Environmental Impact of Animal Agriculture


Wide-scale animal agriculture has an enormous ecological footprint. The greenhouse gas emissions of the meat industry are greater than every plane, train, car, and boat – put together.   Overall, livestock agriculture (including all cows, pigs, and sheep) is responsible for about 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Animal agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption and at least 50% of grain is fed to livestock.  Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.

According to Cowspiracy:


  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.
  • Transportation exhaust is responsible for 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Methane is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 on a 20 year time frame.
  • Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day.
  • Even without fossil fuels, we will exceed our 565 gigatonnes CO2e limit by 2030, all from raising animals.


  • Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) water use ranges from 70-140 billion gallons annually.
  • Animal agriculture water consumption ranges from 34-76 trillion gallons annually.
  • Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption.
  • Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US.
  • Californians use 1500 gallons of water per person per day. Close to Half is associated with meat and dairy products.
  • 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef.
  • 477 gallons of water are required to produce 1lb. of eggs;  almost 900 gallons of water are needed for 1lb. of cheese.
  • 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk.
  • 5% of water consumed in the US is by private homes. 55% of water consumed in the US is for animal agriculture.
  • Animal Agriculture is responsible for 20%-33% of all fresh water consumption in the world today.


  • Livestock or livestock feed occupies 1/3 of the earth’s ice-free land.
  • Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land.
  • Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.
  • 2-5 acres of land are used per cow.
  • Nearly half of the contiguous US is devoted to animal agriculture.
  • 1/3 of the planet is desertified, with livestock as the leading driver.


  • Every minute, 7 million pounds of excrement are produced by animals raised for food in the US.
  • A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people.
  • 130 times more animal waste than human waste is produced in the US – 1.4 billion tons from the meat industry annually. 5 tons of animal waste is produced per person in the US.
  • In the U.S. livestock produce 116,000 lbs of waste per second.


  • 3/4 of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted.
  • We could see fishless oceans by 2048.
  • 90-100 million tons of fish are pulled from our oceans each year.
  • As many as 2.7 trillion animals are pulled from the ocean each year.
  • For every 1 pound of fish caught, up to 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill.   [viii]
  • Scientists estimate as many as 650,000 whales, dolphins and seals are killed every year by fishing vessels.


  • Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.
  • 1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second.
  • The leading causes of rainforest destruction are livestock and feedcrops.
  • Up to137 plant, animal and insect species are lost every day due to rainforest destruction.
  • 26 million rainforest acres (10.8m hectares) have been cleared for palm oil production.
  • 136 million rainforest acres cleared for animal agriculture.
  • 1,100 Land activists have been killed in Brazil in the past 20 years.


  • 414 billion dollars in externalized cost from animal ag.
  • 80% of antibiotic sold in the US are for livestock.
  • 70 billion farmed animals are reared annually worldwide. More than 6 million animals are killed for food every hour.
  • Throughout the world, humans drink 5.2 billion gallons of water and eat 21 billion pounds of food each day.
  • Worldwide, cows drink 45 billion gallons of water and eat 135 billion pounds of food each day.
  • We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people.
  • Worldwide, at least 50% of grain is fed to livestock.
  • 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries
  • 15x more protein on any given area of land with plants, rather than animals.
  • The average American consumes 209 pounds of meat per year.
  • A person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a meat-lover for their food.
  • Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 sq ft of forested land, 20 lbs CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life.

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More Sustainable Animal Agriculture Options

Just in case you’re not willing to give meat up completely here’s some alternatives to reduce your impact

  • Reducing meat consumption (Meatless Mondays, become a pescatarian, etc)
  • Buying more sustainable and humane raised meat
    • Find local sources close to you at Eat Wild
  • Never order, Foie grasLamb (Baby Sheep) and Veal
  • Support research on meat grown in a lab
  • Understand “Humane” Egg Labels
  • Ignore these labels because they don’t mean anything: natural, naturally raised, no added hormones, united egg producers  certified, USDA process verified, vegetarian fed
  • Look for these certification labels with different levels of humane treatments

Animal Welfare Approved ” is the highest standard

awa-logo-final       ch    ahc-logo-tm-400x400

These logos also include some humane standards

foodalliancecertified  certifiedusdaorganic  cngcolorlogoamericangrassfedcertified

This is a 1-5 animal welfare rating program where 1 is basically conventional industry standards and 5 is the most humane.  Look for products with a 4, 5, and 5 + rating. globalanimalpartnership

For more information about each label and there standards click on the below link

Humane Certification Labels

  • If your grocery store doesn’t have humane certification products take the ACSPCA Supermarket Request Letter to it.
    • If you don’t find certified products where you shop, the best thing to do is to ask for them and show business owners that there is a market for more humane treatment of animals. Our supermarket request letter is easy to print and give to store managers in person, or to send in an email; it asks them to carry products from more humane farms and to stock up on plant-based options. If enough people ask, they will answer, so share it with your friends and family! Share this list of certified brands with your store manager and take the pledge to Shop With Your Heart to receive more great resources.
    • Take our product request letter to your favorite markets. [PDF/JPG]
  • Look for humane dairies on the Buy Better Dairy database 



All the things listed above our great practices but unfortunately they are only band-aids.  The only way to ensure you don’t contribute to animal cruelty and the number one source of pollution in the world is to become vegan.