Sunday, May 19, 2024

Vegan for the Environment

Veganism is beneficial for the environment for a number of reasons:

  • Land Use:
    • Animal Agriculture is an inefficient way to produce food, as crops are fed to animals instead of to people directly.
  • Deforestation:
    • Amazon forests are being cut down at the rate of 10 football fields every minute, in order to create pasture for grazing cattle.
  • Greenhouse Gases:
    • The livestock sector produces more greenhouse gases than the direct emissions from all forms of transport.
  • Species decline and biodiversity:
    • Animal agriculture has eroded biodiversity by removing habitats occupied by wildlife such as trees, ponds, hedgerows and scrub.
  • Food Waste:
    • The meat equivalent of 75 million animals each year is thrown away, and 40% of fish caught in trawler nets are thrown back (dead) into the sea.
  • Oceans and Fishing:
    • 90% of the world’s marine stocks are now either fully exploited or over-exploited.
  • Fish Farms:
    • The Scottish industry feeds as much fish to its salmon as is eaten by the entire UK population.
  • Water Pollution:
    • Animal agriculture pollutes rivers and groundwater.
  • Water Use:
    • It takes 15,000 litres of water to produce one kilogramme of meat.
  • Zoonotic Diseases:
    • Intensive animal agriculture presents a real threat in the form of zoonotic diseases and pandemics.
  • Antibiotics:
    • Most of the world’s antibiotics are fed to animals. Because of the high levels of antibiotic use, bacteria are becoming resistant to these drugs, leading to increased antimicrobial resistance in humans.

Below is a list of academic research papers which support the above statements:

Land Use:

  1. “Transitioning to plant-based diets (PBDs) has the potential to reduce diet-related land use by 76%.”: Plant-Based Dietary Patterns for Human and Planetary Health (Gibbs, J. and Cappuccio, F.P.  2022).
  2. “Animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land, but delivers only 18% of our calories”: Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers (J.Poore and T. Nemecek,  2018).
  3. “It takes more than 20 times the amount of land to produce one gram of protein from beef or lamb, compared with nuts or beans.” – Our World in Data.
  4. “It takes 16 kilos of grain to produce one kilo of beef.” – Livestock’s Long Shadow (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) 2006.
  5. Soya:
    • Almost 80% of the world’s soybean crops is fed to livestock, especially for beef, chicken, egg and dairy production (milk, cheeses, eggs, yoghurt, etc.). (Source: WWF)
    • Only about 6% of soybeans grown worldwide are turned directly into food products for human consumption. The rest either enter the food chain indirectly as animal feed, or are used to make vegetable oil or non-food products such as biodiesel. (Source)
    • The Story of Soy – from Vegan Sustainability Magazine.


  1. The Amazon rainforest and other tropical forests are being destroyed at the rate of 10 football fields every minute.  (Source: CNN).
  2. “More than 90% of fires in the Amazon are started deliberately to clear trees so the land can be used for cattle ranching or crop cultivation. Beef consumes more of the forest than any other commodity. There are now 90 million cows in the Amazon, grazing on an area of cleared land the size of France. The world’s rainforest has degraded perilously close to a stage where it can no longer regenerate.”  (The Guardian).
  3. “Agriculture is the driver for around 80% of deforestation worldwide.” – Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Degradation: by Gabrielle KissinGer, Martin Herold, Veronique de Sy.
  4. “Livestock are responsible for 80% of Amazon deforestation” – Interactions among Amazon land use, forests and climate: prospects for a near-term forest tipping point: Nepstad, D. 2008.
  5. “30% of global forest cover has been cleared, while another 20% has been degraded.  Most of the rest has been fragmented, leaving only about 15% intact.” – World Resources Institute.

Greenhouse gases:

  1. The livestock sector produces more greenhouse gases than the direct emissions from all forms of transport. Transport produces about 14% of all emissions from human activities. Animal agriculture produces between 14.5% and 37% of global emissions:
    • The FAO estimates all direct and indirect emissions from livestock (cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and poultry) at 14.5% of all anthropogenic emissions. (However, recent studies put this figure somewhere between 16.5% and 28%).  
    • Our World in Data, referring to studies by Poore & Nemecek, 2018 and Crippa et al, 2021, states that meat, dairy, eggs, fish and plant foods are responsible for “as much as 37% of greenhouse gas emissions globally.”
  2. Methane (a greenhouse gas produced by livestock) is 84 times more potent than CO2 over a 20 year period, after which it decays into CO2.  (IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, 2014).
  3. By eliminating animal agriculture we can help to mitigate the worst effects of climate change in a much shorter time frame than we can by reducing CO2.  (Eating our way to Extinction).
  4. Rapid global phaseout of animal agriculture has the potential to stabilize greenhouse gas levels for 30 years and offset 68 percent of CO2 emissions this century.  (Paper by Eisen and Brown, 2022).
  5. Animal Products Cause 83.5% Of Dietary Emissions.  (Paper by Heller et al, 2018).
  6. “Even if fossil fuel emissions were immediately halted, current trends in global food systems would prevent the achievement of the 1.5°C target and, by the end of the century, threaten the achievement of the 2°C target.” (Paper by Clark et al, 2020).
  7. Business as usual will result in GHG emissions associated with food consumption to increase by 51% by 2050. (Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change, Springmann et al, 2016).

Species decline and biodiversity:

  1. 41% of species in Britain have declined since 1970, while 1 in 7 of its wildlife species faces extinction:  State of Nature report, 2019.
  2. Globally, wild species have declined by 60% since 1970: The Living Planet Report, WWF, 2018.
  3. We must move to a plant-based diet in order to reverse biodiversity loss:  Food system impacts on biodiversity loss.  Chatham House, 2021.
  4. A plant-based diet would free up 75% of the world’s land for wildlife:  Our World in Data.

