Vegan for the environment

Animal agriculture causes climate change

Environmentalists react with outrage at plans to open a conservation estate to mining, set-nets trapping dolphins or the proliferation of gas guzzling SUVs, yet people rarely consider the impact of their diet on the environment. The truth is, livestock farming causes more environmental damage than any of the above activities. A FAO report showed that 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide can be attributed to animal agriculture.

Animal agriculture harms the environment in many ways, including animal gas emissions, nitrous oxide from animal wastes and clearing forests for farmland and stock feed, which also destroys habitats and has led to the extinction of hundreds of species. 47.9% of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture; much higher than the globally-attributed 18%. This is largely due to methane from cows, which is 28 times worse for global warming than carbon dioxide:

Animal agriculture causes pollution

Climate change is not the only environmental disaster caused by livestock farming, the environmental impacts of dairy, New Zealand’s predominant agricultural activity, are incredibly damaging. Up to $10.7 billion is needed to remove nitrates (created by dairy farming) from drinking water, $3.1 billion to counteract greenhouse gas emissions and $611 million to respond to soil compaction, a serious environmental issue which inhibits infiltration, plant growth and thus productivity. Over 75% of soils under dairying are badly affected by compaction, and river quality is significantly worsened by intensive farming– 29% more nitrogen leached into soils from agriculture in 2012 than 1990, mainly due to more dairy cattle and nitrogen fertiliser. Excess nitrogen ends up in groundwater, rivers and lakes, which causes growth of harmful periphyton that restricts river flows, blocks irrigation and water supply intakes, and suffocates riverbed habitats. Nearly 50% of rivers in New Zealand were found to have enough nitrogen to trigger periphyton. New Zealand prides itself on its ‘green’ reputation, but animal agriculture is greatly destroying this, and if New Zealand’s environment was perceived as ‘degraded’ internationally, there could be a loss of $569 million due to 54% less purchases of dairy alone. Thus overall, the costs when considering the externalities far exceed the value of animal agriculture.

The Manawatu river is one of the most polluted in the world. Most of the Waikato’s rivers and streams are unsafe to swim in, with approximately 90% of pollution being caused by rural runoff from dairy farms and other pasture. National Minister Nick Smith considers water pollution to be an environmental issue second only to climate change in importance. The 16,000 pigs in an intensive operation cause as much effluent as a city of 23,000 people, and this is largely untreated. Reids piggery in Carterton (owners of the Premier Bacon brand) were convicted for dumping what essentially amounted to raw sewage into waterways.

Habitat destruction is a leading cause of extinction, especially in a recognised “biodiversity hotspot” like New Zealand. Thanks to our insatiable demand for animal flesh, the once diverse lowland forest that covered the Hauraki Plains, the Horowhenua and other places, have become a sea of pasture, dotted with livestock, as far as the eye can reach. Environmentalists are concerned over the damage caused by possums, but it was no marsupial that felled thousands of hectares of bush for the sake of a livestock monoculture.

Eating meat is no more a sensible option for a serious environmentalist than driving an SUV or supporting whaling. The best thing we can do for the planet is to become vegan.

About a third of the world’s ice-free land is used for livestock and a third of croplands are used for livestock feed production. Meanwhile, millions of people don’t have enough food, and the global demand for horticultural products is expected to double by 2050 due to population increases. At the moment, 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries. The conversion of animals to meat/milk/eggs is very inefficient because most of the energy is used up in raising the animals – feeding cereals to humans directly could feed more than 3.5 billion people. As the global population gets bigger, this issue is only going to become more prominent – we need to increase the amount and productivity of croplands, which will require less land being given to animals and their feed, and healthier, less polluted environments for crops to grow in.

Animal agriculture is also the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction: it is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction and is the cause of 80% of all globally threatened bird and mammal species, largely due to deforestation for livestock feed or grazing. Soy often comes under criticism for deforestation, especially if genetically modified, but 90% of genetically modified soy grown worldwide is used for animal feed. Soy is actually a very sustainable food when fed to humans, and nutritionally excellent – it produces 15x more protein than beef for a given amount of land, has all nine essential amino acids you need for healthy muscles and bones, is low in saturated fat and high in fiber, potassium, iron.

Switching to a plant-based diet is one of the biggest things you can do to help our environment – it can reduce your emissions by 70%!


“Learn how factory farming is decimating the planet’s natural resources – and why this crisis has been largely ignored by major environmental groups. The film that environmental organisations don’t want you to see!”. You can download or watch it online here

You can also download the Vegan Society leaflets which contain this information.