Home Page
About Us
Action Alerts - Eco
Calendar of Events
Columbia County
Picture Book


Topical Subjects


Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc.
38 East Market Street, Rhinebeck, New York 12572 USA -  845-876-2626
Vegetarian - Vegan - Animal Rights - Health - Nutrition - Environment

The mission of the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc. is to promote the vegetarian ethic in the Mid-Hudson (New York) region, educate the community and aid anyone in the pursuit of a totally vegetarian (vegan) cruelty-free and healthful lifestyle.

Our Environment:
Alerts, Articles, Factoids, Etc.

The Environmentalist's Diet by Jim Van Alstine

Green food, green planet

More and more Americans like to consider themselves environmentally responsible and even embrace the term "environmentalist." Environmentalists strive to make changes in their patterns of consumption to reduce negative human impact on land, water and air resources and to preserve wildlife and biodiversity. Increasingly, American consumers choose organic foods and embrace recycling efforts, making curbside pickups and household sorting bins the norm.

If told that eliminating a single category of luxury consumer products could cut water consumption in half, fossil fuel consumption by about one third, and drastically reduce key sources of pollution, would it seem likely that an environmental conscious consumer would choose to act?

Indeed there is one group of luxury products consumed every day by most Americans, which if eliminated would have such a great impact on our environment. These are animal products used in food. No other single consumer choice has as great an environmental impact as the decision to become vegan.

Since millions of vegans and vegetarians enjoy great health throughout their lives, it is clear that animal flesh, milk and eggs are not necessary to the human diet, but are a luxury, While the apparent low cost of such items in the grocery store and clothing store may seem to be at odds with the notion that animal products are a luxury, an examination of the real costs,  especially with regard to environmental impact, clearly shows that animal products cost us dearly.

The illusion of low cost animal products is maintained by a network of domestic subsidies including artificially low grazing fees on public lands of just $1.35 per month and public investment in fresh water supplies1 and favorable international trade economics with nations including Guatemala, Costa Rica and Brazil that have low land and labor costs in meat and leather production.2

Every precious drop

Americans are becoming keenly aware of the delicacy of their domestic water supplies. As cities and towns struggle to keep water safe and drinkable, more and more consumers are turning to bottled spring water and home filtration systems to keep water safe, palatable and pure.

Most responsible consumers seek to reduce their domestic water consumption, using efficient low-flow plumbing devices. Yet the amount of water saved over the course of a year when a consumer installs a low flow shower head (about 1,100 gallons) is less than the amount of water squandered if that same consumer buys one pound of beef.3 A package of chicken breasts or a factory farm raised salmon cost almost as dearly. Animal products account for half the freshwater used in the United States.4

According to Cornell ecologist, David Pimentell, it requires 12,500 gallons of water to return just one pound of beef, but merely 250 gallons of water are required to produce a pound of soy. The humble potato requires just 62.5 gallons of water per pound of crop. That makes beef 50 times more costly than soy and 200 times more costly than potatoes in water use.5

A single dairy cow will consume an average of 29 gallons of water daily, but returns daily just eight gallons of milk. Milk production is small compared to the rate of water consumption, especially when an additional 40 gallons used for sanitation brings the total daily water use per cow up to 69 gallons.

Animal production's impact on water doesn't end with massive consumption. It also leads all sources in pollution of freshwater bodies in the United States. On the Delmarva peninsula which juts out between the Chesapeake and Delaware bays, poultry industries are blamed for nitrogen saturated waste runoff into these fragile watersheds that regularly result in algae blooms and the death or contamination of uncountable multitudes of fish, crabs and aquatic plants.7 This preventable damage may permanently alter the ecological balance and biodiversity and sustainability of two of the East Coasts largest and most essential fresh water bays.8  Pfisteria, a bacteria that flourishes in manure contaminated water, has killed billions of fish in outbreaks off North Carolina (1995) and in the Chesapeake Bay (1998). Human victims of the Pfisteria outbreaks suffered skin lesions and serious memory loss.9 Cryptosporidium, a parasite that killed over a hundred people in a single outbreak10 and Giardia, an intestinal pathogen which has had over 100 outbreaks over a thirty year period,11 alone are commonly present in livestock waste which increasingly finds its way into surface water.

