Animal Agriculture Equates to Wasted Resources and Environmental Degradation
Environmental Issues from Tell Youth The Truth

Animal Agriculture Equates to Wasted Resources and Environmental Degradation

From "Meat and the Environment" at

Animal Agriculture Equates to Wasted Resources and Environmental Degradation ...In return, this relays to human and animal suffering.

Raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water. Furthermore, it contributes to polluting the water we drink, the air we breathe, misery for the world's hungry, and animal suffering.


Vast tracts of land are needed to grow crops to feed the billions of animals we raise for food each year. According to scientists at the Smithsonian Institute, the equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed every minute, much of it to create more room for farmed animals. Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., nearly 80 percent is used in some way to raise animals—that's roughly half of the total land mass of the U.S.10 More than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals.11

The U.S. certainly isn't alone in its misuse of land for animal agriculture. As the world's appetite for meat increases, countries across the globe are bulldozing huge swaths of land to make more room for animals and the crops to feed them. From tropical rain forests in Brazil to ancient pine forests in China, entire ecosystems are being destroyed to fuel our addiction to meat. According to scientists at the Smithsonian Institute, the equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed every minute to create more room for farmed animals.12

In the United States and around the world, overgrazing leads to the extinction of indigenous plant and animal species, soil erosion, and eventual desertification that renders once-fertile land barren.13 Livestock grazing is the number one cause of threatened and extinct species both in the United States and in other parts of the world.14 Philip Fradkin, of the National Audubon Society, states, "The impact of countless hooves and mouths over the years has done more to alter the type of vegetation and land forms of the West than all the water projects, strip mines, power plants, freeways, and subdivision developments combined."15 As more and more land both in the U.S. and around the world is irreparably damaged at the hands of the meat industry, what little arable land does remain may not be enough to produce crops to feed the burgeoning world human population.

While factory farms are ruining our land, the commercial fishing industry is pushing entire oceanic ecosystems to the brink of collapse. 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. Fishing methods like bottom trawling and long-lining have emptied millions of miles of ocean and pushed some marine species to the brink of extinction.


10 Vesterby and Krupa.

11 Earth Talk, "The Environmental Beef With Meat," The Bay Weekly, 6 Jan. 2005.

12 Smithsonian Institution, "Smithsonian Researchers Show Amazonian Deforestation Accelerating," Science Daily Online, 15 Jan. 2002.

13 Danielle Knight, "Researchers Highlight Overgrazing," Terra Viva.

14 Jennifer Bogo, "Where's the Beef?" E, Nov. 1999.

15 Robbins, p. 250.

16 CNN, "Study: Only 10 Percent of Big Ocean Fish Remain," CNN Online, 14 May 2003.


It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat. Raising animals for food is grossly inefficient, because while animals eat large quantities of grain, they only produce 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 16 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat, and even fish on fish farms must be fed 5 pounds of wild-caught fish to produce one pound of farmed fish flesh.17,18 All animals require many times more calories, in the form of grain, soybeans, oats, and corn, than they can possibly return in the form of animal flesh for meat-eaters to consume.

The world's cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people—more than the entire human population on Earth.19 About 20 percent of the world's population, or 1.4 billion people, could be fed with the grain and soybeans fed to U.S. cattle alone.20 


17 Gold and Porritt.

18 Robbins, p. 298.

19 Mark Gold and Jonathon Porritt, "The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat," 2004, p.

22. 20 Ibid. .


E, the respected environmental magazine, noted in 2002 that more than one-third of all fossil fuels produced in the United States are used to raise animals for food.21 This makes sense, since 80 percent of all agricultural land in the U.S. is used by the meat and dairy industries (this includes, of course, the land used to raise crops to feed them).

Simply add up the energy-intensive stages: (1) grow massive amounts of corn, grain, and soybeans (with all the required tilling, irrigation, crop dusters, and so on); (2) transport the grain and soybeans to manufacturers of feed on gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing 18-wheelers; (3) operate the feed mills (requiring massive energy expenditures); (4) transport the feed to the factory farms (again, in inefficient 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. Every single stage involves heavy pollution, massive amounts of greenhouse gases, and massive amounts of energy.

