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Livestock Industry's Real Cost to Environment

In 2007 when the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organisation released its 400+ page report titled 'Livestock's Long Shadow' there was one little problem. It estimated the livestock industry's contribution of greenhouse gases at 18% while failing to consider at least 10 other ways in which this environmentally destructive industry contributes GHG. World Watch Institute reports a study showing that this industry actually contributes a whopping 51% GHG, meaning that shutting down fossil fuel industry is not going to be enough, given that livestock numbers are predicted to double in the next few decades.

Biggest Source of Emissions is Not Transport

If all the organisations claiming climate change is anthropogenic are serious why aren't they recommending that people adopt a plant-based diet?

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) report titled Livestock's Long Shadow,(1) 18% of greenhouse gases (GHG) come from the livestock industry, which is more than the entire transport sector (14%).

GHG From Livestock More than Reported

However this estimate was proved to be grossly underestimated by two environmental specialists at the World Bank, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang who estimated it is closer to a whopping 51%. Their report was published in a magazine of World Watch Institute (2). Because the UNFAO report excludes:-

a) GHGs attributable to refrigerants used for livestock products, such as chlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and perfluorocarbons. Most of these gases have a global warming potential that is hundreds or thousands of times stronger than that of CO2. Additionally, considerably more refrigerants are needed for livestock products than for meat/dairy/egg alternatives as well as the fact that byproducts are more numerous than those attributable to meat/dairy/egg alternatives.

b) first of all the UNFAO neglected to count not only the Co2 in livestock exhalation but also the fact that the CO2 exhaled by livestock may be larger than the same amount of CO2 emitted from any other industry because other industries emit CO2 with particulates (such as sulfates) believed to have a cooling effect that offsets CO2's warming effect, while breath has no such particulates.

c) emissions attributable to carbon reduction foregone by using land to graze livestock and grow feed. A foregone reduction of any magnitude has exactly the same effect as an increase in emissions of the same magnitude. Carbon reduction available from land used for livestock and feed is the only feasible way to absorb a significant amount of today's atmospheric carbon in the short term.

d) the fact that FAO's own statistical division says that there were 56 billion livestock in 2007, not 21.7 billion which changes the figures substantially.

e) GHGs attributable to cooking livestock products. Meat typically requires cooking at higher temperatures and for longer periods than meat alternatives. Meat is often cooked using stoves, barbeques, and street vendors' facilities, which in developing countries are often fueled by charcoal or kerosene. These methods are widespread, highly inefficient and carbon intensive. They entail periods of heating and cooling for each cooking event, so are even more carbon-intensive per unit of thermal energy used than are coal-fired power plants.

f) GHGs emitted from livestock waste disposed in landfills or incinerators, either of which would emit significant amounts of GHGs.

g) the fact that a large proportion of livestock products becomes waste in the form of bone, fat, and past-the-due-date spoiled products. This waste is converted into rendered products, in processes that typically use significant amounts of energy.

h) GHGs resulting from the disposal of some livestock waste in waterways, where it kills algae that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

i) GHGs attributable to the production, distribution, and disposal of byproducts, such as products made of leather, feathers, skin and pelage, and their packaging. Additionally there are more GHGs used in the production of livestock byproducts than alternative products not made from livestock.

j) considering that the 2006 FAO report projects that the number of livestock will double within a few decades then GHGs from all other aspects of the livestock sector might double. So even if new feed for livestock was developed, manure was converted to biogas and was somehow affordable to the developing world and implemented, this would only mitigate a few percent of GHGs worldwide and with the doubling of livestock numbers the situation would be worse than today.


Authors: Robert Goodland retired as lead environmental adviser at the World Bank Group after serving for 23 years. In 2008 he was awarded the first Coolidge Memorial Medal by the IUCN for outstanding contributions to environmental conservation. Jeff Anhang is a research officer and environmental specialist at the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation, which provides private-sector financing and advice in developing countries.

Livestock Industry's Other Dark Side

It's time we shut down the livestock industry. Even if people don't believe in anthropogenic global warming there are other negative effects of the livestock industry, such as(4):-

* Uses 50% water used for all purposes
* Causes massive biodiversity loss
* Causes deforestation
* Water pollution from fertilisers and manure
* Hoofed animals cause soil erosion
* Contributes to world hunger

If each of us cuts back then eliminates entirely dairy and meat we WILL shut down the industry due to lack of demand.

How do I Adopt a Plant-Based Diet?

Online free recipes for a plant-based diet can be found at

Eating a plant-based diet is delicious, compassionate and gives human optimum health as humans are 100% herbivore.(3) Nothing to lose-the planet is worth saving!

