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How Animal Agriculture Affects Our Planet

February 02, 2018 | By Haley Hansel

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Photo by: Flickr user drocpsu.

We eat animals. We eat their eggs, we drink their milk, we fish them— on an arguably gripping scale. For most of us it’s an unexamined habit that’s not carried out with any intended malice, but that doesn’t mean there are no consequences.

Seventy billion farmed animals are reared annually worldwide. More than 6 million animals are killed for food every hour. And the average American consumes 209 pounds of meat per year.

Meat and dairy has been largely ingrained into our diets, but they’re also largely ingrained in our environment.

This industry is a leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction—including rainforests.

Climate Change

Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions— more than the entire transportation sector. When you consider livestock and their byproducts it accounts for 51 percent of global greenhouse emissions.

The industry is more destructive to our global climate than most people realize. That’s largely because roughly 65 percent of Nitrous Oxide emissions (a greenhouse gas which is 296x more destructive than CO2) is a result of livestock.


Not only are the livestock in this quantity contributing to climate change, but the reallocation of land necessary to make room for the growing demand has its own repercussions.

Every second, 1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared for grazing livestock or growing animal feed. Up to 137 plant, animal and insect species are lost every day because of the destruction of these biodiverse regions of our planet. Specifically within the Amazon rainforest— the home for at least 10 percent of the world’s known biodiversity91 percent of deforestation is caused by livestock.

Water Use

When we talk about the impacts of animal agriculture, we have to consider all the resources used in their production from the bottom up. This includes the grains grown in order to feed the cows, pigs, chickens, etc., and the resources used to grow them.

Because of this consideration, the meat and dairy industry uses one-third of the Earth’s fresh water. In the United States specifically, 5 percent of water use is domestic and 55 percent goes into animal agriculture. Part of that 55 percent is also attributed to the water directly given to the animals every day. The exact amount varies from animal to animal and can fluctuate depending on the size of the animal and the environment. But for example, a dairy cow will drink on average 30 gallons of water a day.

Ultimately, one hamburger uses the equivalent of 660 gallons of water. To put that in perspective, that’s equal to two months of showering.

Land Use

In addition to water use, another resource that livestock commands is space.

Currently, livestock covers 45 percent of the Earth’s total land. And one-third of land is desertified due to livestock. This means that the land is chronically degraded which causes a loss of soil productivity; nutrients and carbon in the ground; and water absorption. All of which could ultimately lead to displacement of people in areas where land isn’t suitable to use.

This type of impact requires us to reconsider how we use the limited space we have. One and a half acres of land has the ability to yield 375 pounds of meat. If that same area was repurposed it could yield 37,000 pounds of plant-based food.


When speaking to animal agriculture it’s easy to dismiss fish— but fisheries have their own environmental impacts.

For every pound of fish caught, 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill. On top of this, over 70 percent of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted. Not only are species that the industry is actively producing suffering, but unintended species are being killed each day at an alarming rate. Some estimates show that we could see fishless oceans by 2048.

Research shows that this continued marine biodiversity loss is increasingly impairing the ocean’s capacity to provide food, maintain water quality, recover from disturbances, and regulate climate.

Avoiding Animal Agriculture

If you chose to remove or significantly reduce animals and animal products from your diet it can have profound environmental effects.

A person who follows a 100% plant-based diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to an average American meat consumer for their food.

Each day, a person who eats a plant-based diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds of CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life.

For more information about plant-based diets and their relationship with our environment, follow the links below. And always do your own research and check with your doctor before making drastic changes to your diet.



Additional Reading Amazon Rainforest Preservation Law Read about legislation in  Brazil to protect the Amazon, and the role indigenous communities fill in  similar efforts.

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