Discovery Guides Areas


The Environmental Impact of Meat
(Released January 2012)

  by Ethan Goffman  


Key Citations



Resources News Articles
Historical Newspapers

News Articles

  1. Factory farming and human health

    O Brien, Tim; Adock, Melanie; Rifkin, Jeremy; Pickard, B M, The Ecologist, 06-01-2001

    It is not small food production, but large-scale factory farming, that presents a threat to our health.

    Mad cow disease (BSE) and vCJD ('human BSE'), with its potential to lead to the deaths of thousands of people in the UK, and who knows how many more around the world, are the terrible consequences which have followed from the apparently innocuous practice of feeding dead cows to live ones. The disaster has brought home the impact that 'industrial' animal husbandry – viewing animals as production machines – can have on human health.

    And one only has to scratch the surface of life down on the factory farm, to see that BSE may well be only the tip of the iceberg. In a range of areas, from feeding regimes, to animal housing, to the use of drugs in the pursuit of productivity, human health may be threatened by factory farming. Imposing industrial demands on farm animals may, quite literally, be producing fatal flaws in the end product – our food.

    It is no surprise that, faced with the BSE disaster and escalating incidence of food poisoning, in particular from Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter and E. coli 0157, the UK Government's reaction has been to tighten hygiene regulations. But given the underlying nature of the problem – animals being reared in appallingly cramped conditions, frequently without access to fresh air, clean litter, and sunlight - the measures are unlikely to prove effective. Paradoxically, they may even make our food less safe, by ensuring that livestock production and slaughter become ever more centralised in the hands of a small number of large industrial-scale operators, better able to bear the costs of regulation than small-scale producers.

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    Stephen Leahy, Global Information Network, 02-21-2007

    Factory farms are responsible for bird flu and greater emissions of greenhouse gases than cars and sport utility vehicles (SUVs,) according to a report released Monday.

    Sixty percent of global livestock production, including chicken and pig "confined animal feedlot operations" (CAFOs), now occur in the developing world, according to the report, "Vital Signs 2007- 2008" by the Worldwatch Institute.

    The growing numbers of livestock around the world are also responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent, according to the FAO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

    It's not just methane and manure — the FAO shows that land-use changes, especially deforestation to expand pastures and to create arable land for feed crops, play a big part. So is the use of energy to produce fertilisers, to run the slaughterhouses and meat- processing plants, and to pump water.

    Already surpassing emissions from the world's transportation sector, livestock numbers are rising fast. Unregulated zoning and subsidies that encourage these CAFOs or factory farms are moving closer to major urban areas in China, Bangladesh, India, and many countries in Africa, Although there is no definitive scientific proof, those farms are very likely where avian or bird flu started and will continue to be responsible for new outbreaks, said the author of the report, Danielle Nierenberg, a Worldwatch research associate.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

  3. Environmental impacts of livestock in the developing world

    Nicholson, Charles F; Blake, Robert W; Reid, Robin S; Schelhas, John, Environment, 03-01-2001

    More food will be required in the next 20 years to nourish more people-at least 7.7 billion are expected by 2020. About 800 million of these people will not have enough to eat, not because world food production is inadequate, but because they lack sufficient resources to produce or purchase the food they require. This greater need for food will aggravate agricultural and urbanization pressures in the developing world, where environmental conditions are expected to worsen before getting better.

    Further complicating this situation are predictions about what has been called the "next food revolution" in animal agriculture.2 Owing to more people, urbanization, and growth in per-capita incomes, the nature of world food demand is predicted to change markedly in the next two decades. By 2020, developing country consumers will eat about 87 percent more meat and 75 percent more milk than they do today. The population of developing countries, which comprises three-fourths of the world's total, will consume more than 60 percent of global meat and milk production 20 years from now. This represents a much larger share than the 40 percent of meat and 47 percent of milk developing countries consumed in the early 1990s. In contrast, consumption in developed countries is likely to grow only about as fast as the population. Rapid expected growth in per-capita consumption of food from animals-especially meat and milk-is predicted to make livestock production the largest share of the value of global agricultural output by 2020.

