Animals raised for food expend the vast majority of the calories that they are fed simply existing, just as we do. We feed more than 70 percent of the grains and cereals we grow to farmed animals, and almost all of those calories go into simply keeping the animals alive, not making them grow. Only a small fraction of the calories consumed by farmed animals are actually converted into the meat that people eat.
A major 2006 report by the United Nations summarized the devastation caused by the meat industry. Raising animals for food, the report said, is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale ….”
Growing all the crops to feed farmed animals requires massive amounts of water and land—in fact, nearly half of the water and 80 percent of the agricultural land in the United States are used to raise animals for food. Our taste for meat is also taking a toll on our supply of fuel and other nonrenewable resources—about one-third of the raw materials used in America each year is consumed by the farmed animal industry
Farmed animals produce about 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population of the United States, and since factory farms don't have sewage treatment systems as our cities and towns do, this concentrated slop ends up polluting our water, destroying our topsoil, and contaminating our air. And meat-eaters are responsible for the production of 100 percent of this waste—about 86,000 pounds per second! Give up animal products, and you'll be responsible for none of it.
Many leading environmental organizations, including the National Audubon Society, the WorldWatch Institute, the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, have recognized that raising animals for food damages the environment more than just about anything else that we do. Whether it's the overuse of resources, unchecked water or air pollution, or soil erosion, raising animals for food is wreaking havoc on the Earth. The most important step you can take to save the planet is to go vegetarian.