At this year’s United Nations COP23 event in Bonn, Germany, there was an official side event called “Reducing Livestock’s Long Shadow.” The event was sponsored by ProVeg International and Green Course.
This event was the only official side event at COP23 about animal agriculture and climate change. This topic should be a main COP event because industrial animal agriculture impacts climate change more than the entire transportation sector according to the UN FAO.
But hey, let’s find ways to make industrial animal agriculture’s impact on climate change a bigger topic globally so that next year at COP24, this topic does get a main event.
Thankfully, the “Reducing Livestock’s Long Shadow” event was recorded and it’s on YouTube. The video includes the talks from the panel members and audience discussion. The panel was excellent and there was so much great information not only on current data but also on possible action items.
The panel speakers included:
Helen Harwatt, Environmental Science, BSc Honors, PhD, of Planet Friendly Food.
Dr. Marco Springmann, Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food project.
UNFCC Nutrition in National Adaptation Programmes of Action
Besides this “Reducing Livestock’s Long Shadow” event, Brighter Green wrote up this great blog post of other food and climate change related events.
Less Meat Less Heat did this great re-cap post with photos of their launch of Put Climate on Pause Coalition that proposes the adoption of a two-valued reporting standard for Global Warming Potential (GWP), that includes both 20- and 100-year timescales to give a broader view of the impacts of SLCPs (short-lived climate pollutants), including methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture.
When methane and nitrous oxide are included in the short-term 20 year picture, the impact of industrial animal agriculture on climate change bumps significantly because the leading cause of both gases are from guess what? Yeah. Methane has 86 times the warming potential of CO2 over 20 years (GWP20) versus 34 times over 100 years. (GWP100).
There is so much information about industrial animal agriculture’s impact on climate change that it’s honestly overwhelming.
Where to begin?
I’ve spent almost a whole year poring over all kinds of data, articles, books, lectures, and videos to learn as much as I could. The reason there’s so much information is that the factory farm system involves a myriad of intersecting industries, social issues, political issues, global issues, and big money.
This post is by no means a summary of everything out there but it will help make it a bit easier for you to start digesting and get the bigger picture.
We’ll begin with a comprehensive Facts page, 10 staggering facts that will give you a broad yet detailed picture of just how massive the problems factory farming is causing, and then finish with three compelling videos so you can see actual footage and more detailed information.
Climate change is real and we cannot combat its devastating effects without taking action on industrial animal agriculture’s impact on global warming and the environment.
Comprehensive Facts Page
The Cowspiracy documentary Facts page is the best resource online with an extensive collection of data with links to information on industrial animal agriculture’s impact on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Water, Land, Waste, Oceans, Rainforest, Wildlife, and Humanity which includes human health. It’s compelling!
10 Staggering Facts
1. 99% of farm animals in the U.S are raised in factory farms. ~ASPCA
If you find that number unbelievable, for some perspective, despite significant consumer demand for organic food, only 1% of total farms in the U.S. are organic farms. ~USDA (it’s actually only .80 but let’s be generous and round up.)
2. Just how many farm animals are there in our country? Literally, billions.
In 2015, 9.2 billion animals were slaughtered for food in the U.S. This figure does not include seafood. 8,822,695,000 of the 9.2.B is chickens. Yes, we as a nation ate almost 9 billion chickens in one year. ~Humane Society
3. Corporate domination anyone? Just four corporations control the meatpacking industry. They are in order by 2016 net sales:
Tyson Foods dominates the four. From 2013 to 2016, just 3 years, Tyson doubled their Gross Profits from $2.3B to $4.7B. To give you an idea of their scale, Tyson slaughters an average of 125,000 head of cattle per week which is a little over the human population of Berkeley, CA.They have the capacity to slaughter up to 175,000 animals per week.
Based on this data, Americans eat about 2 lbs of chicken per week which is the average weight for a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store. If you are an average chicken eater, you eat 52 birds a year.
