Animal Aid

Wrecking the planet

"In environmental terms, meat-eating is a costly habit. The world's livestock herds consume increasing quantities of land, energy, and water. A quarter of the earth's landmass is used as pasture for livestock; more than half the farmland in the USA is devoted to beef production.

"While it takes, on average, 25 gallons (113 litres) of water to produce a pound of wheat in modern Western farming systems, it requires an astonishing 2,500 gallons (11,250 litres) of water to produce a pound of meat.

"Throughout the world, livestock herds accelerate erosion and desertification; 85% of topsoil loss in the USA is attributed to livestock ranching, for example."

Joni Seager, The State of The Environment Atlas, Penguin Books, 1995.

Filling a water tank for cattle

Environmental devastation caused by sheep farming

Sheep probably paid the highest price for the flooding during the autumn and winter of 2000/2001 - flooding that looks set to become increasingly common. Thousands of animals have literally drowned in the fields or died as a result of the relentless rain and wind, from which they have no shelter.

But as well as the price imposed on the animals themselves, sheep farmers are identified as being part responsible for the flooding. "We've focused on the water, but it's not the river that generates floods," Ann Sansom, a rural land use officer in the northeast region, told The Guardian (Nov 15, 2000). She believes that a huge increase in sheep numbers has stopped the moors functioning as they always did - as giant sponges.

In the 1860s, Britain's sheep population was about eight million. Today, thanks to EU subsidies, there are more than 35 million. Sansom and other ecologists say that the fragile uplands can't support more than 1.5 sheep per hectare. But some moors have seven to the hectare and never get the chance to recover because animals remain there all year, trampling the land and stripping back the vegetation, including heather.

With vegetation stripped away and the land puddled, the water pours off the hills ever faster. Doubling a river's speed increases its erosive power fourfold and its power to carry sediment 64 times. As riverbeds are gouged deeper and deeper, lethal flash floods become common. Meanwhile, topsoil is washed into the rivers, killing fish and wildlife, and reservoirs become choked. Overstocking of sheep also prevents water soaking into the ground as a result of the surface becoming sealed. With water unable to percolate into the aquifers that are a crucial source of drinking water, they fail to recharge and floods are followed by droughts. (From The Guardian Society, November 15, 2000)

Dead sheep

Environmentally deadly pig and chicken farms

Nitrogen emissions from intensive pig and chicken farms are as bad for the atmosphere as belching chimney stacks and emissions from power stations, according to a survey by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria. (The Observer July 25, 1999)

These nitrogen emissions are killing woods and forests at the same rate as the effects of industrial pollution. Plumes of nitrogen chemicals, mostly compounds of ammonia, have been detected pouring into the air from animal farms, stripping local coniferous forests of their pines and suffocating them.

The emissions - most of them from the animal farms' growing piles of manure - are causing serious damage to woodland in some areas. In Denmark and Holland, where large pig and chicken farms are a major industry, precious heathlands are being destroyed.

Animal farming and global warming

Farmed cows and sheep generate about one-fifth of the world's methane production - thus contributing significantly to global warming. With 2.2 million dairy cows in the UK, that is 230,000 tonnes of methane every year, to which must be added the output from beef cattle and sheep. (The Guardian August 9, 2000)

Carbon dioxide is another important contributor to global warming, according to David Gee, former Director of Friends of the Earth. He believes that the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from the production of each pound of steak is equivalent to driving 25 miles in a car.

Rainforest destruction

Livestock farming is also a major source of rainforest destruction. Forests are cleared so that cattle can be grazed to produce beefburgers. Eventually, grazing destroys the fertility of the soil and the cattle are moved on to yet more cleared forest. This process is known as "hamburgerisation".

Pig in cage

Since 1970, "farmers and ranchers have converted more than 20 million hectares of Latin America's moist tropical forests to cattle pasture." (Taking Stock, Worldwatch Paper No 103, Alan B Durning and Holly B Brough)

Livestock farming and water pollution / consumption

Livestock farming is one of the biggest sources of water pollution. The Meat Trades Journal itself has stated that, in the UK, "the list of companies which have been prosecuted by the National Rivers Authority for pollution offences reads like a Who's Who of the meat and food industry". Around one quarter of the agricultural water pollution incidents recorded by the UK National Rivers Authority are related to dairy farming.


As well as being a major cause of pollution, animal farming is inefficient in its use of water. Vegetarians need less than a third as much water to sustain their diet as meat eaters do - an important advantage in a world increasingly concerned by shortages.

See also Eat less meat - feed the world.

Go Veggie - it's easier than you think.

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