10 Reasons Why the Meat and Dairy Industry Is Unsustainable

Like it or not, you can’t hide from the fact that eating animal products creates a massive problem for everyone on the planet.

Here are 10 reasons why the meat and dairy industry is unsustainable:

1. Deforestation

deforestation

Photo Credit: Barn Images/Flickr

Farm animals require considerably more land than crops to produce a given amount of food energy. In Central America alone, 40 percent of all rainforests have been cleared in the last 40 years for cattle pasture to feed the export market — often for U.S. beef burgers. The World Hunger Program calculated that recent world harvests — if distributed equitably and fed directly to humans, as opposed to livestock — could provide a vegan diet to 6 billion people.

2. Fresh water 

Without a doubt, animal agriculture has one of the largest water footprints on the planet. It may be hard to believe, but the standard American diet requires a whopping 4,200 gallons of water per day – including animals’ drinking water, irrigation of crops, processing, washing, etc. — whereas a vegan diet only requires 300. The easiest way to reduce demand for water is to eliminate the consumption of animal products.

3. Waste disposal

livestock waste

Photo Credit: Justin Leonard/Flickr

Today’s factory farms house hundreds of thousands of cows, pigs and chickens — and, in turn, produce astronomical amounts of waste. In the U.S., these giant livestock farms generate more than 130 times the amount of waste that humans do. Agricultural waste has polluted thousand of miles of rivers and contaminated groundwater, killing aquatic life and creating huge dead zones.

4. Energy consumption

chicken transportation

Photo Credit: Anis Eka/Flickr

For that steak to end up on your plate, the cow has to consume massive amounts of energy along the way. Growing grain — often with a heavy use of agricultural chemicals — to feed cattle, transporting cattle thousands of miles to slaughter and market and refrigerating and cooking the meat all amounts to an absurd use of resources. On average, it takes 28 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of protein from meat, whereas it takes only 3.3 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of protein from grain.

5. Food productivity

grazing

Photo Credit: Jordan/Flickr

The food productivity of farmland is quickly falling behind population growth, and the only option available to us — short of stabilizing the population — is to cut back on meat consumption and convert grazing land to food crops. In the U.S., an estimated 56 million acres of land are dedicated to hay production for livestock. Only 4 million acres are used to grow vegetables for human consumption.

6. Global warming

Global warming is driven by energy consumption, and as noted above, livestock are energy-guzzling. But that’s not all. Livestock also emit potent global warming gases into the environment. Cattle, in particular, produce a significant amount of methane. For example, a single dairy cow produces an average of 75 kilos of methane annually.

7. Loss of biodiversity

Poaching and the black market sale of bushmeat is becoming a growing problem as our planet becomes increasingly overcrowded. Poorer populations often venture into wildlife reserves to kill everything from elephants and chimpanzees to bonobos and birds. Hunters rely on logging roads maintained by big multinational companies for easy access to the forest — and the animals that inhabit it.

8. Grassland destruction

grassland

Photo Credit: Janelle Ball/Flickr

As the herds of domesticated animals expanded, bison and antelope habitat was replaced by monoculture grasslands for large scale cattle grazing. Grasslands have suffered a massive loss of biodiversity as a result. What was once a rich ecosystem is now is a single species monoculture.

9. Soil erosion

soil erosion

Photo Credit: Forrest Cavale

With 60 percent of the United States’ pastureland overgrazed, the acceleration of soil erosion and degradation is an increasing concern. It takes approximately 500 years to replace just 1 inch of precious topsoil. While fertilizers may be able to replace a small amount of lost nutrients, the large inputs of fossil energy required is completely unrealistic and unsustainable.

10. Lifestyle disease

The excessive consumption of meat and dairy in developed countries combined with environmental pollution and lack of exercise is causing an abundance of preventable health problems, such as heart disease. While Western nations struggle with strokes, cancer, diabetes and heart attacks, other countries are impacted from disease brought on by a lack of access to agricultural land.

When taking into consideration all of the points made above, it’s clear that a meat and dairy dependent diet is unsustainable in the long term. Couple that with the threat of rapid population growth — the current U.S. population is an estimated 285 million and is projected to double in the next 70 years — and even greater stress will be placed an our already limited resources.

