In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a report15 identifying animal agriculture as the leading cause of our environmental crisis. In the report animal agriculture was found to be a leading cause of:
… All while detracting more from the total food supply than it provides!
Machinova (2015) contributed similar findings, ‘Livestock production is […] a leading cause of climate change, soil loss, water and nutrient pollution, and decreases of apex predators and wild herbivores, compounding pressures on ecosystems and biodiversity.’4
Animal agriculture is unsustainable because to grow crops for livestock and provide land for livestock it:
We can live healthy nutritiously adequate lives without animal products, so the question we must ask ourselves is, “what extent of environmental damage are we willing to accept for having animals to consume?” ALWA’s position is clear. Either way, this question ignores other relevant factors such as the ethics of killing animals for food, and the adverse effects of animal products on our health.
What if the agriculture industry was overhauled? If we stopped farming livestock, we could reclaim land for natural habitats and biodiversity, while growing enough crops for the entire human population, and reclaiming land for human living space.
Only a small part of the world’s agricultural land is used to grow crops for humans. More than ten percent of the world is undernourished17 and one in nine people in the world do not have enough food to remain healthy.17 We could feed nine-billion people if we re-purposed the crops that feed animals today for direct human consumption.21 Livestock detracts more from the total food supply than they provide, consuming more human edible protein than they produce; in terms of dietary energy, the relative loss is much higher.15
What if we used our crops, land, and water, to feed people directly?
Forty percent of the Earth’s land is currently devoted to agriculture20 and the FAO (2006) says that, ‘livestock production accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land.’ Looking at Oceania, 450 million hectares of agricultural land is used for livestock15 (page 386) of the total 850 million hectares (over 50%).
What if we reclaimed this land for (vegan) food production and habitat re-establishment?
‘The livestock sector is … probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication (algal blooms), “dead” zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others. The major sources of pollution are from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops, and sediments from eroded pastures.’15 The water footprint of any animal product is larger than the water footprint of a wisely chosen crop product with equivalent nutritional value.11
49% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to animal agriculture.5, 6 The FAO (2006) estimates that 18% of annual GHG emissions are attributable to animal agribusiness; more than all cars, planes, ships, trains together (13% transport industry).
Studies19 show substantially lower GHG emissions for most plant-based food than for animal products. Furthermore, Machovina et al. (2015) remind us that, ‘It is possible to greatly reduce the impacts of animal product consumption […] while meeting nutritional needs of […] the projected 2–3 billion people to be added to human population.’4
In 2005/2007, a study compared various diets and their projected GHG emissions by 2050. Of interest was the reference diet (based on current diets) and the vegan diet. By 2050, the reference diet was projected to cause an increase in GHG emissions by 51%, whereas the vegan diet projected a decrease in GHG emissions, reducing emission levels from then-current 2005/2007 levels by 55%.9
What if we could stop and reverse this dire trajectory simply by changing what we eat?
Livestock production is the single largest driver of habitat loss.4 We live during the world’s sixth extinction crisis. The last mass extinction on Earth was 65 million years ago. Unlike the others, this extinction event is man-made.1 Amphibians, mammals, and birds are going extinct at a rate 50 to 500 times higher than background rates found in the fossil record.12, 22
What if we could save species and end our unnecessarily devastating effect on biodiversity by simply changing what we eat?
What if we did everything we could to be more efficient? Is there a way to do animal agriculture better? Is there a way to produce livestock sustainably? Are improved methods or new technologies, or anything, possible to allow sustainable animal agriculture? Oppenlander (2013), as cited in Barwick (2016), says no: ‘If we completely stopped all use of gas, oil, fuel, electricity et cetera, […] we would still exceed our carbon equivalent greenhouse gas emissions […] by the year 2030 just with the impact of livestock alone.’8 Animal agriculture is not sustainable. The issue of animal agriculture cannot be ignored, but the good news is that every individual can do something about this problem.
Each individual that can change to a vegan diet takes significant action for the environment. Machinova (2015) agrees, ‘It is possible to greatly reduce the impacts of animal product consumption […] while meeting nutritional needs of […] the projected 2–3 billion people to be added to human population.’4 Veganic permaculture is a viable solution.