The consequences of our dietary choices and policies are dire and far-reaching, impacting not only the animals reared for food, but also humans (especially the most vulnerable), animals in the wild, and networks of ecosystems that support countless species of life.
Animal agriculture affects humans in different ways based on a variety of demographic factors, but especially geography and wealth.
Diseases of Affluence
Heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes are exacerbated by the consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs. These “lifestyle diseases” are top killers throughout high-income countries and in higher-income enclaves within lower- and middle-income countries. In the United States, “disease of affluence” cause more than one million premature deaths annually.
Diseases of Poverty
Death and diseases related to undernutrition are exacerbated in low-income countries, where export-oriented animal agriculture often undermines local farming and food systems, harms the environment, intensifies climate destruction, and siphons crucial resources to wealthier consumers around the world.
The livestock industry harms and kills a staggering number of animals in many obvious and non-obvious ways.
Animals Raised for Food
As of 2019, the global death toll for land animals used as food is about 75 billion annually. This is eclipsed by the number of aquatic animals, whose kill numbers are in the trillions (not including by-catch such as dolphins, whales, porpoises, and others). As one of the world’s largest per capita meat consumers, the U.S. slaughters about 10 billion land animals to produce meat, dairy, and eggs. To better understand the scale, that’s about one million land animals (cows, goats, sheep, pigs, turkeys, and chickens) slaughtered every hour in the U.S. alone — of which, the overwhelming majority (98%) are reared in toxic, gruesome factory farming conditions.
Animals in the Wild
The U.S. government exterminates hundreds of thousands of wild animals (prairie dogs, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears, bison, and others) to keep them from interfering with agricultural operations. Similarly, tens of millions of birds (starlings, blackbirds and others) are poisoned each year to prevent them from eating animal feed.
An even greater threat to wildlife is posed by the destruction of their habitats. Animal agriculture turns forests, wetlands, and other habitats into grazing and animal feed crop land. Some of the greatest losses of native habitat occur in tropical regions, such as in Brazil. Between 2000-2005, cattle ranching was the cause of an estimated 65–70 percent of land clearing in the Amazon.*
The everyday impact and intensified natural disasters resulting from climate change combined with the direct effects of animal agriculture cause massive and long-lasting damage to ecosystems.
According to the FAO’s 2006 landmark report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, livestock production directly harms the health of ecosystems, such as:
- Driving deforestation for new pastures and feed crop monocultures;
- Degrading the land with overgrazing and desertification;
- Depleting and polluting potable water and arable land;
- Driving extinction and biodiversity loss.
As the demand for animal-sourced food grows, “current extinction rates [of wild species] are 1,000 times higher than natural background rates of extinction and future rates are likely to be 10,000 times higher.”*
As the global demand for animal-sourced foods continues to skyrocket, more land will be turned over for grazing, feed production, and waste management — taking a toll on native flora and fauna as well as delicate ecological systems on both land and water. The direct connection between livestock and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions further implicates production and consumption of animal-sourced foods in both climatological and ecosystem degradation.
A Well-Fed World advocates minimizing the consumption of animal-sourced foods — especially in high-consuming countries and reversing increased consumption trends in emerging economies before they become more entrenched.