HomeArticlesWhy and how does animal husbandry harm the environment?

Creating a site dedicated to ecology, we could not close our eyes to another important topic - vegetarianism. It has become obvious to us that a vegetarian diet is a natural consequence of caring for the world around us. And if the connection of veganism / vegetarianism with an ethical attitude towards living beings lies at the very basis of this choice, then the impact of our diet on the amount of natural resources, the state of the environment and ecology in a broader sense is by no means so transparent.

However, there is such a connection, and it is really significant. Suffice it to quote the words from the website of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): "The livestock sector and the way in which it will be developed, causes deep and wide-ranging environmental impacts that must be addressed immediately."

How does animal husbandry affect the environment?

Today, the production of meat, fish, seafood and milk is a huge industry that, for its own benefit, is ready to make significant environmental sacrifices, explaining them by the massive need of people for such food. Unfortunately, most do agree with the far-fetched need for such products. In addition, as in any other business, the key role here is played by the factor of money, with the amount of which the producers (due to the scale and demand) have no problems. As a result, the industry receives support at all levels (from the public to politicians) and continues to thrive. What is bad for the environment in this?

The authors of the wonderful documentary film Cowspiracy (released in Russian under the title "Cattle Conspiracy") have collected a large collection of facts from publicly available research papers / notes about how significant and detrimental to the environment animal husbandry is. The overall effect is made up of a number of factors. The main ones are listed below and contain links to specific statistical evidence recorded by scientists.

1. Greenhouse gases

US cattle feedlot
US cattle feedlot

Animal husbandry leads to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions for natural reasons: carbon dioxide - due to the respiration of animals, and methane ( CH4) * - due to the digestive activity of ruminants (according to American estimates, one cow produces 250 to 500 liters of methane per day per day). day). This same methane has a much greater impact on the increase in temperature on Earth than CO2, but is in the atmosphere for a shorter time.

There are other causes, caused by direct human activities for livestock production, that contribute to the growth of greenhouse gases, such as:

  • the use of additional chemicals (for example, fluorocarbons for cooling the resulting products);
  • environmental consequences of the treatment of zoonotic infections transmitted to humans from domestic animals (anthrax, brucellosis, foot and mouth disease, tuberculosis, listeriosis, tularemia and many others);
  • reduction in the area of ​​forests that are cut down for livestock;
  • storage and transportation of products;
  • disposal of livestock waste.

Details of the most significant of them will be presented below. How big is the impact of animal husbandry on the overall greenhouse effect?

A 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organization report reported that livestock (cows and bulls, buffaloes, sheep, goats, camels, pigs and poultry) account for 18% of all global greenhouse gases. For comparison, all transport (including land, sea and air) forms only 13%.

At the end of 2009, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, long-time environmentalists from the World Bank Group, published an article in World Watch (with the independent institute of the same name) " Livestock and climate change” (Livestock and Climate Change), which presents the results of an analysis of data from the UN with more complete adjustments in their opinion. The result was impressive: animal husbandry and the products of this industry cause annual emissions of more than 32 billion tons of greenhouse gases, which is more than half (about 51%) of all emissions on a global scale.

2. Water consumption

The maintenance of animals is associated with the consumption of a huge amount of water, which is spent on growing crops, drinking, washing and other related processes. Such human use of one of the most valuable resources is naturally not optimal. The development of animal husbandry has led to the fact that most of the water today is not consumed by people for direct drinking and personal household needs, but precisely for this industry. Estimates vary widely on the amount of water required to "produce" meat, but everyone agrees that it is a colossal cost.

A widely cited estimate is by Dr. George Borgstrom of Michigan State University: 2,500 gallons of water is required for every 1 pound of American beef (i.e., about 4,300 liters of water per 1 kg of meat) . At the same time, the authors of the article "Water Resources: Agricultural and Environmental Issues", published in the journal "BioScience" at the University of Oxford in 2004, state that if 1 kilogram of cereals on average consumes about 1000 liters of water, then for 1 kilogram of beef - 43,000 liters.

The total cost of water resources for animal husbandry around the world ranges from 20 to 70%. In particular, the authors of a scientific article published in 2013 in the PNAS journal of the US National Academy of Sciences examined 28 regions around the world and concluded that livestock consumes 1/3 of all fresh water.

