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Unsustainable Nutrition



Submitted by - Ankush Babbar (222/COE/14)

Course - Report Writing (COE- 221)
Submitted to Dr. Tanushree Choudhary
Date: 19 April, 2016

Human interference with the natural systems has continued for a long time, and it is
posing a risk not only to the earth but to mankind itself. Even though the livestock sector
plays a major role in the environmental degradation, very less research has been done
pertaining to it and as a result it has gained little to no attention. As the existing ways of
intensive industrial-style meat production are highly unsustainable, an increase in the
meat supply could have catastrophic consequences. This report gathers examples from
scientific literature to provide an insight into the detrimental aspect of the livestock
sector. The livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as
whole. In addition, it is responsible for climate change, with almost half of the entire GHG
emissions coming from the livestock sector alone. This devastating figure is a direct
consequence of recklessly cutting rainforests to clear land for grazing animals and
producing food for them. Raising livestock also takes its toll on the water resources. It is a
very water intensive task and accounts for 8 percent of global human water usage. It is
also the largest sectoral source of marine pollution, contributing to eutrophication, ocean
dead zones, degradation of coral reefs and human health problems. Due to ever increasing
demand for fish, marine ecosystems are at very major risk of collapsing, with some
scientists speculating the oceans to be fishless by the end of the century. Growth of animal
agriculture industry has also made its presence felt in the once untouched forests. It turns
out to be the leading cause of deforestation, over-exploitation and extinction of species.
Being a major driver of deforestation, livestock sector is indeed a key player in loss of
Biodiversity as it is responsible for the destruction of habitats, climate change and is a
driver and facilitator of invasion by alien species. Due to these destructive and damaging
consequences, the probability of our widespread annihilation is increasing rapidly and we
are running out of time to stop the most harmful impacts of what we are doing. A Balance
needs to be maintained between the demand for animal food products and a healthy
environment. We have to change the world by making our choices sustainable. We can
start working on these sustainable alternatives as a solution to this problem and the
easiest way to do this is to bring down the demand for animal based products.

Table of Contents
Introduction .... 1
1.0 Meat supply ... 1
1.1 Increasing incomes .. 1
1.2 Increasing popultaion ... 2
2.0 Greenhouse emissions and Air pollution . 2
2.1 Contribution of livestock industry in GHG 2
2.2 Emissions for a meal. 2
3.0 Animal feed and Land use .. 3
4.0 Livestocks role in water depletion and pollution ... 3
4.1 Water use .. 4
4.2 Water pollution 4
5.0 The condition of fisheries .. 4
5.1 Wasted Catch: Unsolved problem in fisheries 5
6.0 Impact on Biodiversity .. 5
7.0 What are the Consequences? .. 6
Conclusions ... 6
References 7

Since time immemorial, humans have been rearing animals to meet their needs of meat, milk,
wool and other domestic requirements. Over the years, as the economy grew, small scale
farming was gradually replaced by industrial style agriculture. Increased efficiency of industrial
agriculture led to fall in prices of products of daily use. It helped to easily and reliably provide
food to pe0ople and turned meat- an infrequent meal into a cheap, every-day product.
However, the irony is that our very affordable meat is not so cheap. Today, the livestock sector
emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious
environmental problems (Steinfeld et al. 2006). This includes stresses such as cutting of
rainforests, overuse of freshwater, food consumption by farm animals, respiration and all the
waste that animals produce. Even though a billion people are chronically hungry and go to bed
empty bellied, a large proportion of the food we produce is being fed to farm animals. But,
perhaps, the most apprehensive impact of raising animals for food and what has been the motif
of many scientific publications in the recent years, is climate change. Animal agriculture, alone
is responsible for up to 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the entire
transportation sector. Yet, whenever we think of the causes of climate change, the images
which make appearance into almost everyones mind are large factories with smoke emitting
chimneys, cars and traffic jams. Humans are using earths natural resources in a very
unsustainable fashion: at rates that increasingly exceed their natural ability to renew
themselves, and polluting the air, water and soil at rates surpassing the capacity of
environment to decompose these pollutants.

