Overview

Global warming is one of the greatest challenges facing the world and Australia is particularly vulnerable having exceptional sensitivity to climate change ~ Garnaut Climate Change Review

Polar bear emaciated due to climate change

Today humans eat more meat and animal products than ever. This increasing appetite places enormous pressure on the environment.  A June 2010 report by the United Nations1 (Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production) identified animal agriculture and food consumption as one of the most significant drivers of environmental pressures and climate change, stating that ‘a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a worldwide diet change away from animal products1.

A large body of scientific work consistently shows that plant based food agriculture is far less harmful to the environment than animal derived products (such as meat and dairy). The key facts and findings are:

  • Feeding grain and other crops to animals raised for meat is inherently highly inefficient.  Read more about the efficiency of feeding grain to animals here.
  • The 2006 United Nations report“Livestock’s long shadow”, found that 18% of all man made greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to animal agriculture. A  follow up report3, by Worldwatch Institute, “Livestock and Climate Change” identified many overlooked issues and assumptions in the UN report, and concluded the correct figure is at least 51%.
  • Red meat is highlighted as particularly problematic largely due to the potent greenhouse gas methane produced in the digestion process. The other significant factors are animal feed production, manure, meat processing, transportation and waste management4.
  • Animal products industries use a disproportionately large amount of our limited fresh water. The Australian diet uses more than 3.5 times the water of a plant based diet. Read more about the use of water by animal agriculture here.
  • Dairy is a huge user of fresh water and land.  Dairy farming is the third biggest user of irrigated water in Australian agriculture, after livestock/grains and cotton growing.  To learn more on the use of fresh water and land by dairy click here.
  • The majority of meat is now raised in factory farms, with the proportion growing all the time. Factory farms generate vast quantities of waste and toxic pollutants as do slaughterhouses4.
  • A hectare of land can produce up to 29  times more plant based food than meat or other animal products. To learn more about the environmental impacts of eating meat click here.
  • A person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a meat-lover for their food.  Read more on the green house gas production by animal agriculture here.
  • In Australia the species extinction rate is faster than any other country (except America). A major contributing factor is clearing of forests and bush land clearing for pasture. To learn more on deforestation click here.
  • We currently produce enough edible grain to easily feed the entire human population. Most of this grain is currently fed to farm animals for a very inefficient conversion to meat. All of this grain is grown on land that could be used to grow food for direct consumption. To learn more about the studies behind these figures click here.
  • With 75% of all agricultural land used for animal production—and more than a third of global calories and half of global protein inefficiently used as animal feed —the impact of increasing global meat consumption is monumental. To learn more about the impact of using crops to feed animals click here.
  • Pasture fed beef, sometimes praised as a more ethical and environmentally friendly meat option appears likely to be no better, or even worse than factory farmed meat at least environmentally. The factors here are the slower animal growth rates and higher methane production and the associated habitat destruction. Read more about pasture fed versus grain fed beef here.
  • Many believe that beef cattle can be raised on arid land that cannot be used for other purposes. While this partially true, analysis shows this is not a practical solution in any sense. Click here to find out more.

Links & Resources

vegan resources

World Watch Institute report ‘Is meat sustainable?’

Sustainable table 

UN report – Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production

World Watch Institute report “Livestock and Climate Change”

 

UN report: “Livestock’s Long Shadow”

Cowspiracy facts page

Australian Dairy facts sustainable table

Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) – Land use: Agriculture and Forestry

Research paper on a vegan agricultural system in Australia

Meateaters guide: Life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of food.

 


References

[1] United Nations Environment Program. 2010. Assessing the environmental impacts of consumption and production. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.unep.fr/shared/publications/pdf/DTIx1262xPA-PriorityProductsAndMaterials_Report.pdf

[2] Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. 2006. Livestock’s long shadow. [ONLINE]Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM.

[3] World Watch Institute. 2009. Livestock and Climate Change. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf.

[4] World Watch Institute. 2016. Is meat sustainable. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/549. http://www.worldwatch.org/node/549