A global issue; how the meat-and dairy industries impact our planet

Global issues surrounding the meat- and dairy industries 

Industrial farming and animal agriculture is perhaps one of the most pressing ethical questions of our time. Each year billions of animals are bred and killed for the purpose of food production. Not only is this a question of ethics and animal welfare, it’s a question of climate and environmental concern.

“Animals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history. The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals. Even tens of thousands of years ago, our stone-age ancestors were already responsible for a series of ecological disasters. When the first humans reached Australia about 45,000 years ago, they quickly drove to extinction 90% of its large animals. This was the first significant impact that Homo sapiens had on the planet’s ecosystem. It was not the last.”.

Domestication of farm animals began 10 000 years ago. Out of a wide diversity of animals, there were only a few that could be domesticated. As a result of this, trait selection and breeding has been the principal mechanism of animal improvement until the late twentieth century. During the twentieth century, humans improved their understanding of the genetic mechanisms and environmental factors regarding the livestock industry, which dramatically enhanced the animal agriculture industry. Late twentieth-century science also involved molecular genetic manipulation, cloning, pro-nuclear injection and injection of stem cells, which have led to the ability to mass-produce animals and improve the extent of which we produce them, all suited to the preferences of human.
For many years there’s been conversations around the ethics of breeding and killing animals for food. Especially as the hunting and killing animals in the wild evolved into an industry of mass production of food. But the meat- and dairy industries are no longer just a question about animal welfare. It turns out raising and killing animals for food in the way we do in modern society, also comes with environmental challenges, and is a major threat to our planet’s oceans and rainforests, and wildlife as well as human health. 

Irrigated agriculture accounts for the world’s largest consumptive water use.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture, agriculture accounts for approximately 80-90% of consumptive water use in the U.S. To produce a single pound of beef, about 2500 gallons of water are required. To produce a pound of eggs and a pound of cheese, the numbers are respectively 477 gallons and 900 gallons. To put these numbers into perspective, in America, only 5% of water is consumed in private homes. On a world basis, animal agriculture is responsible of as much as 29% of all fresh water consumption. In an article published by the organisation Forks Over Knives it is said that “One of the more common actions people tend to take in an effort to reduce their freshwater footprint is to reduce their shower time by a minute or two each day. The average shower requires 8 minutes and twenty gallons of water. Cutting off two minutes of shower time would conserve five gallons of water daily. This is all good … however, forgoing a single burger or steak at lunch that same day would save 500 to 1,000 gallons of water. Cutting out a turkey sandwich or a chicken salad would save 200 gallons of water. Herein lies the real opportunity for individual activism». 

The livestock sector alone is responsible for more than 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all transport in the world combined. These numbers were published by The Food and Agricultural Organisation. Conversely, experts at the World Bank found that the livestock industry is actually responsible for up to 51% of global greenhouse gasses. On a worldly basis, cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day, and US methane emissions from livestock and natural gas are nearly equal. We know that methane gas produced by livestock has a global warming potential 86 times greater than that of CO2, and is 25-100 percent more destructive on the environment. Because of this, a reduction of livestock and methane emissions would benefit the environment almost immediately. 

Currently, land for livestock or for livestock-feed occupies nearly 1/3 of the world’s ice-free land. Because of the world’s growing population, and western-countries increasing demand for meat and animal products, the animal agriculture industry is still increasing. As mentioned above, 1/3 of the world’s ice-free land is already used for livestock. To be able to satisfy the request for more food, more and more land is cleared each day for the production. 136 million acres, or 214,000 square miles of rainforest has already been cleared for animal agriculture. Every second, 1-2 acres are being cleared.  The rainforests, also known as “The Lungs of the World”, once covered 14% of the Earth’s land surface. Today the rainforests cover a mere 6% of the world’s land surface, and it is estimated that during the course of the next forty years, the remaining rainforests will be completely gone. 

In the world today, about fifty percent of all food produced is fed to livestock. Worldwide, we produce enough food to feed 10 billion people. Seeing these numbers, it becomes clear that animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of world hunger. But an uneven distribution of food and resources is not the only negative impact animal agriculture has on the world’s population. In the book The China Study, by Dr. Colin T. Campbell, numerous studies show a link between meat and dairy consumption and the development of cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. The author of the book claims that “in the next 10 to 15 years, one of the things you’re bound to hear is that animal protein is one of the most toxic nutrients of all that can be considered. Risk for disease goes up dramatically when even a little animal protein is added to the diet”. Also, research done by Nobel Prize Winner Elizabeth Blackburn found that a vegan diet caused more than 500 genes to change in three months, turning on genes that prevent disease, and turning off genes that cause cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. 