5. To produce one pound of beef requires a whopping:
1,799 gallons of water which is the equivalent of 90 8-minute showers
And produces 15 lbs of CO2 which is the equivalent of driving 20.59 miles
The feed conversion ratio (FCR) of a cow, the animal’s efficiency to turn its food into body mass for meat (it’s input compared to it’s output) is the highest of all livestock at 7:1. Pork is 5:1 and chickens are 2-1/2:1. ~Dr. Robert Lawrence of Johns Hopkins University
Let’s compare the water footprint per gram of protein between beef and beans. Litres of water per gram of protein needed for beef is 112 (30 gallons) and pulses are 19 (5 gallons). Beef requires 6 times the amount of water than beans! ~Water Footprint Network
6. Where are the factory farms? Everywhere.
The terms the USDA uses for factory farming are Animal Feeding Operation (AFO) and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO.) The difference is the number of animals and how significant by EPA standards the operation can contribute to surface water pollution via its waste management system.
There are approximately 450,000 AFOs in the United States!
Food and Water Watch created this insightful “Factory Farm Map.” The dark red areas represent the biggest of the factory farms which can have tens of thousands to millions of animals on hand.
The dark red areas on the Factory Farm map marked EXTREME mean “More than 13,200 total livestock animal units” which is more than 17,400 beef cattle on feed, more than 4,200 dairy cows, more than 48,500 hogs, more than 2.75 million broiler chickens, and more than 1.25 million egg laying hens.
To understand the map, here is the key and the methodology FWW used. The map also shows the county location of the slaughter facilities and poultry processing plants for the top four beef, pork and poultry processing companies in the United States.
7. Methane is worse than you think.
In a 2017 published study funded by NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System program, global methane emissions from cows is 11% higher than previous stats suggested.
The global accepted policy norm in climate change data is to use the GWP100 numbers. In this Scientific American article, “How bad of a gas is methane?” some in the scientific community are calling to end the use of GWP100 methane numbers and use GWP20 and GWP100 as a slashed pair. The difference in the methane GWP numbers from 20 to 100 years is 2.5 times, which is significant.
Methane from the agricultural sector is largely unregulated in the U.S. despite the fact that combined CH4 and N2O emissions from livestock manure management systems grew 64% between 1990 and 2013. In 2012, factory farm raised livestock produced 369 million tons of manure, which is 13 times as much as the sewage produced by the entire U.S. population
Here is a FAQ from the EPA from 2010 on the Guide for the Agriculture and Livestock Sectors on Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases. Not only are dairy or beef producers not required to report on annual enteric fermentation emissions of methane but the EPA did not implement reporting requirements for manure management systems from funds using its FY2010 appropriations due to a Congressional restriction prohibiting the expenditure of funds for this purpose.
FAQs on Mandatory Reporting was taken down when the Trump administration scrubbed the EPA web properties at the beginning of 2017. The EPA agriculture emission numbers are estimated to be 4% below actual numbers.
9. Your meat, dairy, and egg purchases are supporting Big Pharma.
70% of medically important antibiotics in the U.S. are sold for use in animals, not people. In 2015, 97% of all medically important antibiotic sales for livestock or poultry were over-the-counter, meaning they were sold without a prescription and typically without any oversight by a veterinarian. This happens because of lax government regulation. ~NRDC
10. Your meat, dairy, and egg purchases are supporting Big GMO.
Your meat, dairy, and egg purchases is supporting the stock prices of GMO behemoths like Monsanto/Bayer (a mega merger pending government approval,) and the new Dow DuPont $62 billion behemoth.
Factory farm animals are fed a diet primarily of GMO soy and corn. 92% of all corn, and 94% of all soy grown in the U.S. is GMO. An astounding, 98% of U.S. soy goes to feed livestock. Monsanto controls 80% of the GM corn market, and 93% of the GM soy market. In 2016, Monsanto had net sales of $13.5 billion. $5.83 billion of those sales was corn alone.
Factory farm raised dairy cows eat plenty of GMO alfalfa. Alfalfa is the 4th largest crop grown in the U.S, and Monsanto is the industry leader in GMO alfalfa.
