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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 provides evidence that animal agriculture is a leading cause (and in some cases the leading cause) of most forms of environmental damage, and that the single most significant way you can reduce your personal contribution to this damage is to adopt a vegan diet.
  • An article published in the Harvard Law Review sums up the scientific findings by 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]
  • Note: Among the sources of information for this fact sheet is the 2018 study titled Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts Through Producers and Consumers and commonly known as the Oxford Study.[2] This study has been called the most comprehensive study of it's kind, [3] examining 38,700 farms in 119 countries, and representing 90% of the world's protein and calorie consumption.

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.”[3] So says Joseph Poore, who led the 2018 Oxford Study.[2] which was called the most comprehensive analysis to date of its kind."[3]
  • A study published by the National Institutes of Health concluded that those eating a meat-based diet were responsible for approximately double the greenhouse gas emissions as those on a vegan diet.[4]
  • The Oxford Study.[2] 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).[5]
  • 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[6]
  • 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.[7]

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,[2] which has been called the most comprehensive study of it's kind, [3] examining 38,700 farms in 119 countries, and representing 90% of the world's protein and calorie consumption.
  • A number of studies have put animal agriculture's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions between the United Nation's estimate of 14.5% and the World Watch Institute's estimate of 51%.[8] But even at the lower number of 14.5%, 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.[9]
  • A 2006 United Nations study titled Livestock's Long Shadow said that livestock accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions.[10] In 2013, UN revised the number to the to 14.5%[11], shortly after forming partnerships with the International Meat Secretariat and International Dairy Federation.[12]
  • A 2009 study titled Livestock and Climate Change—published by The World Watch Institute and authored by environmental scientists Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang—concluded that Animal Agriculture was responsible for 51% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.[13] It considered factors that the earlier United nations report omitted, such as lost sequestration, failure to allocate feed production, and not using a realistic time frame. The 51% figure has been criticized and has not reached scientific consensus.[14]
  • In a New York times editorial, Robert Goodland defends the 51% figure, saying that "the key difference between the 18 percent and 51 percent figures is that the latter accounts for how exponential growth in livestock production (now more than 60 billion land animals per year), accompanied by large scale deforestation and forest-burning, have caused a dramatic decline in the earth’s photosynthetic capacity, along with large and accelerating increases in volatilization of soil carbon.[12]

Land Surface and Biomass

  • The lowest impact bovine meat uses 36 times more land than the production of plant-based protein, according to the Oxford Study.[2]
  • Using FAO data, an analytics site reports that animal agriculture accounts for 77% of the earth's agricultural land while 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. [15]. This is roughly equivalent to the Oxford Study's.[2] findings.
  • 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.[16]
  • An analysis of data in the Oxford Study.[2] by The Guardian concluded that eliminating animal agriculture would reduce farmland use by 75% without impeding our ability to feed the world[3].
  • A Bloomberg analysis using USDA data reveals that in the United States, 41% of all land is used for animal agriculture—to confine livestock or grow feed for livestock.[17]
  • Extra: 29% of the earth's surface is land and 71% is ocean. Of land, 71% is habitable, 19% is barren, 10% is glaciers. Of habitable land, 50% is agricultural, 37% is forest, 11% is shrub land, 1% is urban, and 1% is freshwater . Of the agricultural land, 77% is livestock and 23% is food crops for humans.[15]


  • Animal agriculture accounts for 75–80% of deforestation in the Amazon rain forests, clearing land to hold cattle and grow feed for cattle.[18][19]

Species Extinction

  • Animal agriculture contributes to species extinction via loss of habitat due to land-use change, deforestation, the killing of predators to protect livestock, contamination of land and water by manure and pesticides and fertilizers used to grow crops for livestock, and increased global warming, as some species are not able to adapt quickly enough to survive.:[10]
  • A study, published in 2015 in Science Advances, confirms what many scientists have been saying, reporting there being "an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already underway."[20]
  • According to a systematic review published in Science of the Total Environment in 2015, which analyzed over 140 research papers and studies, "animal product consumption by humans is likely the leading cause of modern species extinctions, since it is not only the major driver of deforestation but also a principle driver of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas, facilitation of invasions by alien species, and loss of wild carnivores and wild herbivores."[21]

Fish Depletion

  • Around three-quarters of the world's fisheries are now either fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted.[22]
  • It has been predicted that stocks of all species currently fished could collapse by 2048 if we continue to fish at the same rate.[23]
  • Overfishing is pushing many species to the brink of extinction.[24] One of the most famous cases is the highly-prized Pacific bluefin tuna, which could soon be functionally extinct due to overfishing if nothing is done.[25]
  • An estimated 837 million pounds of bycatch was produced by US fisheries alone.[26] Bycatch is fish other than the species that is targeted by a fishing operation. It is not just fish who are accidentally caught, but also other animals such as turtles, marine mammals (like dolphins), and seabirds.[27]


  • Eutrophication, usually caused by agricultural runoff, depleted the water of the oxygen required to support life.

