054 Understanding Animal Consumption and the Environment

When speaking of the environmental impact of animal consumption, it’s easy to get lost or overwhelmed with the stats and numbers but miss the bigger picture. The girls walk through how to have these conversations without needing to sight specific numbers.

Animal Consumption and the Environment

In This Episode

The girls wade through the facts around how animal consumption impacts the environment and make the connections so that you can have conversations with omnivores on this topic without getting lost in the endless statistics.

Animal agriculture and it’s by-products are the #1 producer of greenhouse gas emissions. There are some conflicting statistics floating around out there as to what percentage – ranging from 18-51% – but all reports agree that animal agriculture is #1.

The discrepancy is because the initial report by the United Nations reportedly underestimated or didn’t account for livestock related factors like methane, respiration and land use, or they assigned those factors to other sectors incorrectly. A respected US thinktank, the Worldwatch Institute, published the higher estimate.

Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day, roughly equal to the amount put out by the natural gas sector. Methane is far more destructive (25-100 times) than carbon dioxide on a 20 year timeframe. The good news is it dissipates more quickly than C02, so if we stopped producing it, the effects of it would heal relatively quickly

Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s land mass. Think about that. Nearly half of all the land on earth is covered in animals raised for food.

Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of rainforest destruction, for livestock and feed crops. So, whenever someone talks to you about rainforest devastation, let them know that that land is often cleared to raise animals to be eaten. And when it’s not? A tremendous amount of land is used for crops to feed livestock.

Livestock is the leading driver in land desertification – land that has lost all topsoil and fertility. Desertification is caused by mono crops grown to feed livestock and by livestock grazing.

Grassfed cows are not a sustainable option. It takes 2-20 acres to support one cow. They graze for longer, requiring massive land resources as well as producing more methane.

Oceans / Water
Fishing is absolutely devastating to our oceans.

¾ of the earth’s fisheries are exploited or depleted – we could see fishless oceans by 2048

About 2.7 trillion animals are pulled from the oceans every year – for every 1 pound of fish caught, there’s about 5 pounds of by-catch, a lot of which just dies or is discarded. For 1 pound of shrimp, it can be as much as 10 to 20 pounds of by-catch.

Fishing vessels, lines and nets are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of sharks, whales, dolphins and seals every year

Animal agriculture makes up 80-90% of US water consumption. All the short showers and un-watered lawns can’t make a dent compared to our food choices.

Wildlife / Endangered Animals / Hunting
Government sanctioned hunting and eradication programs are largely to kill off predatory animals in an area who may, or may not, be killing livestock. So wolves, cheetahs, coyotes – killed to the point of endangerment in order to protect ranchers’ investment in their cattle, sheep and pigs.

Rainforest destruction for livestock and crops, kills over 100 species of animals, insects and plants each DAY.

Bottom line: animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.

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Mentioned in this Episode


  • The problem with “ninety-whatever-percent of soy is fed to livestock” argument is that it’s soy meal that is primarily fed to livestock, not soybeans.

    Soy meal is a byproduct of soybean oil production (that humans do eat), which would be produced anyway, so livestock are being fed a waste product. Even soy meal byproducts of tofu and soymilk production typically end up as feed.

    It’s similar for corn, livestock are generally (though not entirely) consuming crop waste products. It could be argued that nobody should be eating corn sweeteners or alcohol but then it’s going beyond the basic argument, since those are plant-based products for humans; it borders into food policing and endorsing veganism as asceticism.

    The water numbers for meat can be reexamined with this knowledge as well, since it’s not so straight forward to count the entirety of water used for crops to feed livestock when livestock are secondary consumers.

    Not saying this gives agricultural animal husbandry a free pass, but most people appreciate the environmental idea that crop waste get used somehow, especially when they are inclined to view meat-eating favorably.

  • I hear the byproduct argument a lot but never really found the time to actually go on usda.gov (or other credible source) and read the standards practices behind feeding animals in factory farms.

    Sometimes it feels like I have to become an expert on animal agriculture to truly debunk it xD

    Its a lot simpler to just say something like : come on ! 40 millions cattles and billions of chickens, that is a lot of byproduct for my daily tofu scramble.

    (jk jk, i’m sure your argument is valid Joxer, I just wanted to be sassy)

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