Don’t wait till the cow’s come home: let’s now talk about impact of animal agriculture


Acts of civil disobedience by Animal Rebellion throws the spotlight on industry 

Political debate about how the animal agriculture industry adversely impacts the environment is urgently needed in light of the acts of civil disobedience by the group Animal Rebellion across the UK, food awareness NGO ProVeg International has said.

Members Animal Rebellion have deliberately obstructed the milk supply at depots across the country in an attempt to draw the Government’s attention to how agriculture is one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions and to the degradation of the environment. 

“We are seeing increasing numbers of ordinary people, and even scientists, taking direct action to bring attention to their concerns about climate change and these latest acts put the animal agriculture industry squarely in the spotlight,” Jasmijn de Boo, Vice President of ProVeg International, said.

“In the global context, the way we produce meat and dairy products has significant adverse effects, which Governments need to address. Think about agricultural run-off and mass river pollution, greenhouse gas emissions including the much more dangerous gas methane, compacted soil, increased risk in antimicrobial resistance, animal suffering, crops wasted on animal feed causing excessive energy, water and land loss, and so on,” de Boo added.

“The list is long enough to warrant immediate withdrawal of financial incentives, redirecting them to the plant-based sector that grows crops for human food, not animal feed. This incidentally also benefits food security and food prices.

“With a new Prime Minister, the UK has the opportunity to focus on transitioning the food system to a climate-smart, more plant-based, food system that encourages biodiversity rather than degrades it. Other countries’ Governments have committed funding for the plant-based, cultured and fermented food sector, and the UK now has an opportunity to show leadership,” de Boo said.

Transitioning to a plant-based diet is one of the most effective ways an individual can contribute to address the climate emergency. In fact, plant-based foods are responsible for half the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as animal-based foods. One liter of cow’s milk emits two to three times as much greenhouse gasses as plant-milk alternatives((Röös, E., T. Garnett, V. Watz, et al. (2018): The role of dairy and plant based dairy alternatives in sustainable diets. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala. Food Climate Research Network (FCRN), London.))((Poore, J. & T. Nemecek (2018): Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science 360(6392), 987–992.)). Also, an Oxford study published last month which analyzed 57,000 food products sold in the UK and Ireland found that plant-based meat alternatives have between a fifth and a tenth of the environmental impact of meat-based equivalents.

A quarter of people in the UK already now drink plant-based alternatives, according to a 2019 survey from Mintel.

Key points on animal agriculture and its environmental impact:

  • Livestock production accounts for about 80% ((Poore, J. & T. Nemecek (2018): Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science 360(6392), 987–992.
    ))of all agricultural land.
  • The production of animal-based foods is responsible for about 20% of all global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Especially cattle for beef and milk production contribute a large share to those emissions((Xu, X., P. Sharma, S. Shu, et al. (2021): Global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods. Nature Food 2(9), 724–732.)).
  • Animal agriculture is not only a huge source of emissions – it also destroys Earth’s natural defense systems. Large areas of forests, grasslands, and wetlands are cleared in order to create grazing land or grow feed crops. However, these forests and other wildlands act as important carbon sinks by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, thus counteracting global warming ((Baccini, A., S. J. Goetz, W. S. Walker, et al. (2012): Estimated carbon dioxide emissions from tropical deforestation improved by carbon-density maps. Nature Climate Change. 2, p.182–185)) ((Harris, N. L., S. Brown, S. C. Hagen, et al. (2012): Baseline Map of Carbon Emissions from Deforestation in Tropical Regions. Science. 336, p.1573–1576))

Since animal-based products need significantly more land area than plant-based foods, a reduction in the consumption of animal-based food could not only save forests but also feed a greater number of people. A study by Cassidy et al. calculated that if the production of animal-based foods (grain-fed) was reduced by 50%, an additional 2 billion people could be fed on the existing agricultural land((Cassidy, E. S., P. C. West, J. S. Gerber, et al. (2013): Redefining agricultural yields: from tons to people nourished per hectare. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, p.034015)).

Another study, conducted by Erb et al., had similar results and showed that a purely plant-based diet could theoretically feed the increased global population projected to live on Earth by the year 2050 – without any need for additional deforestation to expand the agricultural area((Erb, K.-H., C. Lauk, T. Kastner, et al. (2016): Exploring the biophysical option space for feeding the world without deforestation. Nature Communications. 7, p.11382)). 

Another important aspect is water use. 

The amount of water we drink or use for cooking, laundry, or personal hygiene is only a small contributor in terms of our overall consumption. Instead, the food that we eat determines how much water we require: the agricultural sector uses 70% of the freshwater available worldwide((WWAP (United Nations World Water Assessment Program) (2015): The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015: Water for a Sustainable World. Paris, UNESCO)). Growing feed crops is responsible for 20% of global freshwater expenditure((FAO (2019): Water use in livestock production systems and supply chains – Guidelines for assessment (Version 1). Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) Partnership. Rome.)).

Furthermore, waste from the livestock sector, including manure and veterinary medicines such as antibiotics, vaccines, and growth promoters (hormones), makes its way into ecosystems and drinking-water sources ((FAO and IWMI (2017): Water pollution from agriculture: a global review. Executive summary. Rome and Colombo)).



Notes to Editors

For media inquiries, email Peter Rixon at [email protected]


About ProVeg International

ProVeg is an international food awareness organization working to transform the global food system by replacing conventional animal-based products with plant-based and cultured alternatives.

ProVeg works with international decision-making bodies, governments, food producers, investors, the media, and the general public to help the world transition to a society and economy that are less dependent on animal agriculture and more sustainable for humans, animals, and the planet.

ProVeg has permanent-observer status with the UNFCCC, is accredited for UNEA, and has received the United Nations’ Momentum for Change Award.


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