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Animal advocacy groups have been saying for years - decades - that animal agriculture is environmentally destructive. Farm Animal Rights Movement, PETA, and Mercy for Animals all have information on their websites. However, many people view information from animal rights groups with suspicion, so let's look at information from an organization that has nothing to do with animal rights, but has every reason to be concerned about environmental issues - the United Nations.
A 2006 article from the United Nations News Centre titled, "Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars, UN report warns" sums up the issue nicely:
Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation . . . Livestock now use 30 per cent of the earth’s entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33 per cent of the global arable land used to producing feed for livestock, the report notes. As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70 per cent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing . . . The livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops.
The report cited in the article is "Livestock's Long Shadow," by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Just skimming the executive summary of the report is frightening:
(The livestock sector) is probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, "dead" zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others. The major sources of pollution are from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feedcrops, and sediments from eroded pastures. Global figures are not available but in the United States, with the world's fourth largest land area, livestock area responsible for an estimated 55 percent of erosion and sediment, 37 percent of pesticide use, 50 percent of antibiotic use, and a third of the loads of nitrogen and phosphorus into freshwater resources . . . the livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species.
While the UN News Centre article focuses on finding ways to make animal agriculture more enviro-friendly, the 375-page report is much more complex. In the report, the solution is not so one-dimensional, and on page 276, a trend toward vegetarianism is mentioned as a reason for optimism:
There are reasons for optimism that the conflicting demands for animal products and environmental services can be reconciled. Both demands are exerted by the same group of people, the relatively affluent, middle to high level income class, which is no longer confined to industrialized countries. It has already firmly established itself in a number of developing countries, and is poised to grow substantially in most developing countires over the coming decades. This group of consumers is probably ready to use its growing voice to exert pressure for change and may be willing to absorb the inevitable price increases. The development of markets for organic products and other forms of eco-labelling are precursors of this trend, as are the tendency towards vegetarianism within developed countries and the trend towards healthier diets.
Of course, veganism is even better than vegetarianism because egg and dairy production involve animal agriculture. Give the United Nations a reason to be optimistic, and go vegan!
- United Nations: Eat Less Meat
- Pig Farms More Dangerous Than Terrorists
- Go Veggie for the Environment
- Vegetarianism and Global Warming from the Guide to Vegetarian Food
- Five Ways to Help Save the Planet in 30 Minutes or Less from the Guide to Environmental Issues
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