    These food demand predictions are potentially double-edged. Rapid growth of an increasingly market-oriented livestock sector portends heightened risks to the environment (e.g., from forest and wetland losses and degradation of soils, water, and vegetation). On the other hand, this increase in demand signifies a critical opportunity for alleviating poverty and spurring economic growth from participation by thousands of small-scale farmers. The alleviation of poverty, which is inextricably tied to economic growth, is also a precondition for avoiding the overexploitation of natural resources. Consequently, it is important to explore the balance between animal agriculture and environmental outcomes-and corresponding human welfare outcomes-in the developing world.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

Historical Newspapers
  1. Fish experts hurry, worry

    William Coughlin, Boston Globe (1960-1979). Boston, Mass.: Jun 1, 1975. pg. 25, 2 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) "They are a group of biologists being asked to manage people."

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

  2. Biotechnology Genie Heading for the Farm; GROWING BROKE Unbottled Biotechnology Genie Causes Quandary for Dairy Farmers

    By Ward Sinclair Washington Post Staff Writer, The Washington Post (1974-Current file). Washington, D.C.: Mar 27, 1985. pg. A1, 2 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) The great dilemma over the American cow, whose milk feeds a nation and clogs government warehouses, is beginning to take on new and awesome proportions.

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

  3. Food Self-Sufficiency and the Environment

    Dennis Avery, The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current file). Boston, Mass.: Mar 23, 1992. pg. 18, 1 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) THE European Community (EC) is blocking farm-trade reform to protect its ruinous farm subsidies. European agricultural policies have already produced widespred environmental ruin in 12 contries: polluted ...

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

Taken from ProQuest's Historical Newspapers.


  1. Climate implications of biomass appropriation: Integrating bioenergy and animal feeding systems

    by Meisterling, Kyle W., Carnegie Mellon University, 2011 , 240 pages; AAT 3445898

    Abstract (Summary)
    Through land use and biomass utilization, humans are dominant forces in the planetary biosphere and carbon and nitrogen cycles. Economic subsidies and policy mandates for producing biomass-sourced fuels and electricity could increase further the human appropriation of planetary net primary productivity. After reviewing the magnitude of organic byproducts available as feedstock, and presenting a model of the climate impact of organic waste management, this dissertation focuses on the climate impact of the main biomass consumers in the United States: livestock, including beef and dairy cattle, chickens (for meat and eggs), pigs and turkeys. Existing estimates of feed consumption by livestock are synthesized, showing that beef cattle in particular are large consumers of cellulosic biomass in the form of hay and grazed roughage. I then determine the extent to which harvesting energy from animal manure can reduce and offset the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from producing animal products. Finally, a life cycle assessment (LCA) of an integrated animal product and bioenergy facility is presented. Biomass flows and global warming potential (GWP) are modeled for two systems: one where the animal production and bioenergy facilities are distinct and one where the facilities are integrated. The animal production system includes a mix of animals. Such a system may be able to more efficiently utilize byproducts from each system, but increasing the concentration of animals and manure nutrients may make such a system difficult to implement.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  2. Evaluating eutrophication potential of bioproducts using life cycle assessment methods

    by Xue, Xiaobo, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2011 , 133 pages; AAT 3471927

    Abstract (Summary)
    Reactive nutrients are accumulating rapidly in the environment due, in part, to increasing demand for food and energy products derived from agriculture. Recently, biobased fuels from renewable resources have gained high development priority due to national energy security policies and to their potential carbon emission reduction compared to their petroleum counterparts. However, biofuels from first generation feedstocks (e.g., corn and soybean) exhibit a significant environmental tradeoff in the form of increased water quality degradation (i.e. eutrophication and hypoxia). To mitigate eutrophication resulting from increased agricultural production, it is important (1) to identify eutrophication potential of the main bioproducts including biofuels and foods; and (2) to evaluate the effectiveness of possible mitigation strategies. Multiple strategies exist for reducing nutrient loading including optimizing farming practices and encouraging consumers to purchase low nutrient intensity bioproducts. This research quantified the life cycle nutrient flows and environmental impacts of foods and biofuels, and subsequently evaluated the mitigation potentials of management strategies.

