1. Water Depletion
Eco-conscious folks who shorten their showers, take note: Skipping a pound of meat saves more water than skipping a shower for six months. According to a 2010 report by the UNEP, animal agriculture accounts for over 90 percent of water depletion. Some alarming stats:
- Producing one pound of meat requires 2,400 gallons of water, compared to 25 gallons for a pound of wheat (remember, animal agriculture uses resources twice -- raising both feed crops and livestock).
- A typical meat-centered diet requires more than 4,000 gallons of water per day, compared to 300 gallons for a vegan diet.
2. Climate Change
Carbon, schmarbon. According to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture generates more greenhouse gases than all the world's automobiles combined -- including two fossil fuels that put CO2 to shame. Here's a breakdown of the biggest culprits:
- Cow Farts: Billions of farm animals worldwide produce massive amounts of methane-emitting manure and flatulence. Methane is 23x more climate-damaging than CO2.
- Synthetic Fertilizer: Required to grow feed crops, synthetic fertilizer is produced using fossil fuels and once laid, emits a tremendous amount of nitrous oxide, which is 296x more potent than CO2.
- Manufacturing: Fossil fuels are needed to heat animal housing, produce feed crops and transport and process meat.
- Deforestation: Clearing forests for cattle grazing or feed crop production releases the CO2 stored in trees and other plant life. (Not to mention that deforestation is a major threat to plant and animal species, and also leads to soil erosion and desertification that renders once-fertile land barren.)
According to the EPA, agricultural runoff is the number one source of pollution in our waterways (17), with manure and fertilizer used for feed crops the biggest culprits.
- Factory farms produce trillions of pounds of animal waste year. As there are no federal regulations on livestock waste disposal, standard methods include letting it rot in a lagoon or spraying it over crop fields, both of which result in runoff that contaminates soil and water and kills fish and other wildlife.
- A 2006 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration demonstrates how far-reaching the runoff pollution is: Waste-filled streams and rivers deposit into the Mississippi River, which then deposits into the Gulf of Mexico. The nitrogen from animal feces and fertilizer used for feed crops causes algae populations to skyrocket, leaving little oxygen for other life forms. This has created a "dead zone" -- an area in which virtually all sea life has died -- in the Gulf about half the size of Maryland (18).
17) U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
18) “NOAA Forecasts Larger Than Normal ‘Dead Zone’ for Gulf This Summer,” NOAA News Online, 24 Jul. 2006.