This pattern of environmental damage is being repeated throughout the country, leading the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify agricultural runoff as a primary pollution source for the 60 percent of U.S. rivers and streams it considers "impaired."12

In December 2002, the EPA enacted new but weak regulations under which factory farms are obliged to plan their own waste management and get a permit to operate within their own plan. In a National Public Radio report, Melanie Shepherdson, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, decried the EPA measure. "Instead of setting minimum enforceable standards, EPA created a self-permitting scheme that essentially shields polluters from liability, and keeps what they're doing out of the public eye," Shepherdson said, "It's really a disaster for public health and for the environment."13

Consumers' safe refuge of the bottled water aisle is increasingly at risk from factory farming. Most bottled water comes from ground water: spring fed or aquifer sources which draws waters from sources that are replenished by rain and other surface water throughput. The increasing use of manure lagoons and "deep pit" manure handling system, needed by intensive factory farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), result in massive storage systems that impact ground water supplies. Nitrates, pathogens and salts from manure contaminate ground water as lagoons and pits leach their content into formerly pristine water sources used for municipal water supplies, wells, crop irrigation and bottled water producers. In 2001, the EPA ordered Seaboard Farms, a major pork producer, to supply safe drinking water to families near five hog factories in Oklahoma, concluding that leaking waste from the intensive operations created dangerously high nitrate levels in ground water tapped for area wells.
14 The Centers for Disease Control reported that between 1998 and 2002 outbreaks of the dangerous pathogen cryptosporidium in well water more than doubled.15 Ground water also flows back into surface water, as 40 percent of stream flow comes from groundwater. Through this transfer, pollutants can be transferred from ground water to surface water.16

Vegans have great impact on water savings that literally multiplies as it moves through the food creation process. First, all the water directly consumed by food animals is saved. Secondly, all the water used in crop cultivation dedicated to animal feeds is saved; that's the biggest savings. Also, the coincidental damage to water supplies, from cattle traffic over delicate stream beds to leaky hog manure pools seepage into fresh water, to nitrogen saturated agricultural runoff, are all spared by the choice to go vegan.

Deep Shit

Nationwide, animal agriculture produces 1.37 billion tons of manure, 130 times more than human waste and equal to five tons for every individual human.

The manure from a 200-head dairy operation produces as much nitrogen as the sewage output of a town of up to 10,000 people.

The Delmarva Peninsula is home to 600 million chickens who produce yearly over 3.2 billion pounds of waste containing as much nitrogen as the waste from a city of 500,000 people.

Each dairy cow produces over about 120 pounds of waste each day, 12 times as much as each person and totaling 22 tons per year.

Home, Home on the ... parched earth

Going vegan saves valuable forest acreage both within the United States and abroad. At home, increases in animal product consumption mean evermore forest, field, wetland and wilds are pressed into service as grazing lands or grain crop lands essential for meat production. About 87 percent of our agricultural land, and 45 percent of the entire United States landmass are engaged in animal production.19

The American appetite for flesh requires a pound of the same from our impoverished neighbors who succumb to US market pressures to produce export crops even at the expense of their own cropland-poor populations. Throughout Central and South America, where farming families are desperate to hold a few sustaining acres, miles of countryside are engaged in beef production for US markets and grain production designed to more cheaply supply the vast and growing need for animal feed.

U.S. grazing practices have already fundamentally changed vast ecosystems in mid-western and western states. Brought west intentionally and accidentally through grazing practices, dominant foreign varieties of grass have overrun native grasses.

Most critically, where grazing meets water, along the delicate and important banks of rivers and streams, cattle herds cause immense destruction. Heavy hooves trample miles of plant life essential to the natural purification process of flowing rivers. Where green filtration should occur, erosion takes place, filling streams with silt that damages aquatic habitats and endangers water supplies. Where cropland used to contain 21 inches of topsoil, overgrazing, over-cropping and deforestation in some regions have depleted the depth of topsoil to less than six inches.

Meat production now consumes 30 percent of the earth's entire land area and 33 percent of arable land.23 There is not much room left for significant expansion of agricultural land that would be needed to feed the world's growing population, especially based on the current animal-centered diet. While existing farmlands are being depleted through intensive farming systems, most of the world's remaining land is unsuitable for agriculture due to a range of climatic, topographic and geologic limitations.24 Increases in population also result in demands on other land uses for housing, roads and industry; roughly one acre for each new American.25 By 2020 the world may see one billion fewer acres available for farmland.26 As the world faces the prospect of feeding more people on less land or degraded land, the luxury of meat may become untenable or may become a consumption pattern that separates the world's rich from growing masses of disadvantaged people who struggle to obtain basic staple plant foods.

