Animal Agriculture is Degrading Our Oceans

Want to reduce your environmental impact? Become a vegan/vegetarian. Each time you buy a hamburger or any other meat product, you are making a choice. You are making a choice to use 53 gallons of water, 75 square feet of land, and 6.7 pounds of grains and forage – All in one meal (3). It takes a lot to raise an animal, and these limited resources could just as easily be allocated to our growing population of people and to our blue-green planet.

Currently, one-third of the world’s land surface is devoted to the rearing and eventual slaughter of 56 billion animals each year, reaping unwarranted damage on our oceans through climate change, water consumption, and pollution (5). Much of this meat is produced and consumed in the United States, where the average person consumes more meat than anyone else in the world aside from Luxembourgers (3). Meanwhile, meat consumption outside of the United States is rising as developing countries like India and China embrace the diets of which we have long been accustomed. If this trend continues, global meat consumption will double by 2050, and so will the impact it has on our planet (5).

Our habits aren’t the only thing changing. Animal agriculture is becoming more industrial, reducing prices at the expense of the environment, animal welfare, social and economic health, and food security in a world where one billion people are malnourished (1,4).


Photo Credit: EPA via Wikimedia Commons


Ocean Pollution

Most of the food we grow does not end up on our plates. In the U.S., 80 percent of the corn crop and 98 percent of the soybean crop is devoted to feeding our food, not us (4). Livestock digests this food, and we are left to deal with the waste – 500 million tons of it each year, to be exact, and that’s just in the U.S. (5). This waste is rich in nitrogen, which is the primary polluter of the United State’s coastal rivers and bays (6). Nitrogen has moderately to severely degraded two-thirds of our coastal waters, causing oxygen depletion and algal blooms (6,7). Sensitive sea creatures cannot survive under these conditions, changes that result in dead zones and complete changes in ecosystem makeup (6,7). Livestock is largely responsible for this nitrogen pollution, including the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico (8).

The Ocean and Climate Change: Rising Ocean Temperatures and Ocean Acidification

Animal agriculture produces more emissions than the transportation industry. While we generally limit our discussion of climate change to carbon dioxide, there are other significant greenhouse gases impacting our climate. Methane and nitrous oxide actually impact our climate more severely than carbon dioxide (1). These two gases are released in great quantities by animal agriculture, through “cow farts,” deforestation, ect (1, 2, 5). Animal agriculture is responsible for at least 17% of human caused greenhouse gas emissions globally (1).

Climate change has important implications for our oceans. Sea level rise, rising temperatures and ocean acidification are already effecting our ocean. Sea turtles, some of which are on the brink of extinction, are facing serious threats.


In addition to polluting our oceans and emitting greenhouse gases into our air, animal agriculture is responsible for over 8 percent of global human water use, massive deforestation, land degradation, and desertification (3).

With one simple decision, you can protect our oceans and our forests, all while fighting food insecurity. Take the pledge to stay meat-free, for our rivers, forests and sea.

Learn more about what you can do to help our oceans by clicking here.

  1. Gill M, Smith P, and Wilkinson JM (2010) Mitigating climate change: the role of domestic livestock. Animal 4:  323–333. doi: 10.1017/S1751731109004662.
  2. McMichael AJ, Powles JW, Butler CD, and Uauy R (2007) Food, livestock production, energy, climate change and health. The Lancet 37: 1253-1263. doi:
  3. Eliza Barclay (2012) A Nation of Meat Eaters: See How It All Adds Up. NPR.
  4. Rossi J and Garner SA (2014) Industrial farm animal production: A comprehensive moral critique. Journal of Agric Environ Ethics 27: 479-522. doi:10.1007/s10806-014-9497-8
  5. Koneswaran G and Nierenberg D (2008) Global Farm Animal Production and Global Warming: Impacting and Mitigating Climate Change. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116: 578-582.
  6. Howarth RW (2004) Human acceleration of the nitrogen cycle: drivers, consequences, and steps towards solutions. IWA Publishing 49: 7-13
  7. Steinfeld H (2006) Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  8. Chris Riotta (2016) A ‘dead zone’ the size of Connecticut is taking over the Gulf of Mexico. Business Insider.

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