The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has identified the livestock industry as one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems.1 Find out why they — and you — have such cause for concern!
Livestock production is responsible for nearly one fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions - more than all the planes, trains and automobiles in the world combined.2 Its impacts include loss of fresh water, rainforest destruction, air and water pollution, acid rain, soil erosion, loss of habitat and climate change.3
University of Adelaide Professor of Climate Change Barry Brook estimates that livestock are responsible for half of Australia's short-term global warming gases — more than the coal industry.
According to the UN Environmental Programme, 'animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives' and a substantial reduction of the impacts of agriculture on the environment will only be possible with a worldwide shift away from consuming these animal products4 - the vast majority of which are factory farmed.
Considerable quantities of pesticides and chemical fertilisers are used on crops grown to feed factory farmed animals, like soy and maize. These pesticides and chemical fertilisers can wash into waterways, polluting rivers and oceans.
A farm of 5,000 pigs can produce as much waste as a town of 20,000 people. When left untreated, this waste can pollute soil, surface water, and even run off into oceans and pollute underground drinking water.5
Agriculture uses 70% of the planet's fresh water, and animal protein production consumes five to 10 times more water than a plant-based diet.6 It takes 4,800 litres of water to produce 1kg of pork, 3,900 litres for 1kg of chicken and just 1,300 litres of water to produce 1 kg of wheat; 900 litres to produce 1kg of maize.7
"[F]rom a freshwater resource perspective, it is more efficient to obtain calories, protein and fat through crop products than animal products.8
In fact, leading water scientists recently issued a warning that we would need to reduce our consumption of animal protein to a quarter of current levels to conserve sufficient water to feed the estimated global population in 2050.9
You can find out more about the devastating environmental impacts of livestock production by watching Meat the Truth - an engaging and thought provoking feature that picks up where Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth left off...
Factory farming does not present the answer to the world's food needs. On the contrary, the grain-feeding of confined animals actually uses more food than it produces.
At a time when the UN estimates that 868 million people are suffering from hunger in the world10, over a third of the world's cereal harvest is fed to farm animals.11 If it were used directly for human consumption it would feed about three billion people.12
On average, it takes around 6 kilograms of plant protein - that could be consumed directly by humans - to produce just 1 kilogram of animal protein.13
According to Oxfam, increasing demand for grain to feed intensive livestock is likely to push food prices further beyond the reach of the world's poorest people.14 Oxfam recently endorsed eating less meat as part of its GROW campaign to fight global hunger.15
An alarming October 2012 report from the United Nations Environment Programme also identified the need for lower consumption of meat and dairy products in developed countries as one of the key recommendations to safeguarding the ecological foundations that support food production.16
Australians eat approximately 310 grams of meat per person per day.17 This is more than 3 times the maximum recommended daily intake in the Australian Government's National Health and Medical Research Councils' Healthy Eating Guidelines.18 Eating large amounts of red and processed meats can have serious negative human health impacts: it has been linked to higher rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.19,20 Recent research conducted by Harvard University showed that eating a deck-of-cards-sized portion of processed red meat like bacon or hot dogs each day can boost a person's risk of mortality by up to 20 percent.21
"We are more sure now than ever before that eating processed meat increases your risk of bowel cancer and this is why the World Cancer Research Fund recommends that people avoid eating it. The evidence is that whether you are talking about bacon, ham or pastrami, the safest amount to eat is none at all." - Professor Martin Wiseman, Medical and Scientific Adviser for World Cancer Research Fund
The conditions on a typical factory farm, where animals are forced to live in close proximity to one another in cramped spaces, can increase the risk of diseases being transmitted. In combination with the mass-feeding of antibiotics to factory farmed animals, regardless of whether they are sick or not (more than half of all antibiotics produced globally are fed to farm animals202), this system poses a real risk to human health as it increases the chances of antibiotic-resistant 'superbugs' developing, for which there won't be any effective treatment left to cure humans.
A recent statement by over 150 scientists with expertise in antibiotic resistance concluded that "Hundreds of scientific research studies and analyses by international scientific bodies support the conclusion that the overuse of critical human drugs in food animal production is linked to human diseases increasingly impervious to antibiotic treatment, putting human lives at unnecessary risk."23
Further, factory farms, with their focus on keeping high numbers of animals in confined spaces, provide the perfect environment for the development and spread of infectious zoonotic diseases (diseases passed from animals to humans). Factory farms have been linked to the spread of many parasites, bacteria and viruses, such as swine flu, bird flu, E.coli and salmonella - all of which have caused human deaths. Public health bodies have been warning about the human health risks posed by factory farms for years. In fact in 2003, The American Public Health Association called for a moratorium on factory farms and in 2008 a U.S. Commission on Industrial Farm Production concluded that industrialised animal agriculture posed 'unacceptable' public health risks.24
Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials, United Nations Environment Programme (2010)  2010/2011 consumption based on Australian Bureau of Statistics, Meat and Livestock Australia and National Australia Bank figures
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