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Draft:Environmental Impacts of Animal Agriculture

From JFA Wiki

Following the fact sheet is a section addressing advocacy and providing links to additional reading.

Fact Sheet


  • This fact sheet supports the assertion that animal agriculture is a leading cause of most forms of environmental damage, including global warming, and that the single most significant way you can reduce your personal contribution to this damage is to adopt a vegan diet.

The Scope of the Problem

  • An article published in the Harvard Law Review summarizes scientific findings, saying that "our demand for and reliance on animal products" is "a leading cause of everything: one industry that is destroying our planet and our ability to thrive on it." It connects animal agriculture with climate change. ocean dead zones. fisheries depletion. species extinction, deforestation, world hunger, food safety, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and says "the list goes on". [1]

Personal Responsibility

  • "A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet earth—it is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car...avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.” So says Joseph Poore, who led the 2018 Oxford Study,[2] which was called the most comprehensive analysis to date of its kind."[3]
  • The Oxford Study found that moving to a diet that excludes animal products has transformative potential, including a 76% reduction in land use, a 49% reduction in greenhouse emissions from farming, a 50% reduction in ocean acidification, and a 49% reduction in eutrophication (excess runoff choking off oxygen and killing animals).[2]
  • Researchers from the University of Chicago determined that you reduce your personal contribution to global warming more by changing to a vegan diet than you do by switching to a Prius[4]
  • In 2017, over 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a "Warning to Humanity," promoting plant-based eating as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.[5]

Global Warming

  • Even the lowest impact bovine meat is responsible for six times more greenhouse gases than the production of plant-based protein, according to the 2018 Oxford Study.
  • A 2006 United Nations study titled Livestock's Long Shadow said that livestock accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but a study by World Watch Institute three years later said the U.N. report failed to consider some of the factors, and put the figure at 51%.[6][7]
  • Even at the lower number of 18%, animal agriculture contributes more to global warming than all cars, trucks, trains, buses, airplanes, and ships combined—more than the entire transportation sector, which the EPA pegs at 14% globally.[8]

Land Surface and Biomass

  • The lowest impact bovine meat uses 36 times more land than the production of plant-based protein, according to the 2018 Oxford Study.
  • Using FAO data that has been confirmed by other sources, an analytics site reports that of the earth's agricultural land, 77% is used for meat and dairy supplying only 18 percent of our calories. Conversely, the 23% of agricultural land that is used for crops for human consumption supplies 83% of our calories This from Our World in Data. [9]
  • A 2018 study titled "The biomass distribution on Earth" concludes that for all mammals, biomass (weight) is distributed as follows: 60% livestock, 36% human, and 4% wild animals. The same study reported that of bird biomass, 70% is domesticated poultry and 30% is wild birds.[10]


Species Extinction

Fish Depletion


Water Pollution

Water Wastage

Air Pollution


Global Warming: 51% from Animal Ag?

A number of activists are using World Watch Institute's numbers in saying that animal agriculture is the leading cause of global warming, with its reported 51% contribution. They are dismayed when public figures like Joaquin Phoenix, in high-publicity appearances, state that it's the third leading cause.

Here's where "third leading" may come from: The UN revised their estimate for Animal Ag down from 18% to 14%. That puts power generation at #1 and transportation at #2, if you break it down that way. [11] (Note that according to Mic the Vegan, the UN revised their estimates because of partnerships with animal ag.[12])

Saying that animal agriculture is the leading cause seems to be contentious among scientists. The argument is still strong without using a contentious figure, which could, even if correct, undermine your credibility in the eyes of your audience. We believe the wording presented in the personal responsibility and global warming sections of the fact sheet is a viable way to present this. It emphasizes that animal agriculture is the leading cause for which we can take responsibility on a personal level.

See Also

IAPT: Emissions Impossible: How big meat and dairy are heating up the planet

Land Usage Chart from Our World in Data, summarized from UN Data

Plain Text


This fact sheet was originally authored by Greg Fuller. The contents may have been edited since that time by others.


  1. Harvard Environmental Law Review. “[ELRS] A Leading Cause of Everything: One Industry That Is Destroying Our Planet and Our Ability to Thrive on It,” October 26, 2015. Accessed January 10, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Poore, J., and T. Nemecek. “Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts through Producers and Consumers.” Science 360, no. 6392 (June 1, 2018): 987–92. Accessed January 10, 2020.
  4. Gidon Eshel, and Pamela A. Martin. “Diet, Energy, and Global Warming.” Department of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, 2005. Accessed November 14, 2019.
  5. Ripple, William J., Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, Mauro Galetti, Mohammed Alamgir, Eileen Crist, Mahmoud I. Mahmoud, William F. Laurance, and 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries. “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.” BioScience 67, no. 12 (December 1, 2017): 1026–28. Accessed December 3 2019.
  6. Steinfeld, Henning, Pierre Gerber, T. D. Wassenaar, Vincent Castel, Mauricio Rosales M. , and Cees de Haan. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006.
  7. Goodland, R, and J Anhang. “ Livestock and Climate Change: What If the Key Actors in Climate Change Are... Cows, Pigs, and Chickens?” Washington: Worldwatch Institute, 2009.
  8. US EPA, OAR. “Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data.” Overviews and Factsheets. US EPA, January 12, 2016. Accessed December 3 2019.
  9. Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. “Land Use.” Our World in Data, November 13, 2013. Accessed January 10, 2020.
  10. Bar-On, Yinon M., Rob Phillips, and Ron Milo. “The Biomass Distribution on Earth.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, no. 25 (June 19, 2018): 6506–11. Accessed January 15, 2010.
  12. starting at 3:30
  13. Skeptical Science. “How Much Does Animal Agriculture and Eating Meat Contribute to Global Warming?” Accessed January 10, 2020.