1.0 Meat Supply

Meat consumption varies widely across the world, with astoundingly large differences.
The USA leads with 322 grams of meat per person per day (120 kg per year), followed by
Australia, New Zealand, Europe (200 g), South America and Asia with only 31 kg per

1.1 Increasing incomes

Over the past few decades, the global meat
production has increased by four fold and is
expected to increase further. Growing
population, economies and urban food
demand shapes the livestock sector and
contributes to a shift in diets. The growth in
per capita consumption of meat is directly
linked to increasing per capita incomes. Higher
incomes imply a demand for better, protein
rich nutrition. The effect of increased income
on changing diets is most prominent among
middle income populations. China is one of the
fastest growing meat consuming regions in
Asia, with urban middle classes adapting to a
more western diet.

1.2 Increasing population

World population is currently 7 billion, increasing at the rate of 76 million annually
and UN forecasts that the world population will be as high as 9.1 billion by 2050.
Thus, rapid growth of population has led to an explosion in global demand for meat
and animal feed, from 70 million tonnes in 1961 to 278 million tonnes in 2009 (FAO
2012a), an increase of 300 per cent in 50 years.

2.0 Greenhouse emissions and Air pollution

Anthropogenic climate change has become a well-known fact and its impact on
environment is already being observed. The greenhouse effect controls the temperature
of the earth by trapping the heat in the atmosphere. However, over the decades an
increase in the level of GHGs in the environment has resulted in the global mean
temperatures elevating to alarming levels. This increase has brought along with it many
repercussions including the sea level, swelling at rates never witnessed before and
severe storms, floods and droughts which are capable of obliterating entire towns and


Contribution of Livestock Industry in GHG

Overall, animal agriculture contributes to 18 percent of the GHG
emissions from the five major sectors: energy, land use, industry waste,
forestry and agriculture. Considering the last two sectors only, livestocks share
is 51 percent and for the agriculture sector only, it is up to 80 percent. On the
other hand, the entire transportation sector has a share of only 13 percent in
GHG emissions.
GHG are emitted in following ways Methane (CH4) from the digestive process of animal.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) from excreted nitrogen and chemical fertilizers
used to produce the feed for animals.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - taking in account deforestation for pasture and
feed crop land.
Here are some key facts related to GHG emissions due to animal agriculture:


Methane is 25-100 times more destructive than Carbon Dioxide and has
a global warming potential 86 times that of Carbon Dioxide on a twenty
year frame.
Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day.
Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of
nitrous oxide a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming
potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150

Emissions for a Meal

In an analysis, it was found that beef had the highest GHG emissions with 22.6
kg CO2-eq/kg (Lesschen et al. 2011) as compared to pork, poultry and milk.

Thus, it is more climate efficient to procure protein from plant based diet than
animal based sources and beef is the least efficient way to produce protein. The
consumption of 1 kg of beef is equivalent to automobile use for a distance of 160

3.0 Animal Feed and Land Use

Under natural conditions, some animals feed themselves from land which would
otherwise be of little use to humans, thus converting energy stored in plants into food
and at the same time fertilizing the ground with their excrements. But over the years,
to a large extent, this system has been replaced by large scale industrial styled
agriculture where factories hold hundreds or thousands of farm animals and buy
animal feed from farmers. Worldwide, farm animals consume up to 50 percent of
the grains and legumes produced and about 70-80 percent of the soybeans.
There is enormous loss of calories grown in field since crops have to be cultivated to
feed animals. We are 7 billion people and we produce enough food to feed 15 billion
people, yet 1 billion people starve every single day, just because a very major portion of
the food produced is being fed away to animals.