I could double this list with more staggering facts. I haven’t even gotten talking about crap yet, like literal manure, and the manure lagoons. But for now, I’ll leave you with this list to process because it’s A LOT.
One of the easiest and most impactful things you can do now to take action is to simply start reducing your meat, dairy, and egg consumption which is why I’ve created the Flexi 21 challenge that can help you get started in that process in a fun, delicious way.
Cowspiracy, The Sustainability Secret available on Netflix is a documentary that talks about the cow in the room avoided in most discussions about climate change.
This documentary will give you an eye opening glimpse into why the world’s leading environmental organizations like Greenpeace and 350.org barely address factory farms despite the fact that according to the U.N, industrial animal agriculture impacts climate change more than the entire transportation sector which includes cars, trains, boats, and airplanes.
I honestly didn’t believe what I was seeing in Cowspiracy so I did my own research and sure enough it was true. It’s jaw dropping. Here is the Cowspiracy trailer.
This video is a talk David gave based on his book Meatonomics about the business and political workings of the meat, dairy, and egg industries. It’s riveting information most consumers have no idea about like Ag gag laws, Cheeseburger laws, and government Check-off programs. There’s a reason you see so many bacon and cheese burger commercials on TV.
When you learn more about the economics of the meat, dairy, and egg industries you will see why factory farms exist in the first place, the levels of greed and corporate control involved, and how much we consumers are being manipulated. It’s eye opening!
From VICE on HBO, “Meathooked & End of Water.” This is one of the best videos I’ve seen that shows a quick but bigger picture view of what factory farms look like from the ground and air.
You will see jaw dropping air footage of manure lagoons some the size of multiple football fields. Manure lagoons are one of the largest contributors of Nitrous Oxide, which has 296 times the GWP100 (Global Warming Power over 100 years) of C02. You will also see what massive GMO corn crops surrounding a large cattle factory farm in Colorado looks like. It’s eerie.
The movie An Inconvenient Truth inspired many people to start taking personal action to help stop climate change. The movie that really motivated me to start taking personal action on climate change was Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret because this film really opened my eyes to not only how much animal agriculture was impacting climate change but how environmental groups were barely talking about animal Ag at all.
In fact, in An Inconvenient Truth the topic of animal agriculture’s impact on climate change is not even mentioned.
The movie Cowspiracy not only motivated me to start cutting down on my meat and dairy consumption, I’m 90% plant-based now, but the film galvanized me to become an activist to help educate more people about Animal Ag’s impact on climate change and help get them to take action not only economically by our food choices but also socially and politically to help influence our politicians to create better legislation and protections around food’s impact on climate change.
Here is the trailer for Cowspiracy:
You can watch Cowspiracy on Netflix, or purchase an online stream yours forever for $4.95 from the filmmakers themselves at Cowspiracy.com so they get all the profit.
The folks at Cowspiracy have their own 30-day Cowspiracy Vegan challenge. It’s a challenge one you can easily do also using resources from The Flexi 21 like our plant-based recipes and meal ideas along with product reviews of plant-based food products.
Cowspiracy hosted their first conference called COW-CON in Berkeley, CA in 2016. It was a great event! I learned so much more.
One of the best speakers at COW-CON was former factory farm rancher now animal activist and vegan advocate Howard Lyman who was one of the best and funniest speakers at COW-CON.
Howard is featured in Cowspiracy as well as the film Meat The Truth that we’ve also recommended watching. Here’s Howard’s CowCon talk.
Filmed in 2008, but still very relevant today, Meat The Truth is presented in a long version like TED Talk by Dutch MP Marianne Thieme, the leader of the Party for the Animals which became the world’s first party to gain parliamentary seats with an agenda focused primarily on animal rights. The party hold seats in the Dutch parliamentary and the European Parliament.
Meat the Truth is a great introduction to animal agriculture’s impact on climate change and the environment particularly of livestock factory farming which creates more worldwide greenhouse gas emissions than that of all transportation combined – cars, trains, boats and planes combined.