Animal Agriculture and Environmental Destruction
An Environmental Article from


Gary Yourofsky, Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow (ADAPTT)
October 2010

When it comes to environmental destruction, animal agriculture is the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge, confront, or talk about. Animal-based agriculture is the number one cause of deforestation, air pollution, water pollution AND greenhouse gas emissions.

Many people who fancy themselves to be environmentalists are fond of demonizing the automobile industry, calling it the number one agent of global pollution. (Just look at some of the literature emanating from such "mainstream" organizations as Environment California and the Sierra Club.) However, when it comes to environmental destruction, animal agriculture is the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge, confront, or talk about. Animal-based agriculture is the number one cause of deforestation, air pollution, water pollution AND greenhouse gas emissions (yes, greenhouse gas emissions—see below). Therefore, those people who still incorporate meat, eggs, or dairy products in their diet cannot claim to be environmentalists.

Here is a summary of how the production of meat, eggs, and dairy products takes a staggering toll on the ecosystem:

Water Pollution

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the runoff from factory farms pollutes our rivers and lakes more than all other industries combined. In the U.S. alone, animals raised for food produce 130 times more excrement than the entire human population—86,000 pounds per second. A typical pig factory farm generates as much raw waste as a city of 50,000 people. Chicken, pig, and cow excrement have polluted over 35,000 miles of rivers in at least 22 states and contaminated groundwater in at least 17 states.

What's more, chicken, pig, and cow excrement comprise the sole source of all the recent E. Coli and salmonella outbreaks in which spinach, tomatoes, peanuts, jalapeņo peppers, and other plant products have been implicated. But E. Coli and salmonella have only one source: SHIT (human or animal)! Since spinach, peanuts, jalapeņos, and tomatoes don't shit, spinach, peanuts, jalapeņos, and tomatoes cannot be blamed for the problem. E. Coli and salmonella found their way to the spinach, the tomatoes, and the jalapeņos because people who enslave animals for meat, dairy or eggs contaminate the waterways by dumping nearly 2.7 trillion pounds of manure into America's lakes, rivers and streams every year. Contaminated water eventually ends up on some of the crops as run-off, passing E. Coli or salmonella to the consumer. Also, more frighteningly, there are many times when farmers literally spray tons of RAW animal shit directly on the crops. Make no mistake: ALL E. Coli and salmonella incidents occur because of animal agriculture. Meat-eaters want to eat billions of land animals. So ConAgra, Smithfield, Tyson, Perdue, etc. MASS PRODUCE billions of land animals far in excess of the numbers that would occur if these animals were left to their own reproductive devices and inclinations. Billions of land animals produce trillions of pounds of shit. Most of it ends up in rivers and lakes, and subsequently runs off onto the crops that we eat.

Chemical Pollution

Enormous quantities of insecticides and pesticides are sprayed on the billions of animals imprisoned by the meat, dairy and egg industries to keep flies and mosquitoes off of them. In 1992 Cornell University determined through "The China Study"—the world's dietary study ever conducted—that 69 percent of our chemical intake comes from meat and dairy, while only 11 percent comes from fruits and vegetables. Although organic farming can solve how many chemicals are injected INTO the animals, it cannot solve how many chemicals are sprayed ONTO the animals to alleviate the insect infestation nor how many chemicals are sprayed onto the crops that the animals consume. The crops set aside as animal feed—around 70 percent of those grown in America—are allowed to be sprayed with more chemicals than crops used for direct human consumption. In addition, organic farms do not solve the ethical and health problems associated with killing animals for meat, dairy products, eggs, and animal byproducts like caseine, rennet, whey, etc.

Water Use

Raising animals for food consumes nearly half the water used in the United States. Since no one (except those living in icy and desert settings—see the Ethics and Laws section) needs to eat an animal in order to survive, that means fifty percent of all the water in America is wasted on animal-based agriculture. It takes an estimated 800 to 2,500 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef, but only 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat. Maintaining a carnivorous diet for a single person requires 4,200 gallons of water per day. A vegan diet for a single person requires only 300 gallons of water per day.

