Animal Rights Collective Blog

For the Environment


Environmental Destruction

“[T]hose who claim to care about the well-being of human beings and the preservation of our environment should become vegetarians for that reason alone. They would thereby increase the amount of grain available to feed people elsewhere, reduce pollution, save water and energy, and cease contributing to the clearing of forests.…“[W]hen nonvegetarians say that ‘human problems come first’ I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for human beings that compels them to continue to support the wasteful, ruthless exploitation of farm animals.” — Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 1990

The following findings were compiled from the executive summary of Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options,* a 2006 report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization:

Hog farm waste lagoons in Georgia (above) and North Carolina (below). Photos courtesy of USDA; click images for larger views.

Climate change: With rising temperatures, rising sea levels, melting icecaps and glaciers, shifting ocean currents and weather patterns, climate change is the most serious challenge facing the human race. The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than transport….Livestock are also responsible for almost two-thirds (64 percent) of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems. [See also A Truly Inconvenient Truth.]

Water: The livestock sector is a key player in increasing water use, accounting for over 8 percent of global human water use, mostly for the irrigation of feedcrops. It is probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, “dead” zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others. The major sources of pollution are from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feedcrops, and sediments from eroded pastures.

Manure runoff from a Maryland dairy farm (click image for larger view; courtesy of USDA).

Land degradation: Expansion of livestock production is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America where the greatest amount of deforestation is occurring – 70 percent of previous forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and feedcrops cover a large part of the remainder.

Biodiversity: Indeed, the livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species.

*Note: The term “livestock” refers to all farmed animals, including pigs, birds raised for meat, egg-laying hens, and dairy cows.

For more information, see the media release and full report.

“The way that we breed animals for food is a threat to the planet. It pollutes our environment while consuming huge amounts of water, grain, petroleum, pesticides and drugs. The results are disastrous.” — David Brubaker, PhD, Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins University
Environmental News Network, 9/20/99

According to the EPA’s “Animal Waste: What’s the Problem?”:

Above: Algae bloom from runoff. Below: Runoff of waste.

[T]he growing scale and concentration of AFOs [animal feeding operations] has contributed to negative environmental and human health impacts. Pollution associated with AFOs degrades the quality of waters, threatens drinking water sources, and may harm air quality.

By definition, AFOs produce large amounts of waste in small areas. For example, a single dairy cow produces approximately 120 pounds of wet manure per day. Estimates equate the waste produced per day by one dairy cow to that of 20–40 humans per day.

Manure, and wastewater containing manure, can severely harm river and stream ecosystems. Manure contains ammonia which is highly toxic to fish at low levels. Increased amounts of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from AFOs can cause algal blooms which block waterways and deplete oxygen as they decompose. This can kill fish and other aquatic organisms, devastating the entire aquatic food chain.

“A single dairy cow produces about 120 pounds of wet manure per day, which is equivalent to the waste produced by 20–40 people. That means California’s 1.4 million dairy cows produce as much waste as 28–56 million people.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Notes from Underground, Fall 2001

In 2002, after collecting thousands of records from state and federal regulatory agencies, Sierra Club researchers compiled a report and database called The RapSheet on Animal Factories, documenting “crimes, violations or other operational malfeasance at more than 630 industrial meat factories in 44 states.”

The two-and-a-half-year investigation revealed that “environmental violations by the meat industry add up to a rap sheet longer than War and Peace.” Among other findings, the RapSheet documents:

  • Government files show that approximately 50 corporations, or their managers, racked up a total of more than 60 misdemeanor or felony indictments, charges, convictions or pleas. Criminal fines total nearly $50 million. The criminal counts included animal cruelty, bribery, destroying records, fraud, distributing contaminated meat and pollution.
  • Millions of gallons of liquefied feces and urine seeped into the environment from collapsed, leaking or overflowing storage lagoons, and flowed into rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and groundwater. Hundreds of manure spills have killed millions of fish.

Despite lax federal and state law enforcement, these companies were assessed tens of millions of dollars in fines, penalties and court judgments. More than 20% of the 220 companies profiled in detail have been hit with criminal charges or convictions.

Intensive pig farms have made the air so unbearable in some rural communities that some residents must wear masks while outdoors 28 and made some people sick. Poultry and pig waste has contributed to the growth of pathogenic organisms in waterways, which have poisoned humans and killed millions of fish.29 From 1995 to 1997, more than forty animal waste spills killed 10.6 million fish.30

See also: “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” from The New York Times, regarding environmental destruction and resource allocation; “Eating as if the Climate Mattered” provides more links. For more general environmental information, see this report by Lacey Gaechter of the University of Colorado.