Can't see the forest for the steer

Everyone who chooses a plant-based diet saves an acre of trees each year. The massive demand meat places on land for feed grains and grazing have led to clearing 260 million acres of U.S. forests. Central and South American grazing and feed grain production are a leading economic force behind rainforest depletion.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, expanding livestock production is a leading cause of tropical rainforest loss in Central and South America. By 2010,62 percent of deforested areas in South America and 69 percent of deforest Central American lands will be pressed into service producing livestock.
27 Every quarter pounder costs 55 square feet of forest land.28 Fast food chains and other meat retailers shield themselves from being criticized as rainforest killers by noting that they buy from U.S. suppliers. There is slim truth to the claim as current U.S. law does not require packing plants and wholesalers to declare the nation of origin of their products: so if McDonald's buys from a packer in Texas, that's all they need to say to provide political cover. While the paper trail tied to meat is impossible to follow, the U.S. is the world's top beef importer,29 So where's the foreign beef?

Air today gone tomorrow?

Meat is a one-two punch to the atmosphere. Deforestation reduces our planet's natural ability to replenish life-giving oxygen while the massive numbers of food animals and their waste produce ammonia (which is toxic when in high concentrations, such as those found in factory farms) and methane, a leading "greenhouse gas."

In the atmosphere, methane breaks down into carbon dioxide, ozone and water; all of which absorb heat and in turn raise the temperature of the atmosphere. According to the FAO Livestock production surpasses transportation as the world's leading source of greenhouse gases.

Meat production is responsible for 37 percent of humane-related methane output. Methane has 23 times the global warming potential (GWP) than C02. Meat results in 65 percent of nitrous oxide production, a gas with a GWP 296 times greater than C02.30 Animal products' heavy fossil fuel toll makes it a major source of C02, the leading greenhouse gas.31

Got petroleum?

Most of us are only aware of our fossil fuel consumption when we stop at a gas pump, but the whole picture reveals a more complex consumption pattern. Another significant area of consumption is at home, through heating, other energy uses, and consumer goods which all require fuel to produce and ship. Significantly, Americans consume nearly as much fossil fuels at the supermarket as at the gas pump. The typical American burns about 530 gallons of gas by driving and eating a meat-based diet gobbles up some 400 gallons of oil per person.32 Meanwhile, each vegan uses just 40 gallons of fuel through food consumption.33

Most foods require fuel to grow, process, package and ship. An acre of corn in the United States requires about 140 gallons of oil to produce.34

Although by world standards this is relatively inefficient, at least when the corn is consumed directly by people the energy investment is maximized. If the corn goes to livestock, only about one fifth of the protein is returned as food,35 and four fifths is lost.

Protein conversion is just one chapter in the story of fossil fuel waste in meat production. When processing, transportation heating and cooling, and other points of consumption are added into the mix, vegetable foods are ten times more efficient than animal products.
36 So a vegan uses about one tenth the amount of fuel used by a typical meat-eating American. Without making any other lifestyle change, going vegan cuts overall fossil fuel consumption by at least 360 gallons. The vegan's fossil fuel savings equal those realized by trading an SUV for a 40 miles-per-gallon compact. A recent study quantifying the greenhouse gas production impacts of diet found that each person switching from a standard American meat-based diet to a plant based one saves a ton and a half of greenhouse gas emissions annually.37

Vegan = Green

With the impacts on land, water, fossil fuels and biodiversity taken together, the choice to go vegan is the single most powerful pro-environment choice a consumer can make. No other decision holds the potential to do as much for the environment as the choice to go vegan.