One third of the planets ice

free area is occupied by
livestock or livestock feed, the
main purpose for which the
percent of Brazils deforested
land is used as pasture and for
feed crop cultivation. 1 acre of
Amazon forest is being cleared
accommodate livestock and its

4.0 Livestocks Role in Water

Depletion and Pollution
Freshwater sources are unequally distributed
around the globe. A very large portion of the
population lives under water scarcity. Projections
suggest that the situation will worsen in coming
decades mainly due to domestic, industrial and livestock uses. Wetland ecosystems,
most species- diverse habitats on earth, are most effected by water depletion.

4.1 Water Use

Livestocks contribution to water use is high and growing. Animal agriculture
water consumption ranges from 34-76 trillion gallons annually, which is 20-30
percent of global freshwater usage. Production of beef is a very water
intensive task and it takes 660 gallons of water to produce one ham burger.
Aniamals use much more freshwater than all domestic uses put together.

Main water usage is due to:

Drinking and servicing

Product processing
Feedcrop production

4.2 Water pollution

A large amount of waste is generated from animal agriculture industry. Every
minute, 7 million pounds of excrement are produced by animals raised for
food in the US. Livestock excrements contain a considerable amoun of
Nitrogen, drug residues, heavy metals and pathogens. If these are discharged
into water bodies or soil, they pose serious threats to the environment. This has
led to the creation of around 500 nirtogen flooded ocean dead- zones around the

5.0 The Condition of Fisheries

Fishing is central to livelihood and is important part of food of over 200 million people.
According to UN reports, aquaculture the farming of aquatic animals for food is
growing more expeditiously than all other animal agriculture sectors. But facts and
statistics about aquacultures soaring rates reveal that fish stocks are at risk of
collapsing due to overfishing and ocean degradation. Three fourths of all the worlds
fisheries are over exploited or depleted. The magnitude of the problem of
overfishing is often shut eyes to, citing the competing issues of energy resource
exploitation, deforestation, and other biodiversity depletion dilemmas. The depletion
of fisheries is a major threat to food security of millions of people.


Wasted catch: Unsolved problem in fisheries

The way fishing is done today to meet the ever growing demands of large
populations is through massive fish-nets. For every 1 pound of fish caught,
there is 5 pounds of untargeted fish caught such as dolphins, whales, sea
turtles and sharks. This untargeted fish, called as bycatch, may amount to 40
percent of the worlds total catch. Bycatch poses as one of the biggest threats to
maintaining healthy aquatic populations and marine ecosystems all over the
world. Most of the captured aquatic life is treated as waste, and left overboard
dying. This sustainability problem must be solved if we want healthy oceans in
future and if required steps are not taken, we could see fishless oceans by

6.0 Impact on Biodiversity

Biodiversity refers to the variety of species, genes and ecosystems found in the
environment. In general, it points to the entire expression of life on the planet.
Biodiversity is an essential constituent of human well- being, security, and basic
materials for a good life. Since ages, human beings have benefited from the exploitation
of biodiversity, often reducing it by conversion of natural ecosystems for human uses.
According to MEA report (2005b), the most significant drivers of biodiversity loss are1. Habitat change (changes in land use pattern and modification of rivers etc.)
2. Overexploitation
3. Climate change
4. Invasive alien species
5. Pollution
Currently, livestock plays an important role in biodiversity crisis by contributing to
these factors directly or indirectly:

Industrial agriculture related land use destroys the existing habitats of some
species. For example, conversion of forests into pastures for grazing.
Contributes to climate change which in turn has adverse effect on ecosystems.
Aquatic life is affected by dumping of nitrogenous waste in oceans, creating
many ocean dead zones across the world.
Overexploitation, e.g. overgrazing of pastures, overexploitation of fisheries.
Killing of species such as native wolf and coyotes to protect lands designated
for cattle grazing.

Any phenomena affecting one dimension of biodiversity will inescapably impact other
dimensions. For example, hunting of carnivores leads to increase in herbivores
population, posing a threat to vegetation. The following facts apparently show what the
outcomes are.
Up to 137 plant, animal and insect species are lost every day due to
rainforest destruction.
Ten thousand years ago, 99% of the biomass was wildlife. Today, humans
and the livestock we raise for food makes up 98% of the biomass.