Update, May 2008: The prestigious Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Productionjust concluded its 2.5-year study of American animal agriculture with unanimous findings from its 15 members. The Commission was chaired by former Kansas governor John Carlin and included, among others, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, former Dean of the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine Dr. Michael Blackwell, and more.

The panel concluded that factory farms pose unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and animal welfare. It also issued a series of recommendations, including a phase-out of battery cages, gestation crates, veal crates, foie gras, and tail docking of dairy cows, along with inclusion of poultry under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

The Washington Post story is titled, “Report Targets Cost of Factory Farming.” USA Today’s storybegins, “The way America produces meat, milk and eggs is unsustainable, creates significant risks to public health from antibiotic resistance and disease, damages the environment and unnecessarily harms animals, a report released Tuesday says.” The Wall Street Journal’scoverage focuses both on the problems caused by factory farming, and the Commission’s conclusion that the “agriculture industry is exerting ‘significant influence’ on academic research.” And The Des Moines Register’s piece highlights the fact that the Commission is accusing “some livestock interests of trying to disrupt a wide-ranging study of the industry by threatening to yank financing for scientists and universities.”

See also: The Union of Concerned Scientists’ report CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations.

Resources and Contamination

“Much as we have awakened to the full economic and social costs of cigarettes, we will find we can no longer subsidize or ignore the costs of mass-producing cattle, poultry, pigs, sheep and fish to feed our growing population. These costs include hugely inefficient use of freshwater and land, heavy pollution from livestock feces, rising rates of heart disease and other degenerative illnesses, and spreading destruction of the forests on which much of our planet’s life depends.” — Time Magazine, Visions of the 21st Century,Will We Still Eat Meat?,” 11/8/99
Left: Cattle feedlot (click for larger image; courtesy of USDA). Right: Inside a turkey house (click for larger image; courtesy of Farm Sanctuary).
“The typical North American diet, with its large share of animal products, requires twice as much water to produce as the less meat-intensive diets common in many Asian and some European countries. Eating lower on the food chain could allow the same volume of water to feed two Americans instead of one, with no loss in overall nutrition.” — Scientific American
Growing More Food With Less Water
by Sandra Postel, February 2001

It takes more land, water, and energy to produce meat than to grow vegetarian foods. It’s several times more efficient to eat grains directly than to funnel them through farmed animals. According to the Audubon Society, roughly 70 percent of the grain grown and 50 percent of the water consumed in the United States are used by the meat industry. A Minority Staff of Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry report states the beef in just one Big Mac represents enough wheat to make five loaves of bread.30 See also these excerpts from an ADA position paper.

The Hunger Report 1995 from the Alan Shawn Feinstein World Hunger Program at Brown University illustrates that a vegetarian diet can feed significantly more people than a meat-centered diet:

Populations Potentially Supported by 1993 Global Food Supply with Different Diets
Almost purely vegetarian diet 6.26 billion people
15% of calories from animal products 4.12 billion people
25% of calories from animal products 3.16 billion people
Source: FAO, 1994

World hunger is a complicated problem, and becoming vegetarian in the United States will not necessarily alleviate it in the short-term. However, being vegetarian is a positive step towards saving resources that can be used to feed people in the future.

Left: Feeding dairy cattle in Florida (click for larger image; courtesy of USDA). Right: Confined feeding operation of cattle in Yuma, Arizona (click for larger image; courtesy of USDA NRCS).

According to Livestock & the Environment: Finding a Balance, a 1996 report coordinated in part by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:

The industrial [livestock] system is a poor converter of fossil energy. Fossil energy is a major input of intensive livestock production systems, mainly indirectly for the production of feed.

As Michael Pollan reports in “Power Steer” (New York Times Magazine, 3/31/02):

[I]f you follow the corn…back to the fields where it grows, you will find an 80-million-acre monoculture that consumes more chemical herbicide and fertilizer than any other crop. Keep going and you can trace the nitrogen runoff from that crop all the way down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, where it has created (if that is the right word) a 12,000-square-mile “dead zone.”

But you can go farther still, and follow the fertilizer needed to grow that corn all the way to the oil fields of the Persian Gulf.… Assuming [a steer] continues to eat 25 pounds of corn a day and reaches a weight of 1,250 pounds, he will have consumed in his lifetime roughly 284 gallons of oil. We have succeeded in industrializing the beef calf, transforming what was once a solar-powered ruminant into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine.

Also from “Power Steer”:

Cows rarely live on feedlot diets for more than six months, which might be about as much as their digestive systems can tolerate.…

What keeps a feedlot animal healthy—or healthy enough—are antibiotics.… Most of the antibiotics sold in America end up in animal feed—a practice that, it is now generally acknowledged, leads directly to the evolution of new antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”.…

Escherichia coli 0157 is a relatively new strain of a common intestinal bacteria…that is common in feedlot cattle, more than half of whom carry it in their guts. Ingesting as few as 10 of these microbes can cause a fatal infection.