3. Use of the earth's surface

Livestock farm. Photo by Greenpeace UK
Livestock farm. Photo by Greenpeace UK

Pastures, farms and other livestock lands not only occupy a significant part of the planet, but also:

  • lead to land degradation, including: chemical pollution, soil compaction and erosion, the appearance of "dead zones" - areas in coastal waters, the amount of oxygen in which becomes insufficient for animal life;
  • contribute to the deforestation of the planet due to the need to "liberate" more and more new territories for economic activities at the cost of deforestation;
  • accelerate species extinction as humans exterminate predators and natural competitors for farmed and consumed animals.

According to various sources, from 1/3 to a half of all available land area is used for livestock needs. The share of the planet's surface attributable to animal husbandry is estimated at 30% by the scientists of the already mentioned report in the journal PNAS, and at 45% by Philip Thornton, Mario Herrero and Polly Ericksen in the publication "Livestock and climate change” (Livestock and climate change), presented in 2011 in the journal “Livestock Xchange” (published by the research institute ILRI, International Livestock Research Institute).

Professor Edgar Hertwich, author report for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), compared the effects of animal products with the environmentally harmful materials we are accustomed to: than the production of building materials such as sand, cement, plastic or metal. Biomass and crops are just as destructive to animals as burning fossil fuels."

The 2006 document Livestock 's long shadow by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations contains some facts about deforestation: the territories of the former forests are occupied by pastures, and fodder crops occupy most of the remaining territory.

In addition to damaging landscapes, pastoralism also causes misallocation of resources on earth and, as a result, famine in many parts of the globe. With the development of animal husbandry and the growth of the population of the planet, it is becoming increasingly difficult to feed 7 billion people. But instead of growing edible fruits to feed a person who consumes much less, we grow fodder crops for livestock. One cow eats 10-20 kg of feed per day (or forage crops such as potatoes, beets, Jerusalem artichoke). For one average family, this amount of food is enough for a week. But the main consumers of livestock products usually do not have nutritional problems, and therefore it is difficult for them to imagine how many hungry children die around the world, who need only a bag of grain to survive.

4. Waste

Excrement pond near a pig farm in the USA
Excrement pond near a pig farm in the USA

The “production” of animal products is a very expensive process in terms of the generated waste, which, as you know, always “needs to be put somewhere”. Whole ponds of animal excrement accumulate substances such as ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, nitrates, heavy metals, bacteria (salmonella, streptococci, etc.).

According to a 2004 publication by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "A farm with 2,500 milking animals generates as much trash as a city of 411,000 people. " Another statistic from the United States for 1999 - from the General Accounting Office - claims that animal husbandry creates 130 times more garbage than all the inhabitants of the country (for each citizen, there are about 5 tons of garbage from this industry per year).

5. Animal husbandry and morality

The ethical side of animal husbandry deserves special attention. It is also directly related to ecology, which is not limited to climate change, natural resources and the state of flora. Living organisms are an integral part of ecology, and the attitude towards them is an important indicator of environmental awareness.

According to Philip Lymbery, head of Compassion in World Farming, we kill over 70 billion animals every year (that's over 133,000 animals per minute !).
pig farm
If you look at the problem globally, it is important not so much a specific number as the very existence of such activities. Today, humanity does not need to breed, exploit and kill animals to meet basic needs (food, clothing, cosmetics and any materials) - everything has analogues. And these are not just experimental or somehow worse alternatives, but something that has long become the norm for many people from all over the world who are completely healthy and very “successful” in generally accepted social criteria. The popularity of the vegan movement, which today includes many famous personalities, is a good proof that THERE IS A CHOICE.

If we close our eyes to the cruel process of killing a living creature (after which many are unlikely to agree to eat their usual food), then the forcible involuntary keeping of an animal in terrible conditions is no less serious factor. Cows stay in stalls all their lives, tied to their place, and newborn calves are taken immediately after birth so that the milk intended for him can be delivered to man. Chickens live in cages so close that each bird has an area the size of one landscape sheet, and so that they do not cling to each other, parts of their beak are cut off. In addition, birds (chickens, chickens, ducks) are force-fed and drugged with antibiotics to quickly gain mass, as a result of which they cannot walk due to underdevelopment of bones. Small piglets are castrated without anesthesia for rapid weight gain. There are many other facts about animal cruelty, which have almost the same nervous system as you and me, feel pain and suffering. We did not attach shocking photos from livestock farms to the article, but if you wish, you yourself can ask this question in order to understand what exactly you are paying money for and what is on your table.

In addition, cruelty breeds cruelty and we will not be able to make the world a better, kinder and fairer place until we get rid of violence against other living beings.

