Why and how animal husbandry harms the environment?
Updated: Nov 29, 2022
Author: Cristina Cristea
Date of publication: 04/05/2022
It has become obvious to us that a vegetarian diet is a natural consequence of caring for the world around us. If the connection of veganism / vegetarianism with an ethical attitude towards living beings lies at the very basis of this choice, then the impact of our diet on the amount of natural resources, the state of the environment and ecology is by no means transparent.
However, there is such a connection and it is really significant. As the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) website also says: “The livestock sector and the way it will be developed is causing deep and wide-ranging environmental impacts that need to be addressed immediately.”
How does animal husbandry affect the environment?
Today, the production of meat, fish, seafood and milk is a huge industry. People involved in this industry, for their own benefit, are ready to make significant environmental sacrifices. The explanation they give for that is the massive need of people for such food. Unfortunately, most do agree with the far-fetched need for such products. In addition, as in any other business, the key role here is the factor of money, with the amount of which the producers (due to the scale and demand) have no problems. As a result, the industry receives support at all levels (from the public to politicians) and continues to thrive. What is bad for the environment in this?
Animal husbandry leads to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions for obvious reasons. In particular, carbon dioxide does so- due to the respiration of animals, and methane (CH4) - due to the digestive activity of ruminants. This same methane has a much greater impact on the increase in temperature on Earth than CO2, but is in the atmosphere for a shorter time.
There are other issues, caused by direct human activities for livestock production, that contribute to the growth of greenhouse gasses, such as:
the use of additional chemicals;
environmental consequences of the treatment of zoonotic infections transmitted to humans from domestic animals (anthrax, brucellosis, foot and mouth disease, tuberculosis, listeriosis, tularemia and many others);
reduction in the area of forests that are cut down for livestock;
storage and transportation of products;
disposal of livestock waste.
The maintenance of animals has an association with the consumption of a huge amount of water. For example, people use water for growing crops, drinking, washing and other related processes. Unfortunately, such human use of one of the most valuable resources is naturally not optimal. Moreover, the development of animal husbandry has led to the fact that most of the water today is not consumed by people for direct drinking and personal household needs, but for this industry. So, estimates vary widely on the amount of water required to "produce" meat, but everyone agrees that it is a colossal cost.
The total cost of water resources for animal husbandry around the world ranges from 20% to 70%. In particular, the authors of a scientific article published in 2013 in the PNAS journal of the US National Academy of Sciences examined 28 regions around the world and concluded that livestock consumes 1/3 of all freshwater.
Use of the earth's surface
Pastures, farms and other livestock lands not only occupy a significant part of the planet, but also:
lead to land degradation, including: chemical pollution, soil compaction and erosion. Also, there are "dead zones" - areas in coastal waters, the amount of oxygen in which becomes insufficient for animal life;
contribute to the deforestation of the planet due to the need to "liberate" more and more new territories for economic activities at the cost of deforestation;
accelerate the extinction of species as humans exterminate predators and natural competitors for farmed and consumed animals.
According to various sources, from 1/3 to a half of all available land area goes for livestock needs. The share of the planet's surface attributable to animal husbandry is estimated at 30% by the scientists of PNAS, and at 45% by the publication "Livestock and climate change”.
The creation of animal products is a very expensive process, and in terms of the generated waste, which, as you know, always “needs to be put somewhere”. Whole ponds of animal excrement accumulate substances such as ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, nitrates, heavy metals, bacteria (salmonella, streptococci, etc.).
According to a 2004 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publication, "a farm with 2,500 milking animals generates as much trash as a city of 411,000 people." Another US statistic for 1999, from the General Accounting Office, states that animal husbandry generates 130 times more waste than the rest of the country's population (each citizen receives about 5 tons of waste from this industry per year).
Animal husbandry and morality
The ethical side of animal husbandry deserves special attention. It is also directly related to ecology, which is not limited to climate change, natural resources and the state of flora. Living organisms are an integral part of ecology and the attitude towards them is an important indicator of environmental awareness.
According to Philip Lymbery, head of Compassion in World Farming, we kill over 70 billion animals every year (that's over 133,000 animals per minute!). If you look at the problem globally, it is not so much important a specific number, as the very existence of such activities. Today, humanity does not need to breed, exploit and kill animals to meet basic needs (food, clothing, cosmetics and any materials) - everything has analogues.
These are not just experimental or somehow worse alternatives. It is something that has long become the norm for many people from all over the world who are completely healthy and very “successful” in generally accepted social criteria. The popularity of the vegan movement, which today includes many famous personalities, is a good proof that there is a choice.
What to do?
If we want global changes, we should start with ourselves. Therefore, a logical step for anyone who wants to reduce the detrimental impact of animal husbandry on the planet is to reduce the amount of consumption of such products (food, clothing, any other leather goods, etc.) as much as possible now.
It is worth remembering that to achieve the maximum effect, it is not enough to become even a lacto-vegetarian. This is because all dairy products come from cattle, which leads to significant consequences and that’s why we require a vegan lifestyle.
In addition, if you think this problem is serious, tell your friends and acquaintances about it. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness is one of the main reasons for the spread of animal husbandry and its unfortunate consequences. Hence, expanding the circle of people who have information about the dangers of animal husbandry is extremely important in order for the situation to begin to improve. So, think globally, act locally, and as a result, we will all get a healthy planet and happy people.