Ever wonder what the real cost of your food is to wildlife and our planet? Extinction Facts are here to help. We’ve crunched the numbers on beef, chicken and pork so you know just how much water, wildlife and climate pollution comes with each serving.
The American public consumes a massive amount of meat — more than 50 billion pounds a year with an average annual consumption of 55 pounds of beef, 83 pounds of chicken and 46 pounds of pork per person. This enormous appetite for meat is eating away at wildlife habitats, freshwater resources and climate stability. Our planet is currently experiencing the worst extinction crisis since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and what we put on our plates has a serious effect on wildlife, especially those already endangered and threatened.
Hamburger v. Wildlife: The Environmental Cost of Beef
Chicken v. Wildlife: The Environmental Costs of Eating Poultry
Bacon v. Wildlife: The Environmental Cost of Pork
Meat and dairy production contribute at least 16.5% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through feed production, animal manure decomposition, meat processing and transport. Cow manure releases two-thirds of the world’s total nitrous oxide pollution (which has nearly 300 times the global warming effects of carbon dioxide over 100 years). Ruminant animals like cows produce methane through their digestion process — a greenhouse gas 34 times more potent than CO2 over 100 years.
Wildlife habitat is converted to grazing areas, large-scale feedlots and slaughterhouses, as well as cropland to feed livestock. Half the landmass of the lower 48 states is used raise and feed livestock. Grazing cattle and factory farms also destroy vegetation, damage soils, contaminate waterways with fecal waste and disrupt natural ecosystem processes, resulting in less natural habitat for wildlife.
Meat and dairy production creates 2.7 trillion pounds of manure each year in the United States. Lagoon overflows and over-application of manure pollutes lakes, rivers and streams, killing millions of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and other wildlife. U.S. chicken producers use 2.2 million pounds of the arsenic compound roxarsone each year, almost all of which is excreted in chicken waste and often becomes fertilizer for other crops, polluting land, water and air. Factory farms pollute more than 35,000 miles of rivers and contaminate groundwater in 17 states.
Nearly half of the water consumed in the United States — about 150 billion gallons per day — goes toward meat production. Irrigation feed crops for livestock and poultry account for a major portion of the water used in meat production. It takes about 110 gallons of water to grow a single pound of corn, and it takes about 2,800 pounds of corn to produce a 1,250-pound cow.
About 22 million pounds of atrazine — a known endocrine disruptor associated with hermaphrodism, sterility and other abnormalities in frogs — are applied to feed crops. Clothianidin, a pesticide known to be toxic to bees, is regularly applied to corn. In total, 167 million pounds of pesticides are used every year in the United States to grow animal feed. Pesticide residues are found in common meat and dairy products — even long-banned pesticides like DDT. Residues from glyphosate, the most commonly used pesticide in the world, allowed in animal feed can be more than 100 times that allowed on grains consumed directly by humans.
Meat production is one of the primary drivers of wildlife extinction, with livestock grazing alone contributing to the demise of 22% of endangered species in the United States. Livestock are responsible for 16.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If demand continues to grow, agriculture-related emissions could increase by 77% due in part to increased deforestation and increased emissions from livestock. Watch the video below to learn more.