1. Bureau of Land Management, www.blrn.gov/nhp/efoiaiwo/fyOllim200l- 097.html and Todd Oppenheimer "The Rancher Subsidy" Atlantic Monthly, January, 1996

2. Acres, USA vol 15, no. 6, June 1985, p.2 and John Robbins, Diet for a New World, p.35

3. Pimentel, D. and others "Water Resources: Agriculture, the Environment and Society" Bioscience 42: 97-106, 1997.

4. Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet, 20th Anniversary Edition, Ballantine Books, New York, 1991, pg. 76

5. Pimentel, D. and others "Water Resources: Agriculture, the Environment and Society" Bioscience 42: 97-106, 1997 and Compassion in World Farming Trust, Factory Farming and the Environment, October, 1999, http://www.ciwf.co.uklPubs/Reports/fCand_envir.pdf

6. The Idaho OnePlan, information for Idaho farmers, http://www.oneplan.org/Stockl2sDairyW.htm

7. Heading Toward the Last Roundup: The Big Three's Prime Cut, AV Krebs, p.47.

8. Washington Post "Maryland counties awash in pollution-causing nutrients" October 3, 1997.

9. The Lancet, August 15, 1998 and Reuters August 14, 1998.

10. Washington Post, U.S. Warns Of Parasite In Tap Water, June 16, 1995

11. Pathogens Excreted by Livestock and Transmitted to Humans Through Water, Edward R. Atwill, DVM, MPVM, PhD1997, UCDAnimalAgricultural Research Center, UC Agricultural Issues Center

12. Animal Waste Pollution in America: An Emerging National Problem, Environmental Risks of Livestock & Poultry Production, December 1997, Report of the Minority staff of the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, for Senator Torn Harkin.

13. National Public Radio, Living On Earth, "Factory Farm Rules", December 21,2002

14. Hog Industry Insider (an industry journal for hog producers) #256/18/01.

15. Reported on National Public Radio, Morning Edition November 22,2002.

16. Water Pollution From Feedlot Waste: An Analysis of its magnitude and geographic distribution, a paper of the US EPA Feedlot Workgroup - 1993.

17. Animal Waste Pollution in America (see # 11)

18. Los Angeles Times, State Dairy Farms Try to Clean Up Their Act, April 28, 1998, www.latimes.comlHOMEINEWS/SCIENCEIENVIRON/t000039924.html

19. PeTA, Vegetarian Starter Kit.

20. Acres, USA, Kansas City, MO, Vol. 15, No.6, June, 1985, p.2, cited by John Robbins, May All Be Fed, Diet for a New World p. 35-47

21. Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture, p.187, Plume/Penguin Books, 1992

22. Michael Fox and Nancy Wiswall, The Hidden Cost of Beef, The Humane Society of the United States and Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture, p.187, Plume/Penguin Books, 1992, p.200, and p. 202-203

23. http://www.fao.org/newsroornlenlnews/2006/l000448/

24. Henry W. Kendall and David Pimentel, "Constraints on the Expansion of the Global Food Supply," Ambio 23, no. 3 (May, 1994) p. 198-205, http://www.esb.utexas.eduldrnrrnldieofforg/page36.htm. and Erik Marcus, Vegan, The New Ethics of Eating, p.158-l59

25. Ibid

26. Ibid

27. http://www.fao.org/newsroornlenlnews/2005/l02924/

28. Julie Denslow and Christine Padoch, People of the Tropical Rainforest (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1988), 169

29. Canadian Broadcasting Company, www.cbc.calnews/indepth/backgroundlmeat.htrnl

30. http://www.fao.org/newsroornlenlnews/2006/l000448/

31. David Pimental, "Waste in Agriculture and Food Sectors: Environmental and Social Costs," paper for Gross National Waste Product, Arlington, Virginia, 1989, p.9-1O.(Cited by Rifkin)

32. Marcus, p162, Rifkin, p225 and fuel consumption statistics, Department of Energy, http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeulmer/txt!merl-lO

33. Roller, W.L. et al, "Energy Costs of Intensive Livestock Production". American Society of Agricultural Engineers, paper no. 75-4042, cited in Animal Factories, Jim Mason and Peter Singer, p. 115

34. Marcus, p16l

35. Compassion in World Farming Trust, Factory Farming and the Environment, 1999 and McLaren D., Bullock S. and Yousuf N., Tomorrow's World, A report from Friends of the Earth. London, Earthscan Publications Ltd, chapter 6, 1998 and Jeremy Rifkin, The Worlds Problems on a Plate, The Guardian, May 17, 2002,
http://www.guardian.co. uk! comment! story 10,3604,717044, OO.htrnl

36. Roller, W.L. et al, "Energy Costs of Intensive Livestock Production

37. Diet, Energy and Global Warming, Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin: http://geosci. uchi cago .edu/% 7Egidon/papers/nutri/nutri .html

Return to Environment

We look forward to hearing from you

This site is maintained by:
The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation

Since date.gif (991 bytes)