Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions (& Toxic Waste Lagoons) by Eating Less Meat

Several months ago, back in June of 2010, I wrote up a story on the environmental impact of eating meat based on a new-at-the-time United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report on the matter. I recently ran across another good story on this topic on a friend’s site, Global Warming is Real, titled “Eating Less Meat to Cut CO2 Emissions” and shared it with our site editor, Becky Striepe, and a few others. Becky gave the nudge to write an update on the topic using some of the info in the story. Good idea, I thought. So,…

Livestock Production and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The writer of the article, Alexis Bonari, referenced perhaps the most widely cited study on the connection between meat consumption and global warming, another UN FAO study that found that 18% of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions are from livestock production. The main causes of the emissions? The raising and transporting of grains to feed the livestock, the clearing of land for such purposes and for grazing, and the notorious methane emissions from cow burps and cow farts.

If you are not aware of these stats, Bonari notes, “it takes 7 kg of feed to produce just 1 kg of beef, 4 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of pork, and 2 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of chicken.” Here’s a chart on that:

And here’s an excellent visual on how many cows, pigs, and chickens are killed each second in the United States alone:

Here’s another interesting visual as well, on the number of animals that need to be killed to produce one million calories:

Other studies have come to slightly different findings on the relationship between livestock production and greenhouse gas emissions, but the overall point is that livestock productions is a huge contributor to global warming. One study, published in the journal World Watch, actually found that at least 51% of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions are from livestock and poultry production.

Toxic Waste Lagoons

Beyond the global warming issue, Bonari also notes that the waste from animals kept in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) is so toxic (due to the chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, and pesticides used in producing the animals’ feed and beefing up the animals themselves that farmers won’t even use it for fertilizer.

“Thus, nearby every CAFO is a lagoon of toxic waste, a biological experiment producing deformed frogs and plant life, and contributing to air, water, and ground pollution,” she notes.

With factory farming rising rapidly over the past several years, there must be a ton of those by now.

Not good.

Cut the Meat

I imagine this is an issue we’ll come back to at some point in the future, and I imagine the conclusion won’t change. If you want to cut your ecological “foodprint,” the best way is probably to cut the meat.

You can do this completely, can cut it one day a week, or can even cut one meat-heavy meal a week for one based on vegetables and grains. If everyone in the U.S. just did the last thing, it would be equal to removing half a million vehicles from road.

I would advocate going fully vegetarian, think it is actually simpler and has a much greater impact. Even Mike Tyson, MMA fighters, Carl Lewis, and a number of our most-respected historical figures and celebrities are doing or have done this… But really, do whatever you can, whatever YOU feel comfortable with.

Related Story: Which is Better for the Environment, Local or Vegetarian?

Photo Credit: Compassion in World Farming

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to and click on the relevant buttons.