7.0 What are the Consequences?

Worlds environment scientists tell us that the highest safe level of CO2 emissions is
350 ppm. However, we are already at 400 ppm. The safest level that we could be,
without having serious implications like drought, famine, human conflict and major
species extinction would be about 20 C rise in temperature and with the built in
amount of GHG, we are easily going to exceed that. So on our watch, we might be
facing the next major mass extinction of species that we havent seen since the time of
dinosaurs. When the landmass of countries in their entirety, go under water due to sea
level rise and when they face extensive periods of droughts and floods, they would need
to desperately migrate to other countries or invade other countries, thus leading to
climate wars in future. For example, countries like Maldives, where 80 percent of the
land is just one meter above sea level, a small rise in the sea level would inundate the
entire country and it would be non- existent by 2050. In general, the faster the changes
are, the greater is the damage, and lesser is our ability to cope up with the
A positive temperature anomaly of more than 2.5O C could reduce global food supplies,
thus shooting up food prices. Livestock sector will also be affected due to higher grain
prices. Economic activities, human settlements and human health would experience
many direct and indirect consequences. In general the populations of economically less
advanced nations of Asia, Africa and South America are most vulnerable to the harmful
effect of climate change.

As we have seen, livestock sector emerges as one of the biggest forces driving environmental
degradation and resource overuse. Globally, it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse
emissions, climate change and water pollution. In addition, it contributes to the loss of
biodiversity as large areas of rainforests are cleared worldwide and converted into pastures for
grazing and producing feed for the livestock. Overall, it tends to exacerbate the already
impending threats to social and natural systems thus making both the human society and the
natural environment vulnerable to a catastrophic collapse. Moreover, from an economic
perspective, livestock consumes more protein than it produces, making it an inefficient and
expensive way to produce protein. One way to mitigate the harmful impacts of animal
agriculture is to consume the products in a more responsible way thus reducing the demand
for meat. Also, by relying on poultry instead of beef, the carbon and water footprint of livestock
sector can be reduced significantly. In addition, the policy makers should adopt environmentresilient strategies in order to carry out meat production in a sustainable and effective manner.
Even though the livestock sector remains a major threat to the natural systems, it plays a very
crucial role in agriculture economy, food security and human health and nutrition. Hence, its
environmental aspects need to be visualized in the context of many different functions it
performs. In a long run the policies designed should not only focus on the strategies to manage
environment, but should also focus on improving the livelihoods, as well as the social and
economic well-being of those involved in this sector. Thus keeping in mind the vastness and
complexity of the livestock sector, this method of integrated action seems to be one of the only
ways to effectively and efficiently deal with the ongoing problem in a long run.

1. Livestocks long shadow, FAO UN (Rome,2006)
2. Growing greenhouse gas emissions due to meat production, UNEP (2012)
3. Comparing environmental impacts for livestock products: A review of life cycle
assessments, article in livestock science (March, 2010)
4. Wasted Catch: Unsolved problem in U.S. fisheries, Oceana (March, 2014)
5. Feeding livestock food residue and the consequences for the environmental impact
6. World Watch, November/December 2009. Worldwatch Institute, Washington,
DC, USA. Pp. 1019
7. Meat-eaters Guide to Climate Change & Health. Environmental Working Group
8. Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook, USDA
9. http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/News/2006/1000448/index.html
10. www.cowspiracy.com
11. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v515/n7528/full/nature13959.html
12. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-greenhouse-hamburger/
13. http://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/meat-and-animal-feed.html
14. http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-peoplegrain-livestock-eat
15. http://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/amazon_destruction.html
16. http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/solutions/stop-deforestation/solutionsfor-deforestation-free-meat.html#.VwLOUaR97IV
17. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/facts-on-animal-farming-andthe-environment/