How The Livestock Industry Is Killing Our Planet
Author : Amal Rahiman
Meat and animal products are ubiquitous in every grocery store and restaurant. It has been entwined with people’s lifestyles to such an extent that even festivals are now more about the ham, the pork, the turkey, or the barbeque than the actual celebration.
The human population is estimated to be about 10 billion by 2050. The demand for meat-based foods will increase by 300% in Asia alone. But what does the human appetite for meat mean for our planet?
The Environmental Impact:
- Global warming & Greenhouse gasses: One-third of all man-made gasses that heat up our earth are produced solely by the production of food. This includes everything from production to distribution. Out of this figure, 57% of emissions are from producing meat and their fodder. To put this into perspective, producing 1kg of wheat emits 2.5kg of greenhouse gasses. Producing 1kg of beef emits a whopping 70kg worth of gasses, and India has the world’s largest cattle population. That is a lot of methane in our atmosphere.
Climate change is one of the greatest threats to all humankind. With the emissions from livestock farming surpassing the emissions of all transport-related gasses put together, it is not just about sustainability anymore, it is about whether we’ll have a planet to live in in the future.
- Deforestation: We all know the harms of depleting forests. Not only do forests help curb global warming, but they are home to a wide variety of exotic wildlife. Destroying forests to make way for pastures and livestock farming has led to the extinction of many animal species. 1kg of beef would need around 25kg of grains to feed the cattle and about 15000 litres of water. That is highly wasteful and inefficient. A land once used for raising livestock can no longer be replenished, and so, it finally ends up being a barren land or a desert. Without the lush greenery of our forests, there is nothing to prevent our earth from burning up every year. Think about this the next time you complain about how hot these summers are these days.
- Water Pollution: Agriculture is the main source of polluting our waters and 80% of all agriculture relates to livestock farming (the animals and the feed required). So yes, while farming for plant-based foods also contributes to pollution, it is not nearly as much as that produced by animal farming.
The high amounts of minerals present in fertilizers (like nitrates and phosphorus) end up in our soil, which then end up in our water sources through groundwater absorption, or by being washed away with rains (or irrigation). They disturb the ph levels of water, which ends up killing water algae. This in turn depletes the oxygen levels of water, which finally ends in dead sea life.
Fertilizers are not the only culprit though. Concentrated levels of animal poop and urine are the main sources of nitrogen and phosphorus. This manure gets washed off into our groundwater sources. A dairy farm in a city in Wisconsin, US produces enough cow poop that can fill 56 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Keep in mind that this is just one single farm that produces this much manure. Now imagine the total manure globally. That is a lot of poop in our waters.
The Human Impact:
- Water Scarcity: Other than killing sea life, water contaminated with these minerals kill humans as well. Consuming water with high levels of nitrates has been linked to cancer and problems with reproductive health. Using this water to prepare baby formula has also been known to cause “blue baby syndrome”.
Due to the concerns of drinking nitrate-high waters, authorities would prevent people from using this water. Picture this – 70% of the earth is water. Out of this only 3% is freshwater (or drinkable water). 2.5% of this water is tied up in inaccessible areas (like glaciers). Which gives us a paltry 0.5% of drinkable water – which is what is being depleted, polluted, and wasted.
- Food Scarcity: Even after producing this much meat, we still cannot meet the demands of the growing population. This article states that there is enough food on earth to feed the growing population, but most of it is being used to feed livestock, or the lands to grow these crops are instead used as grazing lands. It also states that globally people are consuming 38% below the recommended levels of fruits and veggies, but they are consuming 20% above the recommended levels of meat. There is a clear problem here that can be easily sorted if we simply reduce our demand for meat. The demand for meat is higher in financially rich countries. The global poor could be fed, if only we control our meat consumption.
- Health Factor: To increase the meat produced per animal, and to reduce infection, most of these animals are injected with antibiotics. Human beings consume these antibiotics indirectly through the meat. As we are continually exposed to a variety of antibiotics (through meat and through treating other infections), we have paved the way for resistant bacteria (bacteria that cannot be treated with any existing medicine). Increased consumption of meat has been linked to heart disease and cancer. But now, they are also aiding in creating super bacteria. It was found that in 2019, 1.27 million deaths were caused solely due to infections from resistant bacteria.
As the population increases, the malnourished, the underfed, the starving – they all increase as well. It is impossible to increase livestock farming without further destroying our earth (what is left of it). Scientists have thus resorted to growing artificial meat in labs, to keep up with the demand. Although this meat is ethical and does not involve animal slaughter, it is still in the starting stages of development, and we have yet to see if it is feasible enough to produce at a scale to feed 10 billion people in the future.
Disclaimer: The content provided in this article is provided for information purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice and consultation, including professional medical advice and consultation; it is provided with the understanding that HerbivoPvt. Ltd. is not engaged in the provision or rendering of medical advice or services. The opinions and content included in the article are the views of the author only, and Herbivo does not endorse or recommend any such content or information, or any product or service mentioned in the article. You understand and agree that Herbivo shall not be liable for any claim, loss, or damage arising out of the use of, or reliance upon any content or information in the article.