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Impact of Animal Agriculture

The farm animal production sector is the single largest anthropogenic user of land, contributing to soil degradation, dwindling water supplies, & air pollution.
The animal agriculture sector also encompasses feed grain production which requires substantial water, energy, and chemical inputs, as well as energy expenditures to transport feed, live animals, and animal
products. All of this comes at a substantial cost to the environment.
One of animal agriculture’s greatest environmental impacts is its contribution to global warming and climate change...
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), the animal agriculture sector is responsible for approximately 14.5% of human-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
In nearly every step of meat, egg, and milk production, climate-changing gases are released into the atmosphere, potentially disrupting weather, temperature, and ecosystem health. Mitigating this serious problem requires
immediate and far-reaching changes in current...
... animal agriculture practices and consumption patterns.

Causes of Global Warming and Climate Change

Changes in climate can be influenced by both natural and human factors. One natural warming phenomenon is the greenhouse effect.
The greenhouse effect is a blanketing effect by which atmospheric greenhouse gases keep the earth’s surface warm.

Three important greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). In naturally occurring quantities, these gases are not...
...not harmful; their presence in the atmosphere helps to sustain life on the planet by trapping some heat near the Earth’s surface.While the most important human-influenced GHG may be carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are also extremely important for climate change.
Animal Ag. is a major emitter of all three of these major GHGs. The FAO’s November 2006 report,

“Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues & Options,” found that meat, egg, & milk production are responsible for an estimated 14.5%, or nearly one-fifth, of human-induced GHGs.
The climate changing impacts of the farm animal sector are projected to be significant for decades to come. A
2010 study in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences found that, based on projected product
demand, the sector’s GHG emissions may increase 39% by 2050.
This was estimated to account for 70% of what is considered a sustainable level of GHG emissions in 2050. In other words, farm animals alone are
projected to emit over two-thirds of the amount of GHGs considered safe by 2050.
Global Farm Animal Populations and Production Practices

Farm animals are significant contributors to the production of all three major GHGs, and, as their numbers grow, so do their emissions.
As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes, “GHG emissions from livestock are inherently tied to livestock population sizes because the livestock are either directly or indirectly the source for the emissions.”
Globally, according to the FAO, more than 75 billion land animals were raised for human consumption in 2012, joined by an untold number of aquatic animals.
“In recent years, industrial livestock production has grown at twice the rate of more traditional mixed farming systems and at more than six times the rate of production based on grazing,” according to a 2007 report about GHG
emissions from agriculture.
This inhumane and environmentally unsustainable trend toward industrial practices views farm animals as production units and focuses nearly exclusively on productivity as the sole output of these industries. Emphasizing productivity can often be at odds with animal welfare, as...
...intensified agricultural production practices of today typically confine animals in cages, crates, and pens without adequate space for animals to
experience most natural behavior. In addition to these impacts on animal welfare...
...farm animals are inefficient
in converting feed to edible protein. “If animals are considered as ‘food production machines’,” a team of
Swiss and Italian scientists concluded, “these machines turn out to be extremely polluting…and to be very
Fueling Climate Change: Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide is widely considered the most important human-induced GHG.

The farm animal sector contributes approximately 9% of annual anthropogenic CO2 output...
The largest sources of CO2 from animal agriculture come not from the animals themselves, but from the inputs and land-use changes
necessary to maintain and feed them.
Fertilizer and Feed Production

Burning fossil fuel to produce fertilizers used in feed production releases significant amounts of CO2...
...Indeed, a
main input in modern farm animal production is artificial nitrogenous fertilizer, vast amounts of which are used
in the cultivation of farm animal feed.
This fertilizer is primarily applied to corn, but also to other feedcrops like soybeans, barley, and sorghum.Worldwide, more than 97% of soymeal &over 60% of barley & corn go to feed farm animals. Most of that fertilizer is produced in factories dependent on fossil-fuel energy.
Manufacturing nitrogenous
fertilizer requires around 1% of the global energy supply,
94 and an estimated 41 million tonnes of CO2 is emitted
each year from fertilizer production exclusively for feed crops.
Energy Use