Another issue with animal agriculture is the enormous destructive factors the industry has on the oceans. As a result of both water pollution and pollution of the environment in general, as well as major over-fishing, research has found that we could see fish-less oceans already in 2048. 90-100 million tons of fish, or as many as 2.7 trillion animals are pulled from the oceans each year. Out of all fish caught, up to 40% are discarded. In today’s world, fishing is central to the livelihood and food security of 200 people, and one fifth of the world’s population depends on fish as their primary source of protein. “Overfishing cannot continue,” warned Nitin Desai, Secretary General of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, which took place in Johannesburg. “The depletion of fisheries poses a major threat to the food supply of millions of people”.


The solutions to issues regarding animal agriculture are both really simple yet extremely complicated. We know about all the negative side-effects that come with consuming animal-products, regarding both animal-welfare, environmental issues and human health. The single most effective thing to do would be to stop breeding animals for food all-together. However, things are never that simple. The meat and dairy industries are full of secrets, and we have yet to discover them all. What we do know is that the meat-industry is owned by very few, yet extremely powerful businesses. With big businesses comes big money, and money equals power. In most countries, the government depends on subsidies from such companies to make the economy go around. As a result, the government will rule the country to these companies’ preferences, which may explain why the American government spends $38 billion each year to subsidize the meat and dairy industries, and only 0.04 percent of that (i.e., $17 million) each year to subsidize fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, there are health advocates, environmentalists, rainforest-activists and other people from all over the world taking action to raise awareness surrounding the global challenges that comes with animal agriculture. In several parts of the world we have seen different movements rooted in the idea that meat-consumption has a destructive impact on our environment. An example of one such movement is the “Meatless Monday” campaign. This campaign was actually created by the U.S government during the time of World War 1 as a way to save resources. In 2003 the campaign was revived by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, this time as a way to promote the health of the people and the environment. “Meatless Monday” has since then become an international campaign, and people all over the world is taking action and cutting out meat from their diet at least one day a week. In 2015 The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a new set of guidelines, promoting a diet richer in plant foods. The guidelines are a result of research on nutrition done over the past decades, and are set to promote both the health of the American population and to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. “Quantitative modeling research showed how healthy dietary patterns relate to positive environmental outcomes that improve population food security. Moderate to strong evidence demonstrates that healthy dietary patterns that are higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods are associated with more favorable environmental outcomes (lower greenhouse gas emissions and more favorable land, water, and energy use) than are current U.S. dietary patterns. ” The guidelines also included a section especially tailored people following a vegan diet, proving that a plant-based lifestyle is both healthy and completely adequate for humans and human-health. The planet depends on every single person taking responsibility for their lives. As mentioned above, we cannot depend on our government to make it easier for us to do the right changes. What we can do, however, is to vote with our dollars. Together, the world’s population has got more power than any company or government. When it comes down to it, the producers can only produce what the consumer consumes. If every one person changed their own eating habits, it would make a tremendous difference in total. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “We must become the change we wish to see in the world”.


There’s no doubt that industrial farming and animal agriculture is one of the single most pressing issues of our time. Not only does this industry kill billions of animals each and every year, it is also the main cause of water scarcity, air and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, land occupation and rainforest destruction. Research has found that the industry alone is responsible for at least 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the whole transport sector combined. To produce only a pound of beef, a stunning amount of 2500 gallons of water is needed. Speaking of land, the animal agriculture industry occupies around one third of the Earth’s ice-free land, and the numbers are increasing. The rainforests once covered 14% of Earth’s land surface. Today the rainforests cover a mere 6%, much as a result of industrial farming. Newer studies have found that meat and dairy consumption is directly linked to the development of cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart diseases and other illnesses. The single most effective action to help these issues would be to stop breeding animals for food altogether. Unfortunately, this is not much likely to happen. The world’s health depends on humans taking action, and we must all start with our own habits. People from all over the world are today engaged in work to save the world from a catastrophically disaster. Campaigns that promote a plant-based diet or less meat consumption have become more and more common the previous years. New guidelines from governments in countries such as America and Norway promote a diet rich in plant foods and encourage people to cut their meat intake. In 2015 The USDA created guidelines specifically customized for people eating a vegan diet, proving that a vegan diet is both healthy and perfectly adequate for humans.  In the words of Albert Einstein: -“nothing will benefit health and increase the chance of survival on Earth as the evolution to a vegetarian diet”.


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