The Meat Industry and its Environmental Impact

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By Paige Arden

“Meat may taste good, but the guilt of eating it tastes far worse.” -Evan Baldonado

While the issues concerning the meat industry and water consumption have been more transparent in recent years, there is still a level of uncertainty on just how much of an impact using animals for food really has on the rest of the environment.

Aside from the obvious problem of immense animal suffering, the meat industry also requires an enormous amount of energy, land, food, and water. Farming livestock and the process of turning the animals into meat is not the most environmentally-friendly task.

Consider the greenhouse gases. Farming livestock such as cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens and goat contribute to 6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases being produced and released into the atmosphere each year. This means that, according to UBC’s open case study on the Environmental Impact of Meat Consumption, animal agriculture is the direct cause of 18% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas production. This means that 18% of the harmful chemicals such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are being released into the atmosphere could be prevented by stopping the demand for meat.

Scientists have theorized that cutting meat out of your diet is the most efficient way of reducing their own personal environmental impact. Recent research has found that without the global consumption of meat and dairy, global farmland use would have the potential to be reduced by about 75%, while continuing to produce enough food to feed the world.

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which make up the vast majority of livestock farms in modern day, use chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics to encourage unnatural growth of the animals. They also, consequently, are the culprits of severe air, land, and water pollution. The pure quantity of concentrated waste produced by each of the CAFOs are unsettling. These feeding operations produce more than 300 million tons of waste annually.

The problem is that all of this waste produced has nowhere to go. The manure gets stored in manure lagoons until they can be sprayed onto crops to act as fertilizer, however, there is simply so much waste that it cannot be completely absorbed into the fields. This excess waste eventually finds groundwater, either by overflowing into rivers or leaking into storages. This continued pollution is something that people recognize and yet hardly any action is taken.

Meat consumption is hazardous. Farming livestock forces farmers to release harsh chemicals into the atmosphere by way of greenhouse gases, supports water pollution, uses up much of the world’s freshwater reserves, and uses up the majority of the world’s farmland.

The meat industry has such a negative impact on the environment, and yet it makes up only 18% of the world’s calories.

Joseph Poore, a researcher at the University of Oxford (UK), said it best when he stated that “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.”

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