Most of us turn off the lights when we leave a room and attempt to conserve energy in other ways, but eating meat is the most inefficient and resource-intensive thing we do. If we Americans cut our meat consumption, our oil problems would be drastically reduced.

References: 21 Motavalli.


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.22

It takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons.23 A totally vegetarian diet requires only 300 gallons of water per day, while a meat-eating diet requires more than 4,000 gallons of water per day.24,25 You save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you do by not showering for an entire year.26

While millions of people across the globe are faced with droughts and water shortages, much of the world's water supply is quietly being diverted to animal agriculture. As the Western diet spreads to the rest of the world, even desert nations in Africa and the Middle East are pouring what little water they have into meat production.

It is clear that raising animals for food puts a tremendous strain on our already limited water supply, and water is used much more efficiently when it goes toward producing crops for human consumption.


22 Robbins, The Food Revolution, p. 238.

23 Robbins, The Food Revolution, p. 236.

24 Robbins, Diet for a New America, p. 367.

25 Frances Moore Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, Ballantine Books: New York,1982.

26 Robbins, The Food Revolution, p. 236.

The Water We Drink

Much of the millions of pounds of excrement and other bodily waste produced by farmed animals every day in the U.S. is stored in sprawling brown lagoons. These lagoons occasionally spill over into surrounding waterways and cause massive numbers of fish and other animals to die. When 25 million gallons of putrid hog urine and feces spilled into a North Carolina river in 1995, between 10 and 14 million fish died as an immediate result.33 This spill was twice as large in volume as the Exxon-Valdez oil disaster, but even smaller amounts of factory-farm runoff can wreak havoc on the environment—the pesticides, antibiotics, and powerful growth hormones that are concentrated in animal flesh are also found in their feces, and these chemicals can have catastrophic effects on the ecosystems surrounding factory farms. In West Virginia and Maryland, for example, scientists have recently discovered that male fish are growing ovaries, and they suspect that this freakish deformity is the result of factory-farm run-off from drug-laden chicken feces.34

The EPA reports that chicken, hog, and cattle excrement have polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states.35 Besides the environmental problems caused by farmed animal waste, the dangerous fecal bacteria from farm sewage, including E. coli, can also cause serious illness in humans.

The pollution from animal factories is also destroying parts of the world’s oceans. In the middle of the United States, streams and rivers carry excrement from animal factories to the Mississippi River, which then deposits the waste in the Gulf of Mexico. The nitrogen from animal feces—and from fertilizer, which is primarily used to grow crops for farmed animals—causes algae populations to skyrocket, leaving little oxygen for other life forms. A 2006 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone”—an area in which virtually all the sea animals and plants have died—is now half the size of Maryland.36 In 2006, a separate study by Princeton University found that a shift away from meat production—as well as Americans’ adoption of vegetarian diets—would dramatically reduce the amount of nitrogen in the Gulf to levels that would make the dead zone “small or non-existent.”37

Fish farms also contribute to water pollution—farmers cram thousands of fish into tiny enclosures, and the accumulation of feces and other waste means that aquafarms are little more than open sewers. The massive amounts of feces, fish carcasses, and antibiotic-laced fish food that settle below fish farm cages have actually caused the ocean floor to rot in some areas, and the sludge of fish feces and other debris can be toxic for already-strained ocean ecosystems.38

Amazingly, the federal government continues to allow animal factories to negatively impact the health of Americans who live near animal factories. In 2006, public-interest and environmental advocates expressed shock and anger when the EPA proposed a new loophole that would make it even easier for giant animal factories to pollute the water and air without any oversight. Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Quality Program, said that the new loophole “essentially means that these facilities are going to be able to continue to use our streams and rivers as sewers.”39


33 Natural Resources Defense Council, "America's Factory Farms: How States Fail to Prevent Pollution From Livestock Waste," Natural Resources Defense Council, Dec. 1998.

34 David Fahrenthold, "Male Fish Bass in Potomac Producing Eggs," The Washington Post 15 Oct. 2004.

35 Environmental News Network, "Environmental Issues Specific to the Agriculture Industry," ENN Online 2004.

36 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “NOAA Forecasts Larger Than Normal ‘Dead Zone’ for Gulf This Summer,” 24 Jul. 2006.

