the aid group Vegfam, a ten-acre farm can support 60 people growing soybeans, 24 people growing wheat, ten people growing corn and only two people producing cattle. Reducing meat production by just ten percent in the U.S. would free enough grain to feed 60 million people, estimates Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer. Sixty million people - that's the population of Great Britain, which, by the way, could support 250 million people on an all-vegetable diet.
- It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of edible animal flesh, making meat consumption a very inefficient use of grain.
- About 20 percent of the world's population, or 1.4 billion people, could be fed with the grain and soybeans fed to U.S. cattle alone.
- If everyone on Earth received 25 percent of his or her calories from animal products, only 3.2 billion people could be nourished.
- Because the industrial world is exporting grain to developing countries and importing the meat that is produced with it, farmers who are trying to feed themselves are being driven off their land.
- In the US, 64% of cropland produces feed for animals, while only 2% grows fruit and vegetables.
- It takes about 300 gallons of water per day to produce food for a vegan, and more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce food for a meat-eater.
- You save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you do by not showering for an entire year.
- Food for a vegan can be produced on only 1/6 of an acre of land, while it takes 3 1/4 acres of land to produce food for a meat-eater.
Livestock farming uses up agricultural land, water and other resources that could far more efficiently be utilised for growing food for people to eat directly. Quite simply, the world needs to change its consumption patterns if it has any realistic hope of feeding itself and the most sustainable way of doing that is for people to adopt a vegan diet.