Debate Kit: Is Animal Agriculture Harmful to the Environment?

A hot topic in classrooms and on the minds of the public is the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. Here at PETA, our core belief is that animals are not ours to use. We know that many schools assign debates on topical issues to help their students learn to speak and write persuasively, develop research skills, and recognize multiple sides of a controversial or multifaceted issue—and the impact of various industries on the environment is certainly one such topic. This student debate kit lists a variety of resources that can be shared with students to support the argument that animal agriculture is harmful to the environment and that eating vegan is the solution.

Resolved: Animal agriculture is cruel, unsustainable, and bad for the environment, and people should make the shift to vegan eating.

Three cows in tight quarters with tags in their ears

Affirmative Argument

Animal agriculture requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water; results in polluted land, water, and air; and causes immense animal suffering. Even the United Nations (U.N.) has acknowledged that 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.”

Animals exploited for food in the U.S. alone produce more than 10 times as much excrement as the entire human population of the United States does—and with no animal-sewage processing plants, it’s most often stored in waste “lagoons” or sprayed over fields, polluting the land, air, and water. Globally, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation systems combined.

Eating meat also wastes valuable resources. It takes up to 13 pounds of grain and 2,500 gallons of water to produce just a pound of meat. Growing water-intensive crops simply to feed animals who are raised for food consumes more than half the water in the U.S. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, agricultural runoff is the number one source of pollution in our waterways—and it can contaminate groundwater with viruses and bacteria.

Reducing intensive meat production is simply not enough to save the environment. The sheer quantity of animals required to satisfy people’s desire for animal-derived foods makes humane, environmentally responsible practices impossible. For profitability, the meat, egg, and dairy industries crowd the largest number of animals into the smallest space possible, leading to massive water pollution, soil erosion from the massive number of crops needed to feed these animals, and other ecological disasters.

We can all help stop climate change and pollution and help heal our planet by choosing vegan foods. A report by the U.N. concludes that a global shift toward a vegan diet is vital if we are to combat the worst effects of climate change. In addition, the National Audubon Society, the Worldwatch Institute, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and even Al Gore’s Live Earth say that raising animals for food damages the environment more than just about anything else that we do. If people are serious about protecting the environment, the most important thing that they can do is stop eating meat, eggs, and dairy “products.”

Become an ‘Expert’

Use the following links to conduct research on general information about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment and prepare logical arguments:

pigs crammed into small enclosure, one pig looking into camera

Build Your Case

Use the following links to gather evidence and examples to support your position against animal agriculture in regard to the environment.

Research Articles, Scholarly Articles, and Investigative Analysis

Statements From World Leaders and Organizations

Investigative Reports and Court Cases

Further Evidence of Unsustainability and Environmental Damage

Chickens crowded into small space, patches of feathers missing

Finding Solutions

Use the following resources to help build a proposal suggesting solutions to issues that could allegedly arise if humans stopped using animals for food:

Anticipate Counterarguments and Prepare Rebuttals

Analyze websites that support animal agriculture to determine their stated reasons for justifying the production of meat and other animal-derived “products,” given the industry’s environmental implications. Investigate what farmers, corporations, and government agencies gain by continuing to use animals for food, and think critically about their motivations. Also, examine which other entities benefit from using animals for food (e.g., restaurant chains, pharmaceutical companies, and industries codependent on animal agriculture, such as leather producers). Create a list of typical statements made by parties who believe that continuing animal agriculture is justified despite environmental concerns. Information included in the links in this document can be useful in responding to counterarguments.

Additional Resources







Have students use the curated content in this debate resource kit to prepare an affirmative argument stating why animal agriculture is harmful to the environment and should be abandoned in favor of a global switch to vegan eating. These resources will assist students in supporting their position using scientific, ethical, and philosophical arguments.

Want free educational posters and stickers for students to use during their debates? E-mail us at [email protected].

Do your students need to conduct an interview as part of their research? Staff members from PETA’s student sector are available to speak with students via phone, Skype, or e-mail and to answer questions about our stance on animal agriculture and the environment. Have students e-mail us directly at [email protected]—or if you’d like to contact us on their behalf, please fill out the form below, and we’ll arrange for them to speak with a representative.

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