6. Other aspects

Unfortunately, even this is far from an exhaustive list of problems that are generated by modern animal husbandry. In particular, not considered:

  • harm from used antibiotics, hormones and chemicals: pollution of land, water, etc.;
  • the spread of disease to other animals and humans;
  • senseless catching and destruction of numerous marine inhabitants in huge nets (along with fish and animals that are “suitable” for food);
  • harm to the human body from excessive consumption of animal products (read the article "Chinese study" in favor of vegetarianism ") ;
  • and many, many other consequences that ultimately affect every inhabitant of our planet.

What to do?

If we want global changes, we should start with ourselves. A logical step for anyone seeking to reduce the detrimental impact of animal husbandry on the planet is to reduce the amount of consumption of such products (food, clothing, any other leather goods, etc.) as much as possible now. Even a partial failure will be beneficial. It is worth remembering that to achieve the maximum effect, it is not enough to become even a lacto-vegetarian (all dairy products are created thanks to the content of cattle, which leads to significant consequences) - this requires a vegan lifestyle. But such decisions should be made consciously, and you should not change your diet drastically - it is better to act gradually (more on this in the article " How to switch to vegetarianism ") .

In addition, if you think this problem is serious, tell your friends and acquaintances about it. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness is one of the main reasons for the spread of animal husbandry and its unfortunate consequences. But don't be too pushy: let the information reach those who really need it, and don't annoy others. Expanding the circle of people who have information about the dangers of animal husbandry is extremely important in order for the situation to begin to improve. Think globally, act locally, and as a result, we will all get a healthy Planet and happy people! 🙂

“Love us, don't eat us. All lives are precious"


See also anekdotig:

Dmitry Shurupov Dmitry Shurupov


  1. there was a woman in The Brothers Karamazov who dreamed of leaving her husband and children and devoting herself to serving humanity, so here too ... if you simply watch the cartoon Big Wow, it can enlighten you a little.

  2. Before arguing with the text below, first understand it and think.
    And now the article on the points: - greenhouse gases lead to an increase in temperature - and cars?
    What about factories? What about boiler rooms? No, no, some kind of nonsense, only cows. - water consumption - here I will even quote: "it goes to growing crops, drinking, washing and other related processes."
    Okay, let's replace meat with plants. Are we not watering them? We will. Yes, we can use less water. But! Slightly less. There won't be much of an impact. - The use of the earth's surface, land degradation is a matter of organization, not availability.
    If you grow one crop in the same field for ten years, the land also degrades there - Using the earth's surface, cutting down forests for pastures - I'm waiting for the Chinese to be kicked out and take away the rights to cut down.
    Until this happens, this paragraph is meaningless. - The use of the earth's surface, the extinction of species - the only point where I agree.
    THE ONLY TRUE. But only one. Waste is a matter of organization of production, not its availability.
    - Animal husbandry and morality - why should I feel sorry for the pig and the cow, but should not feel sorry for the wheat and corn?
    They are also alive, if by definition. They also consume, multiply, and something else, I don’t remember what. - Other aspects, antibiotics - a person also uses them.
    Okay, let's start breathing, shall we? What a normal idea. And we will reduce the population, and it will be necessary to eat less, and the territories can be liberated. Excellent, you can even arrange a special annual sacrifice of the millionth. “in the name of ecology and pigs”. And chemicals are also used for plants, if that's the case. - Other aspects, the spread of diseases is a matter of organization, not the availability of production.
    At the same time, it competes somewhat with the point about antibiotics. - Other aspects, illegal capture - grandmas decide.
    They are caught, those who do this, but they give money and leave. Or they “buy a subscription” for poaching in advance. - Other aspects, meat is harmful to humans - I don’t even know what to say.
    It immediately says that this is from an article in favor of vegans, I no longer trust this item. In general, we can start eating cockroaches, like the Chinese. And then in a couple of years we will see thousands of articles about how harmful it is to breed them, and how dangerous they are in themselves. Have you seen cockroach farms? Do you think this is normal? And again to the first line of this text. Realize, think, and only then argue, if there is a desire.

  3. Animal husbandry is no more environmentally damaging than crop production, so becoming a vegetarian will not help the environment.
    Both for crop production and for animal husbandry, there are methods that cause minimal damage to the environment or even no damage. But the point here is that it is not economically beneficial for either individual entrepreneurs or countries.
    This is beneficial only from an environmental point of view, but as long as money rules the world, and not common sense, the ecological situation on Earth will only worsen. Also, do not forget about the finished products that a person uses so wastefully, again, for economic gain. How much food is thrown away by shops, factories, cafes, restaurants just because it is not profitable to give it away for free or at least cheaper. Even late and defective products can be accommodated. Few people do it, almost no one.

Add a comment

Your e-mail will not be published. Required fields are marked *