PS Eating kangaroo is not the answer either.(5)


5. +


Humans will eat anything that moves, even horses!
While some of Australia's annual horse slaughter for human consumption (nearly all of it exported) is made up of wild animals, and some from the ranks of discarded pets, most estimates suggest the vast majority is a by-product of our thoroughbred and standardbred industry. The figures on Australia's export of horse meat for human consumption (in 2008/09 it was 2649 tonnes, with Russia taking 46 per cent, Switzerland and Belgium 14 per cent each, France 13 per cent) parallel the thoroughbred industry's figures on breeding

Horses are part of our success as a species. They have trustfully gone into war with us, and suffered horrific injuries and deaths due to their misguided and obedient trust. They have carried our loads, walked the miles, and been faithful companions. They have made people wealthy through racing and entertainment, and have been delightful pets. They are part of our history and folklore, but they still qualify as "meat"! Where does the stomach, the head and our souls ever meet? We may as well be gastropods if we eat horse meat!

A diet of nuts, fruits and grain is what Adam and Eve were given in the Garden of Eden before sin:

“And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.” - Genesis 1:29-30.

From the very beginning God has always intended for human and animals to nourish themselves of the natural foods of the earth. These are the “meats” that God has always wanted us to have as our diet. The word “meat” here simply means “food.”

Death has never been part of God’s plan for mankind, not in food, or in anything else. Death only came about because of sin.
The first time the children of Israel ate meat after the exodus is recorded in Numbers chapter 11.

One will notice while reading through this whole chapter that God did not really want to give them the flesh meat for their diet. In fact, as they cried in their lust for flesh meat, God told them that they will get their desire; in fact, they will get a whole month of meat, even until it leaks from their noses! (verses’ 19-20).

Yet, to show them He did not want them eating meat at all, whether clean or unclean, he allowed them to have the lust of their hearts, and they reaped what they sowed, sickness and death.

Eating meat was a concession to human weakness, to lust, not as a "right", yet many of today's Christians relish quantities of meat products, even ignoring the cruelty of modern industrial animal production.

All the nourishment should therefore be in nuts, fruits and grains! Our planet would be healthier if people simply ate less meat and more of the real food.

Whilst I do not advocate the unhealthy consumption of meat most Australians practice, I hardly think the alleged diet of Adam and Eve can be used to argue against the consumption of meat - least of all to indigenous Australians. It is well documented that the first Australians supplemented their diet with the consumption of many animals ranging from small mice right up to kangaroos, emus and even dingoes. I don't think anybody can argue this fact.

The industrial scale factory farming and other livestock practices (including live sheep exports) are completely unacceptable both environmentally and ethically. This does not however let agricultural practices involving plants off the hook completely. For example it can be argued that rice farming throughout the globe (including Australia) is responsible for much environmental degradation and is reliant on huge amounts of water. Further, the production of rice is possibly the largest contributor of worldwide anthropogenic methane emissions.

What I said: "All the nourishment should therefore be in nuts, fruits and grains! Our planet would be healthier if people simply ate less meat and more of the real food". The extent of hunting over gathering has probably been exaggerated by historians and anthropologists to justify our own level of livestock consumption. Eating meat is optional, and hunting would have supplemented the main source of food, gathering! The amount of rice eaten, and the damage done, is still shadowed by the amount of grains fed directly to livestock rather than to human populations.
Professor Edgar Hertwich, a lead author of the report "Half of World Crop is Feeding Animals, not People", sums up its findings: "Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels."
Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. The amount of corn and oats required to produce one 8 oz. beef steak, could fill the bowls of at least 45 hungry humans.
Indigenous humans lived at a subsistence level, withing their own territories. Now people can eat meat sourced from around the world and have little concept of its impacts.

I couldn't agree more that the main source of food was (by far) that which was obtained by gathering. I don't agree that hunter gatherers considered meat to be optional otherwise they wouldn't have bothered, it took a lot of energy to hunt the animals they consumed. This highlights an important point you have made : the consumption of meat by any living thing should require an enormous amount of effort on the part of that individual or individuals. Humans have completely bypassed this important rule of nature and that includes virtually every self proclaimed "hunter" today that uses a gun including indigenous peoples. Buying meat from a shop obviously takes this total disregard of nature's law even further. The whole concept that you can obtain food whether it be animal or vegetable simply by having enough money rather than using your own energy or ingenuity flys in the face of what is truly sustainable.

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the significance of the methane contribution that rice farming makes. Worldwide agricultural practices for food production can hardly be described as environmentally friendly and unfortunately many crops such as beans also require refrigeration from the moment they are picked.

I have no doubt the world would be a better place if all of us stopped eating meat however I don't believe that the argument used by vegetarians/vegans that humans are not supposed to eat meat is a winnable one.