37 Simon D. Donner, “Surf or Turf: A Shift From Feed to Food Cultivation Could Reduce Nutrient Flux to the Gulf of Mexico,” Global Environmental Change Jun. 2006.

38 Pollution Control Authority, "Water Pollution: Fish Farms," State of the Environment Norway, 2004.

39 Michelle Chen, “Giant Factory Farms Encroach on Communities, Evade Regulation,” The New Standard 3 Jul. 2006..

The Air We Breathe

Factory farms also produce massive amounts of dust and other contamination that pollutes our air. A 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.”40 The massive amounts of excrement produced by these farms emit toxic gases such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia into the air. The EPA reports that roughly 80 percent of ammonia emissions in the United States come from animal waste.41

As if the chemicals and particulate matter from animal waste weren’t bad enough, the meat and dairy industries often knowingly add to the air-quality crisis. When the cesspools holding tons of urine and feces get full, factory farms will frequently get around water pollution limits by spraying liquid manure into the air, creating mists that are carried away by the wind.42

People who live nearby are forced to inhale the toxins and pathogens from the sprayed manure. Learn more about how pollution from factory farms affects human health. 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.”43


40Consumers Union, “Animal Factories: Pollution and Health Threats to Rural Texas,” May 2000.

41Environmental Protection Agency, “Review of Emission Factors and Methodologies to Estimate Ammonia Emissions From Animal Waste Handling,” EPA Online Apr. 2002.

42Jennifer Lee, “Neighbors of Vast Hog Farms Say Foul Air Endangers Their Health,” The New York Times 11 May 2003. 43California State Senate, “Confined Animal Facilities in California,” Nov. 2004.

Misery for the World's Hungry

There is more than enough food in the world to feed the entire human population. So why are more than 840 million people still going hungry?1

Our meat-based diet is partly to blame, as land, water, and other resources that could be used to grow food for human beings are being used to grow crops for farmed animals instead. According to a recent report by Compassion in World Framing, "[c]rops that could be used to feed the hungry are instead being used to fatten animals raised for food." It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of edible animal flesh.

The average adult human burns about 2,000 calories per day, just living his or her life. We use almost all the calories that we consume to move around, breathe, and do everyday tasks. The same is true of farmed animals. For every pound of food that they are fed, only a fraction of the calories are returned in the form of edible flesh. The rest of those calories are burned away raising the animal to slaughter weight or contributing to feathers, blood, and other parts of the animal that are not eaten by humans. This is why animals raised for food have to eat as many as 16 pounds of grain to create just 1 pound of edible flesh.2

Because the industrial world is exporting grain to developing countries and importing the meat that is produced with it, farmers who are trying to feed themselves are being driven off their land. Their efficient, plant-based agricultural model is being replaced with intensive livestock rearing, which also pollutes the air and water and renders the once-fertile land dead and barren.

If this trend continues, the developing world will never be able to produce enough food to feed itself, and global hunger will continue to plague hundreds of millions of people around the globe. The Guardian explains that there's only one solution: "It now seems plain that [a vegan diet] is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world's most urgent social justice issue."3

References: 1 Alex Kirby, "Hungry World 'Must Eat Less Meat,'" BBC Online, 15 Aug. 2004. 2 Mark Gold and Jonathon Porritt, "The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat," 2004, p. 22. 3 George Monbiot, "Why Vegans Were Right All Along," Guardian Unlimited, 24 Dec. 2002.

Animal Suffering

Caring for the environment means protecting all of our planet's inhabitants. Animals on modern factory farms are deprived of everything that is natural to them, and they are treated in ways that would warrant felony cruelty-to-animals charges if the victims were dogs or cats. Chickens' beaks are sliced off with a hot blade, pigs' tails are chopped off and their teeth clipped with pliers, and male cows and pigs are castrated, all without any pain relief. The animals are confined to crowded, filthy warehouses and dosed with powerful drugs to make them grow so quickly that their hearts and limbs often cannot keep up—they frequently become crippled or suffer from heart attacks when they're only a few weeks old. Finally, at the slaughterhouse, they are hung upside-down and their throats are slit, often while they are still conscious. What kind of environmentalist can support any of that?

See also - Becoming Vegan

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