Water Pollution

Water Wastage

Air Pollution

Wildlife Destruction


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. [28] (Note that according to Mic the Vegan, the UN revised their estimates because of partnerships with animal ag.[29])

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 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Poore, J., and T. Nemecek. “Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts Through Producers and Consumers.” Science 360, no. 6392 (June 1, 2018): 987–92.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 “Avoiding Meat and Dairy Is ‘Single Biggest Way’ to Reduce Your Impact on Earth.” The Guardian, May 31, 2018, sec. Environment. Accessed March 2, 2020.
  4. Scarborough, Peter, Paul N. Appleby, Anja Mizdrak, Adam D. M. Briggs, Ruth C. Travis, Kathryn E. Bradbury, and Timothy J. Key. “Dietary Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Meat-Eaters, Fish-Eaters, Vegetarians and Vegans in the UK.” Climatic Change 125, no. 2 (2014): 179–192. Accessed March 2, 2020.
  5. 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.
  6. Gidon Eshel, and Pamela A. Martin. “Diet, Energy, and Global Warming.” Department of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, 2005. Accessed November 14, 2019.
  7. 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.
  8. “Climate Change.” Truth or Drought. Accessed March 2, 2020.
  9. US EPA, OAR. “Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data.” Overviews and Factsheets. US EPA, January 12, 2016. Accessed December 3 2019.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Steinfeld, Henning, Pierre Gerber, T. Wassenaar, V. Castel, Mauricio Rosales, and C. de Haan. “Livestock’s Long Shadow” (2006). Accessed March 2, 2020.
  11. “FAO - News Article: Major Cuts of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Livestock within Reach.” Accessed March 2, 2020.
  12. 12.0 12.1 “FAO Yields to Meat Industry Pressure on Climate Change.” Mark Bittman Blog, July 11, 2012. Accessed March 2, 2020.
  13. Goodland, R, and J Anhang. “ Livestock and Climate Change: Washington: Worldwatch Institute, 2009. Accessed 03/02/2020.
  14. “Movie Review: There’s a Vast Cowspiracy about Climate Change.” Union of Concerned Scientists. Last modified June 10, 2016. Accessed March 2, 2020.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. “Land Use.” Our World in Data, November 13, 2013. Accessed January 10, 2020.
  16. 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, 2020.
  17. Merrill, Dave, and Lauren Leatherby. “Here’s How America Uses Its Land.” Bloomberg.Com, n.d. Accessed March 3, 2020.
  18. Bustamante, Mercedes M. C., Carlos A. Nobre, Roberto Smeraldi, Ana P. D. Aguiar, Luis G. Barioni, Laerte G. Ferreira, Karla Longo, Peter May, Alexandre S. Pinto, and Jean P. H. B. Ometto. “Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Cattle Raising in Brazil.” Climatic Change 115, no. 3–4 (December 2012): 559–77. Accessed December 3 2019.
  19. Evidence of Species Loss in Amazon Caused by Deforestation.” ScienceDaily. Accessed June 8, 2017.
  20. Ceballos, Gerardo, Paul R. Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle, and Todd M. Palmer. “Accelerated Modern Human–induced Species Losses: Entering the Sixth Mass Extinction.” Science Advances 1, no. 5 (June 1, 2015): e1400253.
  21. Machovina, Brian, Kenneth J. Feeley, and William J. Ripple. “Biodiversity Conservation: The Key Is Reducing Meat Consumption.” Science of The Total Environment 536 (December 2015): 419–31.
  22. “General Situation of World Fish Stocks.” United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Accessed December 11, 2019.
  23. Worm, B., E. B. Barbier, N. Beaumont, J. E. Duffy, C. Folke, B. S. Halpern, J. B. C. Jackson, et al. “Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services.” Science 314, no. 5800 (November 3, 2006): 787–90. Accessed December 11, 2019.
  24. Burgess, M. G., S. Polasky, and D. Tilman. “Predicting Overfishing and Extinction Threats in Multispecies Fisheries.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, no. 40 (October 1, 2013): 15943–48. Accessed December 12 2019.
  25. Harvey, Fiona. “Overfishing Causes Pacific Bluefin Tuna Numbers to Drop 96%.” The Guardian, January 9, 2013, sec. Environment. Accessed December 12 2019.
  26. Benaka, L.R., D. Bullock, A.L. Hoover, and N.A. Olsen (editors). U.S. National Bycatch Report First Edition Update 3. 2019. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/SPO-190. Accessed December 11 2019.
  27. Fisheries, NOAA. “Bycatch | NOAA Fisheries.” NOAA, December 6, 2019. Accessed December 11 2019.
  29. starting at 3:30
  30. Skeptical Science. “How Much Does Animal Agriculture and Eating Meat Contribute to Global Warming?” Accessed January 10, 2020.