Meat Production Wastes Natural Resources
Raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water and contributes to animal suffering.
According to the United Nations, raising animals for food (including land used for grazing and land used to grow feed crops) now uses a staggering 30 percent of the Earth’s land mass. More than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals, and according to scientists at the Smithsonian Institution, the equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed worldwide every minute to create more room for farmed animals.
Livestock grazing is the number one reason that plant species in the United States become threatened and go extinct, and it also leads to soil erosion and eventual desertification that renders once-fertile land barren.
While factory farms are ruining our land, commercial fishing methods such as bottom trawling and long-lining have virtually emptied millions of square miles of ocean and pushed many marine species to the brink of extinction. Commercial fishing boats indiscriminately pull as many fish as they can out of the sea, leaving ecological devastation and the bodies of nontarget animals in their wake.
Raising animals for food is grossly inefficient, because while animals eat large quantities of grain, soybeans, oats, and corn, they only produce comparatively small amounts of meat, dairy products, or eggs in return. This is why more than 70 percent of the grain and cereals that we grow in this country are fed to farmed animals.
It takes up to 13 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat, and even fish on fish farms must be fed up to 5 pounds of wild-caught fish to produce 1 pound of farmed fish flesh.
It takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie from animal protein as it does to make one calorie from plant protein. Raising animals for food gobbles up precious energy. Simply add up the energy-intensive stages of raising animals for food: (1) grow massive amounts of corn, grain, and soybeans (with all the required tilling, irrigation, crop-dusters, etc.); (2) transport the grain and soybeans to feed manufacturers on gas-guzzling 18-wheelers; (3) operate the feed mills (requiring massive energy expenditures); (4) transport the feed to the factory farms (again, in gas-guzzling vehicles); (5) operate the factory farms; (6) truck the animals many miles to slaughter; (7) operate the slaughterhouse; (8) transport the meat to processing plants; (9) operate the meat-processing plants; (10) transport the meat to grocery stores; (11) keep the meat refrigerated or frozen in the stores until it’s sold.
Between watering the crops that farmed animals eat, providing drinking water for billions of animals each year, and cleaning away the filth in factory farms, transport trucks, and slaughterhouses, the farmed animal industry places a serious strain on our water supply. Nearly half of all the water used in the United States goes to raising animals for food. In 2008, John Anthony Allan, a professor at King’s College London and the winner of the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize, urged people worldwide to go vegetarian because of the tremendous waste of water involved with eating animals.
It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, while growing 1 pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons. You save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you do by not showering for six months!
According to Greenpeace, all the wild animals and trees in more than 2.9 million acres of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil were destroyed in the 2004-2005 crop season in order to grow crops that are used to feed chickens and other animals in factory farms.
One of the main crops grown in the rain forest is soy—in fact, much of the enormous amount of soy that is needed to feed the world’s farmed animals now comes from the rain forest. (The soy that is used in veggie burgers, tofu, and soy milk in the United States is almost exclusively grown domestically, not in the Amazon.)
If we simply ate soy and other plant foods ourselves instead of feeding them to farmed animals, we would not need to raise nearly as many crops, and we could eliminate the need to decimate the rain forest.
What do we get back from all the grain, fossil fuels, and water that go into making animal products? Tons and tons of feces. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the runoff from factory farms pollutes our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined.
Animals raised for food in the U.S. produce far more excrement than the entire U.S. human population, roughly 89,000 pounds per second, all without the benefit of waste-treatment systems. According to Oregon State University agriculture professor Peter Cheeke, factory farming constitutes “a frontal assault on the environment, with massive groundwater and air pollution problems.”
There are no meaningful federal guidelines that regulate how factory farms treat, store, and dispose of the trillions of pounds of concentrated, untreated animal excrement that they produce each year. This waste may be left to rot in huge lagoons or sprayed over crop fields; both of these disposal methods result in runoff that contaminates the soil and water and kills fish and other wildlife. The concentration of parasites, bacteria, and chemical contaminants in animal excrement can wreak havoc on the ecosystems affected by farm runoff and can sicken people who live near these farms.
The Water We Drink
Many of the millions of pounds of excrement and other bodily waste produced by farmed animals every day in the U.S. are stored in sprawling, brown lagoons. These lagoons often seep or spill into surrounding waterways and kill massive numbers of fish and other animals.
The EPA reports that chicken, hog, and cattle excrement has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states. When 25 million gallons of putrid hog urine and feces spilled into a North Carolina river in 1995, between 10 million and 14 million fish died as an immediate result.
In West Virginia and Maryland, scientists have discovered that male fish are growing ovaries, and they suspect that this deformity is the result of factory farm runoff from drug-laden chicken feces.
The massive amounts of feces, fish carcasses, and antibiotic-laced fish food that settle below fish farm cages also contribute to water pollution and have actually caused the ocean floor to rot in some areas.
The Air We Breathe
A Consumers Union study in Texas found that animal feedlots in the state produce more than 14 million pounds of particulate dust every year and that the dust “contains biologically active organisms such as bacteria, mold, and fungi from the feces and the feed.” The massive amounts of excrement produced by these farms emit toxic gases such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia into the air.
When the cesspools holding tons of urine and feces get full, factory farms frequently dodge water pollution limits by spraying liquid manure into the air, creating mists that are carried away by the wind. People who live nearby are forced to inhale the toxins and pathogens from the sprayed manure. In addition, according to a report by the California State Senate, “Studies have shown that [animal waste] lagoons emit toxic airborne chemicals that can cause inflammatory, immune, irritation and neurochemical problems in humans.”
The good news is that it’s easier than ever to switch to an Earth-friendly vegan diet. Take PETA’s Pledge to Be Vegan for 30 Days. After a month, you will likely see an improvement in your health and your conscience will be lighter, knowing you are doing your part to help the environment and the animals used for food.