Food Waste:

  1. Of the 263 million tonnes of meat produced every year globally, a fifth (53 million tonnes) is wasted – the equivalent of 75 million cows: Preventing nutrient loss and waste across the food system: Policy actions for high-quality diets.  Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems, 2018.
  2. Around 40% of all fish caught are thrown back into the sea – mostly dead, dying or badly injured.  These are referred to as ‘bycatch’ – ie. types of fish that people don’t normally eat: Defining and estimating global marine fisheries bycatch.  Davies et al, 2009.

Oceans and Fishing:

  1. According to the UN, 90% of the world’s marine fish stocks are now fully exploited, overexploited or depleted.  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
  2. The planet has lost 90% of all large fish since the 1950s.  (He, F. et al. Glob. Change Biol)  published in Nature, 2019.
  3. Ocean acidification and ocean warming are being caused by increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.
  4. Nitrogen pollution (caused by runoff from agriculture) is one of the main causes of ocean dead zones.  (National Geographic). Ocean dead zones are areas which are depleted of oxygen where organisms and fish cannot thrive.
  5. Fishing, over-fishing and trawler fishing are decimating fish populations.  (WWF).
  6. Today, about 7 metric tons of fish are caught per 1,000 kilometers. In the 1950s the average over the same distance was 25 metric tons. (Far from Home: Distance patterns of global fishing fleets. Tickler et al, 2018).
  7. The global seabird population has declined by 70% between 1950 and 2010. (Paleczny et al, 2015).
  8. The majority of the plastic waste in our oceans is from discarded fishing gear.  (Greenpeace report).

Farmed Fish:

  1. It takes 460,000 tonnes of wild-caught fish to produce 179,000 tonnes of farmed salmon.  Maximising sustainable nutrient production from coupled fisheries-aquaculture systems. Willer et al, 2022.
  2. Conditions on fish farms are horrific, with fish suffering from disease and deformities. Eurogroup for Animals
  3. Massive quantities of antibiotics are added to the water.  Does the Recent Growth of Aquaculture Create Antibiotic Resistance Threats Different from those Associated with Land Animal Production in Agriculture?  Done et al, 2015.
  4. Locals complain of pollution.  Seafood Watch.
  5. Farmed fish are also fed genetically-modified corn and soy, which is being grown in the Amazon on deforested land.  Global Seafood Alliance.

Water Pollution:

  1. Slurry and runoff from pig farms pollute rivers and groundwater. (Friends of the Earth).
  2. “The most dangerous pollution sources are intensive agricultural activity and livestock farming, whose production waste has a negative impact on soil and water quality.” – The impact of livestock farming activity on the quality of surface water, Cesonien et al, 2019.
  3. Two-thirds of cattle farms in North Devon cause river pollution. (The Guardian).

Water use:

  1. “It takes 15,000 litres of water to produce one kilogramme of meat.” – Jose Graziano Da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisaion of the United Nations.
  2. Up to 85% of the fresh water used is for agriculture and food processing.
  3. Beef consumes 60 times more water than grain, per kcal produced. 
  4. It takes a thousand litres of water to produce one litre of milk. 

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR):

  1. Animals raised in intensive farms are regularly dosed with high levels of antibiotics, to halt the spread of infection.
  2. 73% of the world’s antibiotics are fed to animals.
  3. Because of the high levels of antibiotic use, bacteria are becoming resistant to these drugs, leading to increased antimicrobial resistance in humans. (Antibiotics Overuse in Animal Agriculture: A Call to Action for Health Care Providers, Martin et al, 2015).
  4. A 2016 review on antimicrobial resistance estimates that by 2050, as many as ten million people could die each year as a result of AMR.

Zoonotic Diseases:

  1. Zoonotic diseases are those which originate in animals and then spread to humans. Examples include COVID-19, SARS, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Measles, Spanish Flu and other flu viruses. (See table for a list).
  2. This article argues that governments in countries that currently permit intensive animal agriculture – especially but not exclusively high-income countries – are, in principle, morally justified in taking steps to restrict or even eliminate intensive animal agriculture to protect public health from the risk of zoonotic pandemics.  A Public Health Ethics Case for Mitigating Zoonotic Disease Risk in Food Production, Bernstein, J & Dutkiewicz, J, 2021.
  3. Zoonotic Diseases (from Vegan Sustainability Magazine).
  4. Zoonotic Diseases (from Faunalytics).

Vegan and Plant Based Diet:

  1. “In addition to climate mitigation gains, a transition towards more plant-based consumption and reduced consumption of animal-based foods, particularly from ruminant animals, could reduce pressure on forests and land used for feed, support the preservation of biodiversity and planetary health, and contribute to preventing forms of malnutrition (i.e. undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, and obesity) in developing countries. Other co-benefits include lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and reducing mortality from diet-related non-communicable diseases.” (Source:  Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change, IPCC Sixth Assessment Report).
  2. Current levels of crop production are sufficient to provide enough food for the projected global population of 9.7 billion in 2050, as long as there is a global move to a plant based diet. (Berners Lee et al, 2018).
  3. Global veganism would save 8.1 million lives plus the countless lives of other species, as well as healthcare-related savings and avoided climate damages of $1.5 trillion (US). (Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change, Springmann et al, 2016).
  4. This study found that found that vegans have just 30% of the dietary environmental impact of meat eaters. (Vegans, vegetarians, fish-eaters and meat-eaters in the UK show discrepant environmental impacts. Scarborough et al, 2023).


  1. Irish Agriculture: Facts and Statistics.

More links on the Environment.

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