Have to agree, Scott.

The only thing less friendly to wildlife than a cattle or sheep station is a field of corn, beans, ... a field of any crop.

Not a cockatoo, not a parrot, not a roo, not a possum is welcome in a grain-farmer's field.

At least other creatures are able to share with the cattle and sheep, even if the farmer doesn't like it.

Vegetarianism is a nice ideal - if you aren't in the business of growing and selling the crops.

Let's face it: more humans, more grain crops means less biodiversity. It's not a solution.

We need to stop breeding up and clearing land for food and housing.

"Vegetarianism is a nice ideal". Julian Cribb is the principal of Julian Cribb & Associates, specialists in science communication. He is Adjunct Professor in Science Communication at the University of Technology Sydney and a fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. Cribb is the author of The Coming Famine, a new book which argues that the world is heading for a food crisis fuelled by population growth and a mounting hunger for food, especially protein rich foods like meat, fish, dairy foods and eggs.
Vegetarianism will have to become more than a nice ideal! He says that recognising that 11 billion people cannot all eat like Americans or Australians and hope to survive on this planet, we need to refashion the world diet. That means one that involves far less energy, land, water, nutrients and pollution.
If we cannot double fish production as food demand doubles, then we will have to get the additional 100 million tonnes of meat from land animals. This will require a billion tonnes more grain and 1000 cubic kms of extra fresh water. This will mean more stress on intensive industrial farming, and more hormones. We can't ignore the ethics of eating, and meat still comes from animals!
It means returning to the sort of balanced nutrient intake our grandmothers would approve. One way to do this is to double the amount of vegetables in the diet, many produced in these new urban systems using recycled water and nutrients.
We tend to eat for reasons having less to do with nutrition and more to do with comfort, emotional attachment and tradition, and it's been said that changing one's diet is more difficult than changing religions.

Excellent comments, Milly.

Scott, humans are 100% herbivores - check The Comparative Anatomy of Eating of (undated) by Milton R. Mills, M.D.

Humans, animals and the earth would be better off if we adopted a plant-based diet.

Scott, while you may be right about the methane production of rice, I don't agree we need to eat rice, a raw vegan diet is better as you don't lose enzymes, heat-sensitive vitamins and half the protein from the cooking process.

I also agree that we need to stop breeding humans, although vegan humans have an infinitely smaller footprint than their necrivore counterparts.

Livestock farming have been responsible for a large majority of the forests that have been felled in Australia to date.

"It’s embarrassing for Australia that we eat our own wildlife ....I’m here to tell you it’s just not right. Simply do not buy, use or eat kangaroo products”
~ Steve Irwin
Sign the most important petition ever created to help kangar

Menkit I have to admit that when it comes to the technical aspects of nutrition such as denaturation of vitamins and the presence or absence of enzymes I'm a little out of my depth (especially in your company).

It is clear that the modern diet of most western individuals is composed primarily of what people want to eat rather than what they need to eat. Whilst we do not resemble carnivores in any way there are those that argue we do not resemble herbivores either. Many claim that the most similar species to humans are chimpanzees particularly in an anatomical, genetic and evolutionary sense. Whilst chimpanzees feed primarily on the "salad" of the forest, they do also kill and eat other animals (including other species of monkey) to supplement their diet.

I suppose they key word here is "supplement". As I stated before it should be much more difficult to obtain meat in a natural environment than it would be to gather nuts, fruits and other plant material that should constitute the bulk of what humans eat.

I don't believe the argument that humans should be vegetarians/vegans is winnable simply because indigenous societies did practice hunting and did supplement their diet with meat to varying degrees. I don't think anyone can claim that what they were doing was wrong. I understand they only hunted on a subsistence level but that doesn't alter the fact that they still bothered to hunt in order to eat meat.

I have read the article from the link you provided and it presents a compelling argument. There are equally compelling arguments put forward by other scientists that humans are indeed omnivores. An example is located on the Vegetarian Resource Group website here.

With the current world overpopulation problem, the question of whether we should or shouldn't eat meat is more of an environmental and ethical issue. We can't feed the billions of people on the planet today yet those with money in society behave more and more like carnivores everyday.

Subject was "Omnivore vs Herbivore?" - editor

In my considered opinion this omnivore vs herbivore argument . Each to his own I say.

Live and let die.

Bill Clinton has announced that he is "experimenting" with a vegan diet. He wants to avoid cholesterol and break up the calcium in his body. Clinton decided to adopt the diet in the early part of May. While he does occasionally eat fish, the former president otherwise follows a strict vegan diet. He has read many books on the topic, including the China Study.

This is wonderful news for those who are concerned for animals that are increasingly being manipulated and confined and bred for speed to keep up for the demands for meat and dairy.