Home-United StatesMythbusting: No, Livestock Doesn't Destroy the Planet

Mythbusting: No, Livestock Doesn’t Destroy the Planet

Ever wonder why no one ever questions the carbon footprint of our coffee habits? Pets? Horses? That’s because there’s a lot of money to be made for meat alternative companies through disinformation campaigns to sell products.  Also, activist groups like PETA aren’t exactly broke! Let’s further explain:

Most people are rightfully concerned about our planet, climate change, and our impact on the environment. Unfortunately, there are many myths about whether livestock is destroying the planet. It’s time for some myth-busting. Let’s find out if livestock really do destroy the planet.

Short answer: No, livestock does not destroy the planet!

Long answer: Livestock benefits the ecosystem, provides high-quality nutrition, and doesn’t have a huge impact on the environment. Let’s start with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Livestock is not a large source of GHG emissions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), livestock production only accounts for 4% of United States GHG emissions. This isn’t very much compared to the 23% of emissions caused by industry/fossil fuels.

If all livestock are eliminated from the agriculture industry, greenhouse gas emissions will only be reduced by 2.6% in the United States. This is clearly a small impact for an industry that feeds and supplies so many people. It would also contribute to more nutrient deficiencies.

Grazing livestock uses about 29% of all U.S. land, which includes grassland, pasture, and rangeland. The land used for grazing livestock is often not able to be used to grow other crops or food products as it is too rocky, arid, or steep to use for other purposes. This might seem like a lot of land, but since much of it can’t be used for other food production, livestock use land that would otherwise have no purpose.


Livestock are also “upcyclers”. This means they take inedible things humans don’t consume (grass or food waste) and turn them into high-quality protein and essential nutrients. For example, cattle, sheep, and goats can take items like brewers’ grains, cottonseed, pea pulp, beet tops, grass clippings, and potato peelings and turn those products into high-quality protein, dairy products, and wool. These byproducts, or leftovers, are often mixed into their feed, helping to decrease food waste. 40% of animal feed ingredients are byproducts. Research has also found that feeding these byproducts to cattle decreases GHG emissions by over 4.5 times compared to composting these byproducts and over 49 times when compared to landfill disposal.


Livestock are improving the environment by providing important ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the benefits that society receives from an ecosystem. Animal grazing can improve biodiversity, provide wildlife habitat, enhance carbon sequestration, and contribute to nutrient cycling. Cattle grazing can help control weeds, allowing other varieties of plants to grow and increasing plant diversity. Animal grazing also provides fertilizer, which enhances the growth of many organisms. Cattle, sheep, and goats provide many other ecosystem services. Sheep eat plants that crowd out trees. Sheep grazing in forests can even double the number of healthy trees and increase each tree’s growth by 30 percent compared to areas not grazed.


Manure and waste from livestock are also used. This fertilizer provided from manure often cuts down on production costs and increases soil health and crop yields for future years. Manure can also be captured in methane digesters and turned into fuel and/or renewable energy!

The environmental impacts of livestock are also improving. One example of this is the dairy industry. The environmental impact of producing the same amount of milk in 2007 was only 37% of the impact in 1944. The beef industry has also decreased its carbon footprint by 16.3% for every billion kilograms produced in 2007 compared to 1977. This has happened in every sector of animal agriculture.


The livestock industry is also on a path of continued improvement. Many sectors of animal agriculture have made sustainability commitments.  For example, The dairy industry aims to achieve GHG neutrality, optimizing water use while maximizing recycling and improving water quality by optimizing the utilization of manure and nutrients by 2050. Beef has also adopted some sustainability goals, including completely climate-neutral cattle production by 2040. Pork’s environmental goals are to reduce GHG emissions by 2030 by 40% from a 2015 baseline, improve water efficiency, improve soil and biodiversity while restoring and protecting natural habitats, improve water quality by reducing nutrient run-off, manage manure, and protect water areas around farms.


Another big sector often overlooked in the livestock world is byproducts! We get thousands of products we use every day from livestock, such as lifesaving pharmaceuticals, textiles, musical instrument strings, lotions, soaps, and so much more. In a TED talk on YouTube, the presenter explains 185 uses for a pig—from bullets to beer filtration, fine bone china, cement mixtures, and more. There’s no such thing as “vegan.”


Animal agriculture has already decreased environmental impact by utilizing new technologies, implementing farmer pledges, and following expert guidelines. Advances in technology, nutrition, genetics, and management practices will also continue to contribute to reducing animal agriculture’s environmental impact.

There are still a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding livestock’s role in “destroying” the environment. Some claim that animal agriculture should be eliminated to solve climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To put it simply, livestock are not destroying the planet. Livestock is not a large source of GHG emissions. It can upcycle land and leftover byproducts that wouldn’t otherwise be used, turning them into high-quality protein and essential nutrients that benefit people. Livestock also improve the planet by contributing to biodiversity and providing wildlife habitat. Animal agriculture is on the right path to improving by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water use, land use, and waste and improving efficiency, all without destroying the planet.





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