Maintaining intensive animal production facilities, as well as growing the associated animal feed, may emit 90 million tonnes of CO2 per year due to requirements such as electricity and diesel fuel...
...Electricity use in intensive farms makes up a large part of this energy expenditure, especially for ventilating, heating, and cooling monogastric operations, such as pig or chicken meat production facilities...
...But, according
to the FAO, feed production accounts for over half of the energy used for animal agriculture systems. This
does not include the energy used to make fertilizer (discussed above), but the energy used for seed, herbicides, and pesticides,...
...as well as the fossil fuel needed for farm machinery used to produce feed.
Transportation and Processing

As agriculture becomes increasingly globalized, meat, eggs, milk, and live animals are transported farther than ever before. Approximately 45 million cattle, pigs, and sheep are traded around the world each year,104 and millions more are...
...transported over long distances within a country’s own borders. In addition to the human health and animal welfare implications of transporting live animals between different cities and countries,...
...and the potential for spreading animal disease, live animal transport likely consumes large quantities of fossil fuels and contributes to climate change.
Transporting feed, and processing and transporting animal products, may emit tens of millions of tonnes of CO2
per year.
While the FAO did not include consideration of live animal transport in its calculations, its report did find that transporting feed and animal products to the destinations where they will be consumed emits approximately 0.8 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
Soybeans and soybean cakes used for feed are shipped from Brazil to Europe, and estimated annual emissions of CO2 from just this single trade route are some 32,000 tonnes. The annual trade of meat between countries results in 500,000-850,000 tonnes of CO2.
The FAO estimates that CO2 emissions from animal processing total several tens of millions of tonnes per year.Processed animal products typically come from intensive systems, although energy costs vary widely depending on the product.
Processing meat from sheep, according to one study, is very energy costly, w/ 10.4 megajoules (MJ) used per kg of carcass compared to the energy required for processing beef, which uses 4.37 MJ per kg.
Processing eggs, too, is energy intensive, w/ more than 6 MJ used per dozen.
GHG Emissions from Deforestation, Land Degradation, Soil Cultivation, and

Land uses are continually changing. Around the world, animal agriculture is often an important cause of these
Farm animals and meat, egg, and dairy production facilities cover one-third of the planet’s total surface area and use more than two-thirds of its agricultural land, inhabiting nearly every country.
As the number of farm animals escalates, so do their impacts on forests, soils, and ecosystems.

Expanding farm animal production plays a major role in deforestation, turning wooded areas into grazing land and cropland for the production of feed.
But this destruction comes at a cost beyond the loss of the forests. According to the FAO, animal agriculture-related deforestation may emit 2.4 billion tonnes of CO2 into the
atmosphere each year.
Tropical forests act as carbon sinks, sequestering carbon and preventing its release into
the atmosphere. Thus, deforestation releases large amounts of carbon, both from soil and vegetation.
As animal product consumption grows, grazing land, soybean monocultures, industrial feedlots, and factory farms encroach on forests.
In 2005 the FAO found that cattle ranching is one of the main causes of forest destruction in Latin America. The FAO predicted that by 2010, more than 1.2 million hectares of forest will be lost in Central America,...
...while 18 million hectares of South American forest will disappear, in large part, because of clearing land for grazing cattle.
According to a 2004 report by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), rapid growth in the exportation of Brazilian beef has accelerated destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
David Kaimowitz,
Director General of CIFOR, “cattle ranchers are making mincemeat out of Brazil’s Amazon rainforests.” Brazil is the fourth-largest GHG emitter, largely because of agricultural burning in the Amazon, which contributes some 70% of the country’s emissions.
Soybean and corn production for animal feed is also leading to the rapid clearance of tropical forests.
Like forests, soils can serve as carbon sinks. In fact, the estimated total amount of carbon currently stored in soils is 1,100-1,600 billion tonnes—more than twice the carbon in vegetation or in the atmosphere...
...Human disturbances (primarily agriculture), however, have significantly depleted the amount of carbon sequestered in
the soil.
The FAO reports that the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), an interdisciplinary group of natural and social scientists, estimates that 50% of carbon in soils on the North American Great Plains has been lost over the last century due to
...burning, erosion, harvesting, grazing, or by vaporizing into the air.

