Livestock Industry Environmental Impacts

  • The damage caused by livestock production threatens flora and fauna across the globe. A worldwide no-meat lifestyle is calculated to prevent over 60% biodiversity loss.
    (Rethinking Global Biodiversity Strategies, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 2010)
  • Example: In Mongolia, 82% of the total land area is designated as permanent pasture for livestock grazing, which is the largest single threat to biodiversity loss in Mongolia and throughout Central Asia. (UN FAO)

  • Livestock raising is one of the main drivers of deforestation. (UN FAO, 2006)
  • Since the 1990s approximately 90% of Amazonian deforestation has been due to clearing land for grazing cattle or growing feed for livestock.
  • In Australia, 91% of all tree clearing over a 20-year period has been done for livestock grazing. (recent report on a 20-year study commissioned by the Queensland government by Mr. Gerald Bisshop, retired principal scientist of the Queensland Department of Environment and Resources Management)


  • Desertification is caused by overgrazing and expansion of livestock crop-growing areas.
    (TPN3 Rangeland Management in Arid Areas including the fixation of sand dunes, UNCCD, 2003)
    Over 50% of the world’s soil erosion is caused by livestock, which leads to desertification.
  • Some 75 billion tons of topsoil are being eroded annually due to agricultural mismanagement, climate change, and livestock grazing. In the United States alone, 54% of pasture land is overgrazed, with more than 100 tons of topsoil lost per hectare per year.
    (A study presented by Professor John Crawford at the recent Carbon Farming Conference held in New South Wales, Australia)
  • In 2010, Iraq, China, Chad, Australia, and Mongolia, among others, reported serious drought, with livestock grazing making conditions worse.        


  • Over 65% of human infectious diseases are known to be transmitted by animals.   The filthy and inhumane conditions of factory farming harbor lethal bacteria and viruses such as avian and swine flu.
  • Other diseases related to meat eating: tuberculosis, listeria, Crohn’s disease, mad cow disease, campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, foot-and-mouth disease, HIV, the 2009 pneumonic plague outbreak in China, etc.
  • Antibiotics regularly administered to livestock on factory farms causes bacteria to mutate, leading to diseases that are medication-resistant.


  • Livestock and their byproducts are accountable for at least 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions. (Goodland, Anhang, 2009)
  • Aerosols, or particles released along with CO2 from burning fossil fuels, despite their detrimental health aspects, have a cooling effect that roughly cancels the warming effect of the CO2. Therefore, livestock emissions have played an even larger role in global warming in the near term. (Mohr, 2009)
  • METHANE is almost 100 times more potent than CO2 over a 20 year period, but disappears from the atmosphere much more rapidly compared to centuries or millennia for CO2.  The number one source of human-caused methane is animal agriculture.
  • METHANE emissions from animal farms underestimated.
    Based on recalculations, US researchers from the University of Missouri have concluded that the amount of methane emitted from the waste on dairy and pig farms could be as much as 65% higher than previously estimated.
  • GROUND-LEVEL (TROPOSPHERIC) OZONE is the third most prevalent greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and methane. Fermented animal feed generates harmful ozone gases, and at regional levels higher than those emitted by cars.
  • BLACK CARBON, (4,470 times more potent than CO2), mainly produced from burning forests and savannahs for livestock, is responsible for 50% of total temperature increases in the Arctic and the acceleration of melting glaciers worldwide. Black carbon remains in the atmosphere for only days or weeks, so reducing emissions can be an effective rapid response to slow warming in the near term. (Nature Geoscience)
  • NITROUS OXIDE is a greenhouse gas with approximately 300 times more warming potential than CO2. Sixty-five percent of global nitrous oxide emissions originate from the livestock industry.. 


  • Livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land and 30% of the ice-free land surface on the planet. (Livestock’s Long Shadow, UN FAO, 2006)


  • The livestock sector is the largest source of nutrient pollution, which causes toxic algal blooms and oxygen depletion, leading to oceanic “dead zones” that are unable to support any aquatic life. (Livestock’s Long Shadow, UN FAO, 2006)
  • 90% of all large fish have already disappeared from the oceans, largely as a result of overfishing. (Nature Journal, Myers & Worm, Dalhousie Univ, May 15, 2003)
  • Aquaculture (fish farms), accounting for 50% of fish and shellfish consumed globally, is endangering wild fish. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009)
  • Example: It takes up to 5 pounds of wild fish to produce 1 pound of salmon. (Naylor. Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies)
  • One-third to about half the global fish catch is fed to livestock (pigs and chickens).
    (Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Sea Shepherd)


  • Of all sectors, the meat industry is the biggest source of water pollution. Excessive and unregulated animal waste, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, and other livestock-related contaminants choke waterways.
  • The livestock industry emits 64% of all ammonia, which causes acid rain and hydrogen sulfide, a fatal gas.
  • One animal factory farm produces more waste and pollution than the whole city of Houston, Texas, USA.
  • In 1996, the US cattle, pork, and poultry industries produced 1.4 billion tons of animal waste, or 130 times more than produced by the entire human population.
  • Manure is already known to be a major cause of both groundwater pollution and atmospheric warming. Moreover, runoff from manure and other crop fertilizers accounts for some 230 oxygen-depleted dead zones along the US coast alone.
  • Examples: The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico created by farm runoff is one of the world’s largest at up to 8,000 square miles so far. A February 2010 outbreak in Brazil’s Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon caused the suffocation and death of 80 tons of fish.
  • Aquaculture pollutes the environment with toxic algae and chemicals such as pesticides and antibiotics. (WWF)


  • Fuel. One 6-ounce beef steak requires 16 times as much fossil fuel energy as one vegan meal containing three kinds of vegetables and rice. (NYTimes)
  • One kilogram of beef is equivalent to driving 250 kilometers and burning a 100-watt light bulb for 20 days non-stop. (National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan)
  • Emissions. The meat-based diet's emissions is equivalent to driving a car 4,758 kilometers – that is 17 times the emissions of an organic vegan diet, which is equivalent to only 281 kilometers . In other words, an organic vegan diet produces 94% less emissions than a meat-based diet.
    Institute for Ecological Economy Research in Germany)
  • Land. One meat eater requires two hectares - that’s four acres of land - to support him. But that same two hectares, or four acres of land, could support the healthy lifestyle of 80 vegans.
  • Food. Currently, 80% of hungry children live in countries that export food crops typically to feed farmed animals.
  • Two-thirds of US grain exports feed livestock rather than people.
  • One study in India found that producing 1 kilogram of beef requires 7 kilograms of grain for feed that could go to direct human consumption, while yielding less than one-third the amount of protein.
  • About 40% of the global grain supply is going to livestock, and 85% of the world’s protein-rich soy is being fed to cattle and other animals.
  • Water. A person uses up to 15,000 liters of water per day for a meat-based diet,  which is 15 times as much water as a vegan would use.


  • According to the Stockholm International Water Institute, agriculture accounts for 70% of all water use, most of which goes toward meat production.
  • It takes up to 200,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef, but only 2,000 liters to produce 1 kilogram of soybeans, 900 liters to grow 1 kilogram of wheat, and 650 liters for 1 kilogram of corn. (Pimentel D, Berger B, Filiberto D, et al. (2004) Water Resources, Agriculture, and the Environment)

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