Meat And The Environment

Modern eating habits require a dependence on mass-produced foods from industrial farms. These farms consume an enormous amount of fossil fuels and emit an exorbitant amount of waste. Scientists estimate that worldwide food consumption accounts for up to 35 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions 1.

In 2006, a United Nations study entitled "Livestock's Long Shadow" reveals the meat industry alone produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all the SUVs, cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined 2.

Animals that are produced organically, or through natural grass feeding methods, produce less greenhouse gas emissions than conventionally raised animals. However, since farmers have little financial incentive to raise their livestock organically, they tend to opt for the industrialized methods that are cheaper and produce more yield. There are over 9 billion animals produced annually in U.S. industrial farms, where artificially altered living conditions greatly increase carbon emissions 3.

Overall, the meat industry is responsible for over 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Most of these emissions results from the nitrous oxide in manure and the methane produced from livestock food digestion 4. Vegan and vegetarian diets emit 72 percent less nitrous oxide and 42 percent less methane than the typical American diet. A diet heavy in meat consumption emits 24 percent more emission than the average diet 5. According to research from the University of Chicago, becoming a vegetarian can shrink an individual's carbon footprint by up to 1.5 tons of CO2 per year 6. According to a report issued by the United Nations, the impacts of meat-based diets extend even further beyond the impact on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock production: consumes 8 percent of the world's water; causes 55 percent of land erosion and sediment; use 37 percent of all pesticides; results in the use of 50 percent of all antibiotics; and dumps 1/3 of all nitrogen and phosphorus into fresh water supplies 7.


1. Soares, Christine, "Sustainable Eating: The Low-Carbon Diet," Scientific American, March 2009. [source]

2. "Fight Climate Change With Diet Change," PETA. [source]

3. "From Feedlot to Fork: The Impacts of Meat and Dairy on Global Warming," Cool Foods Campaign. [source]

4. Walsh, Bryan, "Skip The Steak," Time Magazine, 2007. [source]

5. "How Was Your Personal Impact Calculated?" The Nature Conservancy. [source]

6. Walsh, Bryan, "Skip The Steak," Time Magazine, 2007. [source]

7. Motavalli, Jim, "The Meat Of The Matter," E: The Environmental Magazine, July/Aug 2008. [source]