The Environmental Benefits of a Vegan Diet
Environmentally, we pay a high cost to raise animals for food. Cattle ranching in South America, which is globally ranked as the second-most environmentally damaging regional industry (coal is the first), is responsible for around $354 billion of damage to the environment a year. (Source: http://www.environmentalleader.com/2013/04/17/coal-cattle-ranching-most-environmentally-costly-businesses)
The environmental damage comes from emissions, followed by soil and water pollution and waste. In fact, about a third of all raw materials and half of the water used in the United States is required to raise animals for food. Farming is responsible for the majority of the pollution in North America and there are estimates that it is responsible for 85% of the soil erosion in the US.
A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. You might be surprised to learn that 87% of the agricultural land in the United States is devoted to raising meat producing animals. And those animals produce methane gas which has a decidedly significant impact on global warming.
It has been reported that livestock produce up to twenty times more waste than the entire human population produces. That totals to more than two hundred and thirty thousand pounds of animal waste every second. While this may not be surprising to you, you might not know that twenty five thousand square miles of trees and rain forest are destroyed each year to raise food producing animals.
Slaughterhouses dump millions of pounds of toxic pollutants – primarily nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonia – into waterways. Eight slaughterhouses are consistently among the nation’s top 20 industrial polluters of surface water, responsible for discharging 13.6 million kilos (30 million lbs) of contaminants – primarily nitrates – in 2009 (EPA 2009). Nitrates are a significant source of drinking water contamination in agricultural communities nationwide. Excessive amounts of these pollutants lead to massive fish kills and oxygen-deprived “dead zones” where no marine life can survive.
–Environmental Working Group
These are the drawbacks of living in and participating in a meat dominant society. However, as you may well know, every single person can make a significant impact on the environment. By reducing the amount of animal food products you consume, you’re helping to improve the environment. The authors of a University of Chicago study concluded that it would be more environmentally beneficial to go vegan than to switch to a gasoline-electric hybrid car, because of the vast amount of emissions created by raising and distributing livestock.
If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would:
- Save 100 billion gallons of water;
- Save 70 million gallons of gas;
- Save 3 million acres of land;
- Prevent 1.2 million tons of CO2 emissions;
- Prevent 3 million tons of soil erosion and $70 million in resulting economic damages; and
- Be like not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
And while it’s not an environmental cost, pound for pound, calorie for calorie, it’s much cheaper to be a vegan. Meat and dairy are the most costly items in your supermarket produce section. A pound of carrots may cost only a dollar or two. A pound of meat costs around six dollars, and that price is increasing due to the rising cost of production.
One additional reason many people turn to a vegan diet is because it is cruelty free. After viewing films like Food, Inc. and learning more about how our food is produced, your attitude and your perception of animal based foods may change.
(Sources for stats: PETA, EWG)