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Meat Production: Global and Ecological Concerns

Industrial food animal production (IFAP) contributes to ecological harms that affect our land, air, and water. Raising animals for food also has implications for global climate change, and our capacity to feed a growing global population.

  • Animal waste: Waste from IFAP operations can pollute waterways, contributing to “dead zones” that are devoid of most aquatic life. Manure spills from swine operations have also been implicated in outbreaks of toxic microorganisms that resulted in massive fish kills.1
  • Water use: Growing crops for animal feed entails a highly inefficient use of water, and places a strain on diminishing freshwater reserves. By some estimates, between 1,6002 and 2,5003 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of feedlot beef. Globally, an estimated 27 percent of the water “footprint” of humanity is attributable to meat and dairy production.4
  • Climate change: Animal agriculture generates a significant amount of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, and the increased frequency and severity of flooding, droughts, and other weather events expected to follow.5  The production, processing, distribution and retailing of animal products in the United States accounts for an estimated 9 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions6,7; worldwide estimates are closer to 15 percent.8 Major sources of emissions include cattle belching, animal manure, and synthetic fertilizers used to grow feed crops.7
  • Land use: Contrary to claims that IFAP is efficient, the vast majority of calories and protein in feed crops are lost when they are converted to animal products.9 Beef production is particularly inefficient; per unit of meat, cattle consume on average three times as many calories from feed compared to hogs and poultry.
  • Global food security: By some estimates, global food production would need to double by 2050 if we expect to feed the growing population. The prospect of attaining this goal is severely limited by the amount of agricultural land devoted to raising animals for food. In North America, for example, only 40 percent of cropland is devoted to growing food for direct human consumption; the bulk of the remainder is devoted to feed crops.10