The FAO estimates that animal agriculture-related releases from cultivated soils worldwide may total 28 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
In particular, conventional tillage practices (scraping the soil with machinery) both lower the organic carbon content of the soil and produce significant CO2 emissions.
The FAO estimates that 18 million tonnes of CO2 are
emitted annually from cultivating corn, soybean, and wheat on approximately 1.8 million km2
of arable land to geed animals raised for meat, eggs, and milk.
The animal agriculture sector can also play a significant role in desertification due to overgrazing and trampling of rangelands by farm animals. Desertification tends to reduce the productivity and amount of vegetative
cover, which then allows CO2 to escape...
The FAO estimates that animal agriculture-induced desertification of pastures may release up to 100 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
Converting forests to grazing area does not just lead to increased CO2 emissions. Land use changes for animal agriculture also greatly reduce methane oxidation by soil micro-organisms such that methane is released into the
atmosphere rather than being utilized...
Grazing lands can even become net sources of methane when soil compaction from animal traffic limits the diffusion of gas. It should be noted, however, that in certain grasslands, animal traffic may limit the release of natural nitrous oxide emissions.
Animal agriculture accounts for 65% of global anthropogenic N2O emissions.Approximately 9% of those emissions result from applying artificial fertilizer to feed crops. As discussed above, synthetic fertilizer is used to produce high-energy, concentrate animal feed, such as corn.
Farm animal manure also produces nitrous oxide, accounting for nearly 82% of nitrous oxide emissions from
farm animals globally. Animal manure accounts for 6% of U.S. agricultural nitrous oxide emissions.
In the United States alone, cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and other animals raised on factory farms generate approximately 455 million tonnes of manure. When used to fertilize crops, manure enriches the soil and is a key input to healthy, sustainable farms and landscapes.
The quantities of manure produced on factory farms, however, exceed the amount of land available to absorb it, transforming manure from a valuable agricultural resource into hazardous waste that threatens soil, water, and air quality.
Ruminant Digestion and Manure Management: Methane

Methane has at least 25 times the GWP of carbon dioxide,164 and its concentrations increased by approximately 150% between1750 and 2005;...
... in 2005 the atmospheric concentration of methane was about 1775 parts per billion, or much higher than the highest levels measured for the last 650,000 years...
165 Globally, farm animals are
one of the most significant sources of anthropogenic methane, responsible for 35-40% of methane emissions
Ruminants, such as cattle, sheep, and goats, usually have a stomach divided into four chambers and emit methane during digestion, which involves microbial (enteric) fermentation of fibrous feeds and grains. An adult cow emits 80-110 kg of methane annually.
Approximately 86 million tonnes of methane are released globally each year from enteric fermentation alone.
Methane is also emitted from manure. The FAO shows that pig production contributes the largest share of emissions from manure, followed by dairy operations. Methane emissions from pig manure represent nearly half of total global farm animal manure emissions.
Mitigating the Animal Agriculture Sector’s Role in Climate Change
Direct and immediate actions are required to mitigate and prevent the problems associated with climate change.
Such a rise in temperatures and their devastating impacts are inevitable, however, if we continue “business as usual.” Producers, consumers, & policy makers throughout the world must examine and respond to the contributions of today’s meat, milk, & egg production to GHG...
... emissions and
climate change.

Mitigating the animal agriculture sector’s significant yet under-appreciated role in climate change is vital for the health and sustainability of the planet, the environment, and its human and nonhuman inhabitants.
Reducing GHG emissions, especially from animal agriculture, is both urgent and critical. “[B]y far the single largest anthropogenic user of land” and responsible for 14.5% of human-induced GHG emissions, the farm animal production sector must be held accountable...
..for its role in the climate crisis.

Individually, incorporating
environmentally sound & animal welfare-friendly practices into daily life, including adopting consumptive habits less reliant on meat, eggs, & dairy products, can significantly slow the effects of climate change.
Info sourced from HSI Report: The Impact of Animal Agriculture
on Global Warming and Climate Change
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