Land Use

Of all agricultural land in the U.S., nearly 80 percent is used to raise animals for food. More than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain for animal feed, and about 85 percent of the seven billion tons of topsoil lost in the U.S. each year has been directly attributed to the enslavement of cows. Twenty times more land is required to feed a meat-eater than a vegan. (A meat-eater requires roughly 3.25 acres of land to feed him- or herself per year, whereas a vegan requires only 1/6 of an acre.)

Rainforest Depletion

About 214,000 acres of rainforest, comprising an area greater than that of New York City, are destroyed every day. Some of this is for cows to graze, while some of it is to grow crops for animal feed. More than 2.9 million acres of rainforest were destroyed in the 2004-2005 crop season in order to grow crops that feed chickens and other animals in factory farms.

For every pound of hamburger produced in rainforest countries, approximately 220 square feet of rainforest are cleared to grow the required feed. Through this clearing approximately 2,600 pounds of living matter will in the best of circumstances be displaced, or destroyed altogether. This living matter includes roughly 20 to 30 different plant species, over 100 insect species, and dozens of birds, mammals and reptiles. What is more, along with the biomass found in coral reefs, rainforest vegetation is said to be one of the most promising sources of heretofore-undiscovered chemical compounds for treating many diseases that were once thought to be intractable. These resources are simply laid to waste when rainforest is cleared. Even worse, unlike coniferous forest land, tropical rainforest can never be replaced once it has been cleared.

Energy Use

The meat, egg, and dairy industries are heavy consumers of fossil-fuel resources. Raising animals for food requires more than one-third of all the raw materials and fossil fuels used in the United States. The best flesh-food enterprise returns a paltry 34.5 percent of the invested fossil-fuel energy as food energy, measured in terms of caloric expenditure. In contrast, the poorest crop enterprise returns a whopping 328 percent. In other words, the least-efficient plant-based food is nearly ten times as energy-efficient as the most-efficient flesh food!

Air Pollution

Whether you're a hardcore liberal who believes that humans are responsible for global warming, or a staunch conservative who believes that the warming of the earth is a natural cycle, I think we can all agree that intentionally emitting nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere can be classified as pollution. And pollution has the potential to sicken the earth and its inhabitants. Liberals and conservatives alike must understand that animal agriculture of all kinds emits two highly potent greenhouse gases (GHGs): nitrous oxide and methane. Plus, when it comes to carbon dioxide, few people recognize the devastating impact that destroying rainforest to grow crops for animal feed can have on potential climate change. For example, it's becoming increasingly well-known that burning one gallon of gasoline in an internal-combustion engine releases about 19 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But clearing and burning enough rainforest to produce just one hamburger releases 165 pounds of carbon dioxide.

It was once estimated by the United Nations (see reference at the bottom of this section) that nitrous oxide, methane, and other compounds emitted by cows through breathing, belching, flatulence, and feces account for roughly 18 percent of the global-warming effects of GHGs worldwide. That's largely because nitrous oxide and methane have many more times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide; see below. Now, as of late 2009, the World Watch Institute has published a research report by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang entitled Livestock and Climate Change. This report claims that the United Nations figure is drastically underestimated—that bovine emissions actually account for about 51 percent of all global warming. That's nearly THREE TIMES the estimate produced by the U.N.! Much of the significant science is shown on page 13 of the report, and the numbers are truly scary (the emphasis is mine throughout):

Although methane warms the atmosphere much more strongly than does CO2, its half-life in the atmosphere is only about 8 years, versus at least 100 years for CO2. As a result, a significant reduction in cows raised worldwide would reduce GHGs relatively quickly compared with measures involving renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The capacity of greenhouse gases to trap heat in the atmosphere is described in terms of their global warming potential (GWP), which compares their warming potency to that of CO2 (with a GWP set at 1). The new widely accepted figure for the GWP of methane is 25 using a 100-year timeframe—but it is 72 using a 20-year timeframe, which is more appropriate because of both the large effect that methane reductions can have within 20 years and the serious climate disruption expected within 20 years if no significant reduction of GHGs is achieved. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change supports using a 20-year timeframe for methane.

As for Al Gore, the biggest asshole fake environmentalist alive, there is a reason he never discusses veganism when he talks about the environment. He enslaves cows on a ranch in Kansas! Helping out the environment has little to do with changing light bulbs, as Gore wants people to do. But it has everything to do with eradicating animal agriculture through veganism.

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