    Research results show that different food groups exhibit highly variable nitrogen-intensity, on average, red meat and dairy products require much more nitrogen than cereals/carbohydrates. The ranking of foods' nitrogen footprints is not consistent with their carbon footprint. For example, dairy products and chicken/eggs have relatively high nitrogen footprint and low carbon footprints.

    The life cycle assessment of biodiesels in Pennsylvania exhibits that fertilizer usage in the agricultural phase and fuel combustion in the use phase are main contributors to biodiesel's life cycle environmental impacts for all blends. Comparing biodiesels with conventional diesel, environmental tradeoffs exist between global warming potential and eutrophication potential. Local scouring of biodiesels has the lowest environmental impacts for B20 and B100.

    Dietary shifts from dairy products and red meat to cereals can be an effective approach for lowering the personal nitrogen footprint. Altering farming practices (including shifting conventional tillage to no tillage, using manure, installing buffer strips surrounding farmlands etc) could reduce environmental impacts of bioproducts from life cycle perspectives too. The life cycle assessment analysis of bioproducts suggests environmentally benign farming practices and consumption shift to low nitrogen intensity foods to mitigate eutrophication issues.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  3. From ocean to market: The life cycle biophysical impacts of the southwest Nova Scotia live lobster industry

    by Boyd, Catherine J.,M.E.S., Dalhousie University (Canada), 2008, 89 pages; AAT MR39181

    Abstract (Summary)
    The reality of global biophysical limits and the likelihood that the current scale and prevalence of industrial practices are nearing or exceeding those limits, heralds a need to assess industrial systems against a variety of environmental criteria. Food production systems, including modern fisheries and supporting distribution activities are industrial practices that make non-trivial contributions to global environmental problems. This research demonstrates how evaluating the Nova Scotia lobster ( Homarus americanus ) fishery with life cycle assessment (LCA) can provide information on the performance of this industrial seafood production system with respect to a variety of categories (global warming potential, ozone depletion potential, acidification potential, cumulative energy demand, and abiotic and biotic resource depletion). Evaluated against these criteria, lobster fishing is by no means an environmentally benign activity, particularly when the harvesting activity is followed by complex and often resource intensive post capture storage and delivery systems. For example, the system modeled here consumes nearly 140,000 MJ of energy and result in approximately nine tonnes of CO 2 equivalents per tonne of live lobster delivered to a major market in the western U.S. Information that speaks to these broader environmental issues is necessary to guide lobster management and more broadly, food production management now and into the future.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  4. Acting in solidarity with the natural world: Conscious living and the case of vegetarianism

    by Holm, Vanessa, M.A. Carleton University (Canada), 2008, 147 pages; AAT MR43463

    Abstract (Summary)
    How humans live in solidarity with the natural world is a topic of growing importance in society. While concerns about the environment seem to be pressing in the media, little academic research focuses on our immediate relationships with the natural world. This thesis examines the natural other in society, animals and the environment, and examines how, and if, we choose to act in solidarity with the other. I argue that the development of a new concept, conscious living, explains and extends social theories of solidarity to include our daily interactions with the natural world. In conscious living, the connection between knowing and acting is examined along a continuum that differs from social theories of the bystander in that it accounts for variations in lifestyle choices and actor behaviour. The concept of conscious living is constructed through the examination of twenty-six interviews that were conducted in Ottawa, Canada, and analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Vegetarianism is used as a case example because it exemplifies conscious living; the decisions we make about diet are everyday indicators of our solidarity with animals and the environment.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database