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How much do you think about effects on the world of what you feed yourself daily? What most people don’t know is that so many environmental issues can be drastically improved and possibly solved if we just controlled what we put into our mouths. By eliminating meat and dairy and opting for a vegan, plant-based diet, you would have the power to effectively save the environment every time you sit down for a meal.

To begin this argument, you must be exposed to the negative effects of animal farming. Waste is one of the prominent harms associated with animal farming. Livestock waste contaminates water with hormones and antibiotics that are excreted by the animals. In a 1997 report by the Senate Agriculture Committee, animals raised for slaughter produce one hundred and thirty times as much waste as the entire human population. This is a problem because human waste is chemically treated in sanitation plants, while animal waste is sprayed onto land. The animal waste then runs off to pollute groundwater and streams. Land populated by farming animals is also saturated with pesticides and fertilizers that do not disappear. They seep underground and spill into rivers and oceans creating plumes of toxic chemicals, which deplete the oxygen in water, killing fish and other animals.

This then leads to extreme amounts of water pollution. In an article by Barry Popkin in the Archives of Internal Medicine, in the United States, livestock production accounts for fifty-five percent of the erosion process, thirty-seven percent of pesticides applied, half of antibiotics consumed, and a third of total discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface water. In the United States, raising animals for food consumes more than half of all the water used, and eighty percent of the United States freshwater resources. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one pound of processed beef requires 2,500 gallons of water, and only 250 gallons are needed per pound of soy and 25 gallons per pound of wheat. The meat industry consumes and pollutes more water than all other industries combined.

Animal waste extends its harm by contributing to soil erosion. Soil erosion, topsoil mixed with agrochemicals and animal waste, is a problem because it leads directly to sedimentation and pollution of watersheds, reservoirs, lakes, and oceans. The International Food Policy Research Institute states that approximately forty percent of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded, and farms are the leading cause of soil erosion. Animal farming accounts for fifty-five percent of soil erosion being depleted at ten to forty times the rate it is being formed.

Likewise, the production of animal products has huge impact on the environment. In the 2006 University of Chicago study, researchers found that the average American diet derives forty-seven percent of its calories from animal products, which add up to a carbon footprint of 2.52 tons of CO2 emissions per year. People who are partial to red meat get half of their caloric intake from steaks and other red meats, and have an average carbon footprint of 3.57 tons per year. And that number has only increased since 2006. Taking up a plant-based diet would reduce that footprint by two tons. If the average meat eater reduced their intake by twenty-five percent of their caloric intake, it would reduce their footprint by one ton. If every American reduced his or her chicken consumption by one meal per week, CO2 savings would equal removing 500,000 cars from the roads! This information is mind-boggling in its extreme, worldly effect.

Peter Singer, a bioethicist professor at Princeton University, found that worldwide; farms animals consume 756 million tons of grain. An equal amount would provide 1.4 billion people living in poverty with approximately three pounds of grain per day, which is twice the amount needed to survive. This also does not include the 225 million tons of soy produced. In a scientific report by Noah Mohr of New York Polytechnic Institute, he stated that if the entire United States population was to adopt a plant-based diet for one day, the nation would conserve; 100 billion gallons of drinking water, which would provide for every home in New England for four months, 1.5 billion pounds of crops, which could feed the entire population of New Mexico for over a year, 70 million gallons of gas, enough to fuel every car in Canada and Mexico, and 33 tons of antibiotics. The environmental damage prevented would be equal to 1.2 million tons of CO2 greenhouse emissions, 3 million tons of soil erosion, 4.5 million tons of animal waste, and 7 tons of ammonia emissions. Global warming is a major effect pertaining to this argument.

Global warming is a theory that has been controversial to the world for years. Whether or not the theory is accurate remains a mystery, but assuming that it is true, a vegetarian or vegan diet can greatly reduce its expansion. Livestock accounts for ten percent of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions, which is thirty-seven percent of methane emissions, twenty-three times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, sixty-five percent of nitrous oxide emission, which is 296 times more powerful than CO2, and sixty-four percent of human-induced ammonia emission, which is a significant contributor to acid rain. To conclude, farm animals are responsible for one fifth of all human-induced greenhouse gases. The United Nation has determined that raising livestock for food purposes generates more climate-heating gases than do all carbon-dioxide-emitting vehicles combined. Similarly, a German study states that a meat-centric diet is responsible for the emission of more than seven times as much greenhouse gas as a plant-based diet. A New Scientist report adds the effects of a plant-based diet by stating that driving a hybrid car could save about one ton of CO2 emissions per year, but adopting a plant-based diet would save nearly one and a half tons over a comparable period. This evidence portrays the truly extraordinary effects obtaining a vegan, plant-based diet can have to save the future of the world.

Giving up one’s meat craving may be a struggle at first, but just think how this little change in one’s lifestyle could make of the huge transformation on the entire world! If the impact of just one person obtaining a vegan diet is so effective, just imagine if 5 people did, or 10 people did, or 50 people did! So next time you are debating over ordering a big, juicy steak over a green, leafy salad, remember the weight of that choice on our environment.

Works Cited

"Beef Production." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA's Ag Center, 10 Sept.
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Forks over Knives. Dir. Lee Fulkerson. By Lee Fulkerson. Prod. John Corry. Perf. Joey
Aucoin, Neal Barnard, Gene Baur, and T. Colin Campbell. Monica Beach Media, 2011. DVD.

"It's Better to Green Your Diet than Your Car." New Scientist Magazine 17 Dec. 2005:
19. Print

Koppes, Steven, ed. "Study: Vegan Diets Healthier for Planet, People than Meat Diets."
The University of Chicago News Office (13 Apr. 2006). The University of Chicago News Office. University of Chicago, 8 July 2009. Web. 17 Mar. 2012. <>.

S. Rep. Senate Agriculture Committee at 9 (1997). Print.
Singer, Peter. "Does Helping the Plant Hurt the Poor?" The Wall Street Journal. The Wall
Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc, 22 Jan. 2011. Web. 17 Mar. 2012. <>.

Steinfeld, Henning, Pierre Gerber, Tom Wassenaar, Vincent Castel, Mauricio Rosales,
and Cees De Haan. Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Opinions. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. FAO, 2006. Web. 17 Mar. 2012. <>.

Stone, Gene, T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell B. Esselstyn, and Pamela Popper. Forks over
Knives: The Plant-based Way to Health. New York: Experiment, 2011. Print.

Teitz, Jeff. "Hogs - The High Cost of Greed." Web log post. Permaculture and
Regenerative Design News: Current Events & News about Permaculture & the Design of Relocated Communities. Blogger, 14 Feb. 2007. Web. 17 Mar. 2012. <>.

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