A United Nations report has identified the world’s rapidly growing herds of cattle as the greatest threat to the climate, forests and wildlife. This 400-page report by the Food and Agricultural Organization also blamed the ruin to sheep, chickens, pigs and goats. But the world’s 1.5 billion cattle are most to blame.
Perhaps the report’s most striking discovery is that the livestock business is responsible for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than transport (car, planes and other forms of transport). Henning Steinfeld, Chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior author of the report said: “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”
The report, entitled Livestock’s long shadow, says the “livestock industry is degrading land, contributing to the greenhouse effect, polluting water resources, and destroying biodiversity. In summary, the sector is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale.”
Burning fuel to produce fertilizer to grow feed, to produce meat and to transport it – and clearing vegetation for grazing – produces 9 per cent of all emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. And their wind and manure emit more than one third of emissions of another gas, methane, which warms the world 20 times faster than carbon dioxide. In addition, Livestock also produces more than 100 other polluting gases, including more than two-thirds of the world’s emissions of ammonia, one of the main causes of acid rain.
Livestock business utilizes a lot of land, occupying 26% of Earth’s ice-free land. Their pastures account for 70% of deforested areas in the Amazon, and their feed occupies one-third of global cropland. Ranching has become “the major driver of deforestation” worldwide, and overgrazing is turning a fifth of all pastures and ranges into desert.
Also, the livestock negatively affects the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution. The major polluting agents are animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers, and the pesticides used to spray feed crops. The pollution washes down to the sea, killing coral reefs and creating “dead zones” devoid of life.
In addition, widespread overgrazing disturbs water cycles, reducing replenishment of above and below ground water resources. Significant amounts of water are withdrawn for the production of feed. Cows also soak up vast amounts of water: it takes a staggering 990 liters of water to produce one liters of milk. This includes raising the feed for the cows in addition to the water supply the livestock needs.
The authors of the report concluded that the demand for meat is expected to be more than double by 2050 and therefore the environmental impact of production must be halved in order to avoid worsening the harmful impacts of the industry.
The animal based diet of man is clearly the # 1 reason for this problem. If humans use more plant-based foods in their diet, this problem will be solved.