Regardless of the role of meat and dairy in nutrition or the ethics of animal rights, on the grounds of economic and ecological sustainability alone, the consumption of animal products is a looming problem for humankind.

If you want to live a low impact lifestyle and reduce your use of the world’s precious resources, try opting for animal-free food choices instead.

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

1061 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven23 days ago

thanks for the article.

Gerald L.
Gerald L.10 months ago

Marie, # 10 is Lifestyle Disease; Why are you so intolerant of counter thought and debate? Are you stalking me? You should become more tactful in communicating with those that you hope to convert. Note what the author stated "If you want to live a low impact lifestyle and reduce your use of the world’s precious resources, then try opting for animal free food choices instead." Instead of calling us "rotten corpse eaters, murderers etc" on other threads. That is why I am not participating on those other threads. It's all your truth, right Marie?

Marie B.
Marie B.10 months ago

Really 'Gerald L'?? The article is: "10 Reasons Why the Meat and Dairy Industry is Unsustainable" and you go and find THIS: 'Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet'???? Wow, you are sooo desperate!!! Sooo funny!!!! 😝

Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Gerald L.
Gerald L.1 years ago

the undoing of decades old propaganda; The Big Fat Surprise:

Healthy eating: The case for eating steak and cream | The Economist
www.economist.com/.../books.../21602984-why-everything-you-heard-about -fat-wrong-case-eating-steak-and-cream‎
31 May 2014 ... Shifting the argument The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. ... From the print edition: Books and arts ...

Stefhan G.
Stefhan G.1 years ago

(wish this site had a edit feature- so I could go back and correct some typos and double posts)

Number 10 again is fallacy. Meat isn't the problem. Meat and animal fat consumption has been down in Europe and the US, yet heart disease, obesity, diabetes have been up in these society. Why? Because consumption of sugar, fat substitutes (eg margarine and vegetable oils) and grains have been way up especially in the US. There are also other concerns with GMO's. Feeding grains especially gmo grains to animals I concur though is not an efficient use of lands. Though any crop land is more susceptible to pest, nature disaster than livestock which is more resilient, so what this point proposes is either a recipe for famine, or a plug for biotechnology. To reiterate though livestock can be raised on land not suitable for crop production (see point 5) so eliminating livestock doesn't necessary free up more land for crops. Eliminating livestock only reduces the amount of food that is available to eat....especially nutrient dense food that is a source of nutrients like vitamin A, D, B12, DHA, taurine that aren't as easily obtained or bio-available from plant sources let alone grains.

Stefhan G.
Stefhan G.1 years ago

Number 9, first read responses to number 3 and number 8. Sol can be rebuilt a lot faster with animal inputs. The 500 year number is a bit of mythology. Most of the erosion though is due to AGRICULTURE not livestock, though mismanaged livestock that isn't moved is also detrimental. Continuously using land to produce crops depletes land of nutrients. Tillage and leaving earth exposed allows for erosion especially on inclined areas of land. Synthetic inputs destroy the soil bypassing the normal biological exchanges between plants roots, fungi, and other soil microorganisms ultimately compacting soils and killing soils microbes. You have to constantly replenish soils with new nutrients and that's why having properly managed livestock on the land are absolutely essential for healthy ecosystems and their soils.

Number 8 again is fallacy. Meat isn't the problem. Meat and animal fat consumption has been down in Europe and the US, yet heart disease, obesity, diabetes have been up in these society. Why? Because consumption of sugar, fat substitutes (eg margarine and vegetable oils) and grains have been way up especially in the US. There are also other concerns with GMO's. Feeding grains especially gmo grains to animals I concur though is not an efficient use of lands. Though any crop land is more susceptible to pest, nature disaster than livestock which is more resilient, so what this point proposes is either a recipe for famine, or a plug for biotechnology. To reiterate though live

Stefhan G.
Stefhan G.1 years ago

Number 8 is nonsense. grasslands aren't mono-cultures. Most aren't seeded. The larger problem is invasives. What are mono-cultures are the industrial croplands for human food and clothing consumption and feed. Development is also a human threat to grasslands as well as energy productions. If you want to preserve grasslands and grassland diversity, using livestock especially cattle and sheep to mimic the lost bison and other ruminants is the best thing to do as long as the livestock is moved in a manner where they aren't left too long on any portion of the land. ...that is where they mimic how wild herds moved due to predators.