WorldWatch Detriment of Livestock to Environment

Meat production and the Environment

images-1 Vegans don’t usually need a reason to hate factory farming aside from cruelty to animals and their death. Some people, though, need a little more convincing. Plus, it never hurts to have more support when someone asks why veganism is so fantastic. This is where knowledge about the environmental impacts of factory farming is critical.


Approximately 10 billion animals are used every year in the United States alone for dairy, meat, or eggs. ( ) This number is staggering, and it becomes even more horrifying when you discover that around 40 percent of the entire earth’s land is used for factory farming. This terrible industry also uses about one third of the earth’s fresh water. ( On top of wasting these valuable resources, the only thing factory farms do produce, besides cruelty, is 37 percent of the methane emissions and 41 million tons of CO2 to fertilize animal feed crops. ( If we put an end to factory farming just imagine the positive impact it would have on the environment. The following information is broken down into types of factory farming to give you an even better idea of just how unsustainable and damaging this industry is, and why it must be stopped to save all animals, including humans.




One of the biggest problems with pig farms is the waste produced. This is clear in the major pork producing states: North Carolina, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana. ( To give you an idea of the enormity of these farms, one county in North Carolina has 2.35 million pigs. Five of the eastern counties in that state also create 15.5 million tons of manure a year. Think about that amount of waste, and you’ll realize what a huge problem this is.


The usual practice is to place the waste in huge lagoons and to spray the liquid manure onto nearby fields to prevent these lagoons from overflowing. ( There are limited regulations that prevent spraying on rainy or windy days, but even these rules are commonly broken since there is little to no government oversight. Nutrients, as well as other contaminants, can also overflow into other bodies of water, leading to high nitrogen and phosphorus levels that kill fish. The smell is also a serious problem for people living nearby, who have to contend with impacts like coughs and eye irritation at a minimum. While there are more environmentally friendly options, only 29 factory farms choose to use these more expensive techniques. (




The number of broiler chickens raised in America, like most factory farmed animals, has vastly increased. It has gone from 580 million in the 1950s to almost 9 billion in recent years. ( Factory farms now raise over 600,000 birds each a year. This obviously has a negative impact on the environment.


One environmental impact particular to chickens is the by product of broiler litter. ( This is a mix of manure and bedding that is thrown away by spreading it on fields, much like manure. Like manure, it also can be washed into nearby water sources by the rain. The Chesapeake Bay is a notorious example where there are now excess nutrients polluting the water.


Other problems caused by chicken farming include soil and water pollution, manure on croplands, and flies. People living within a half mile of poultry farms have 83 times the average number of disease carrying flies and mosquitoes. ( The need for more chicken feed like soybean meal has also led to the expansion of croplands, which leads to deforestation as well as water pollution from the fertilizers. ( The list of problems is nearly endless.




Production of beef has almost all the previously mentioned problems, but on an even larger scale. Cows require 28 times more land than other types of livestock as well as 11 times more irrigation. ( These numbers reflect cows’ low energy conversion from what they eat, which also causes the release of five times more greenhouse gases. ( Even grass fed and organic beef aren’t an improvement. In fact, factory farming uses less water and land to produce the same amount of meat. ( Approximately 60 percent of the environmental issues associated with livestock in the United States are a result of beef production. ( No matter how you look at it, meat eaters have to face the facts that their appetite is ruining the environment. Now you have some facts to pull out of your pocket the next time you have to defend your ethical eating choices.

Guest Writer:  Sara Farr of

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