Most of the microbes that reside in the gut of a cow and find their way into our food get killed off by the acids in our stomachs, since they originally adapted to live in a neutral-pH environment. But the digestive tract of the modern feedlot cow is closer in acidity to our own, and in this new, manmade environment acid-resistant strains of E. coli have developed that can survive our stomach acids—and go on to kill us.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC Surveillance Summaries:MMWR 49, no. SS-1, March 17, 2000; PDF):

During 1993–1997, a total of 2,751 outbreaks of foodborne disease were reported.… Salmonella serotype Enteritidis accounted for the largest number of outbreaks, cases, and deaths; most of these outbreaks were attributed to eating eggs.

“A type of salmonella found in eggs is turning up more often in chicken meat and needs to be reduced, according to the Agriculture Department.“From 2000 through 2005, there was a fourfold increase in positive test results for salmonella enteritidis on chicken carcasses.…“Salmonella sickens at least 40,000 people and kills about 600 every year in the United States.” — “Salmonella on the Rise in Chicken Meat,” Associated Press, 11/21/06
Left: Egg-laying hens in battery cages (click for larger image; courtesy of Compassionate Action for Animals). Right: Chickens raised for meat (click for full view of broiler house; courtesy of USDA).
“Dioxins have been characterized by EPA as likely to be human carcinogens and are anticipated to increase the risk of cancer at background levels of exposure.…“Most of us receive almost all of our dioxin exposure from the food we eat: specifically from the animal fats associated with eating beef, pork, poultry, fish, milk, dairy products.” — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Persistent Bioaccumulative and Toxic Chemical Program: Dioxins and Furans

Regarding “Arsenic,” Bette Hileman reports (Chemical & Engineering News, 4/9/07):

Roxarsone…is by far the most common arsenic-based additive used in chicken feed. It is mixed in the diet of about 70% of the 9 billion broiler chickens produced annually in the U.S.…

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic can cause bladder, lung, skin, kidney, and colon cancer, as well as deleterious immunological, neurological, and endocrine effects. Low-level exposures can lead to partial paralysis and diabetes.…

Chicken manure introduces huge quantities of arsenic to agricultural fields.…

Even though the drinking water standard for arsenic has been strengthened, the standards for arsenic residues in poultry—2,000 ppb for liver and 500 ppb for muscle—have remained unchanged for decades. Furthermore, neither the Food & Drug Administration nor the Department of Agriculture has actually measured the level of arsenic in the poultry meat that most people consume. USDA has measured it only in chicken livers.

Widening the Circle of Compassion

“Historically, man has expanded the reach of his ethical calculations, as ignorance and want have receded, first beyond family and tribe, later beyond religion, race, and nation.

“To bring other species more fully into the range of these decisions may seem unthinkable to moderate opinion now. One day, decades or centuries hence, it may seem no more than ‘civilized’ behavior requires.”

— “What Humans Owe to Animals,” The Economist, 8/19/95

If the anticruelty laws that protect pets were applied to farmed animals, many of the most routine U.S. farming practices would be illegal in all 50 states. Are dogs and cats really so different from chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows that one group deserves legal protection from cruelty, while the other deserves virtually no protection at all?

Disregard for farmed animals persists because few people realize the ways in which these individuals are mistreated, and even fewer actually witness the abuse. Once aware, most people are appalled—not because they believe in animal rights, but because they believe that animals feel pain and that morally decent human beings should try to prevent pain whenever possible.

Male chicks, of no economic value to the egg industry, are found dead and dying in a dumpster behind a hatchery (click images for full views; courtesy of Farm Sanctuary). Typically they are gassed2 or ground up alive.9 Other standard agricultural practices—often performed without anesthesia—include castration, tail docking, debeaking, dehorning, toe trimming, and branding.9
“True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power.

“Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.

“And in this respect humankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.”

— Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1984

Ducks and geese are force-fed to produce liver pâté (click for another image; courtesy of PETA).
“Humans—who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals—have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and ‘animals’ is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them—without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret.

“It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us.”

— Dr. Carl Sagan & Dr. Ann Druyan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, 1992

There are no laws protecting hens while on the farm. This photo was taken by COK during their February 2005 investigation of a Maryland egg farm. For more information, see


More Information about Factory Farming and the Environment:

Why Vegan? Environmental Destruction by

Researchers: Even “Organically Raised” Cows are a “Climate Bomb”

Fix Global Warming the Easy, Low-Tech Way

Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

A Call to Environmentalists

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