It seems that every day another species is listed as endangered. Scientists have even warned that we’re currently seeing the sixth mass extinction and that more than half of all wildlife could be gone by 2020. So how does your hamburger, steak, or dairy cheese factor into that? In addition to the unspeakable cruelty inflicted on farmed animals, animal agriculture takes a devastating toll on wildlife through hunting, overfishing, deforestation, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change.
From grazers to predators, animals are killed on a massive scale to feed the profits of the meat industry. Each year, thousands of wild animals, including wolves, bears, river otters, eagles, and coyotes, are killed because they are seen as a threat to animal agriculture industries.
Factory farms occupy almost half the land in the lower 48 states, encroaching on many wildlife habitats. To protect the profit interests of these enterprises, the U.S. government has dedicated an entire department, USDA Wildlife Services, to killing any animal deemed a threat to livestock. In 2013 alone, Wildlife Services killed more than 2 million wild animals, including 75,000 coyotes and 12,000 prairie dogs.
In addition to the targeted killing of wildlife, habitat loss caused by animal agriculture is a serious threat to wild animals, including many endangered species. A 2010 report by the United Nations found that more than one-third of the world’s landmass is used for animal agriculture. The World Bank estimates that deforestation each year amounts to approximately 5.6 hectares, an area larger than all of Costa Rica. And animal agriculture is considered responsible for more than 90 percent of Amazon rainforest destruction.
Raj Patel, a professor at the University of Texas, told The Independent:
The footprint of global agriculture is vast. Industrial agriculture is absolutely responsible for driving deforestation, absolutely responsible for pushing industrial monoculture, and that means it is responsible for species loss. We’re losing species we have never heard of, those we’ve yet to put a name to and industrial agriculture is very much at the spear-tip of that.
More than half of the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants and animals live in tropical rainforests, making Amazon devastation a growing concern. Approximately 137 plant, animal, and insect species in the Amazon are lost each day, totaling 50,000 species a year. According to ecologist Brian Machovina, “the habitat loss is so great that it will cause more extinctions than any other factor." In a 2015 interview with Science, geophysicist Gidon Eshel stated: “Now we say, only slightly fancifully: You eat a steak, you kill a lemur in Madagascar. You eat a chicken, you kill an Amazonian parrot.”
And it’s not just the Amazon. As land around the world is cleared for farmed animals and feed crops, indigenous species get pushed out. Forests in Sumatra that are home to elephants and jaguars are being destroyed for palm plantations, often to make feed for animals kept in factory farms. In Tanzania, farmed animals are constantly grazing, reducing the diversity of grasses and endangering food supplies for zebras, wildebeests, elephants, giraffes, and rhinos. Large-scale cattle farming will not only decimate the country’s wildlife population but also encroach on the few national parks where these animals reside.
Marine animals face similar problems. According to a 2017 study, more than 69 percent of Southern Resident orca pregnancies fail due to starvation. More than 80 percent of the whales’ diet is composed of Chinook salmon, another critically endangered species that was added to the list of overfished species in 2015. Without their preferred food source, pregnant orcas do not get the nutrients necessary to bring their offspring to full term. Each failed pregnancy is disastrous to the Southern Resident orca population, as fewer than 80 whales remain.
The devastating effects of commercial fishing make it clear that in the world’s ecosystems, everything is connected. For instance, Atlantic puffins on the Shetland Islands depend on sand eels to survive. Once sand eels were overfished, puffin numbers dramatically declined. When herring is overfished, cod populations fall.
Similarly, sardines and anchovies are being overfished so they can be ground into fish meal for farmed salmon, pigs, and chickens. For animals like penguins who depend on sardines and anchovies for food, that causes a rapid drop in population. Since 2004, the South African penguin population has declined an astonishing 70 percent.
As consumer demand for fish has grown, the number of nontarget animals caught in trawler nets and fishing gear has consequently risen. The commercial fishing industry kills an estimated 50 million sharks that way each year, decimating several species. Dusky shark populations have dropped a staggering 85 percent due to bycatch and overfishing. Great white sharks, a particularly vulnerable species, are often killed in long lines and gill nets off the coast of California. Additionally, more than 300,000 dolphins, porpoises, and whales, including endangered humpback whales, die each year after becoming entangled in fishing equipment.
Off the coast of El Salvador, researchers found approximately 400 dead sea turtles, including endangered species. One of the key suspects in the mass die-off is the shrimp industry. Approximately 85 percent of animals caught in shrimp trawlers are bycatch and are therefore discarded.
Pollution also plays a major role in the destruction of marine habitats. Animal agriculture is a major source of water pollution and is even responsible for the largest recorded dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Toxins from factory farm runoff, mainly manure and fertilizer, leak into nearby waterways. These toxins promote the growth of algae blooms, which create oxygen-deprived zones that cause marine life to flee or die. Tyson Foods has been identified as a dominant contributor to the pollution crisis. In fact, a 2016 report found that Tyson was responsible for dumping six times more toxic pollution into waterways than Exxon.
The environmental impact of factory farming is enormous. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, planes, and other forms of transportation combined. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, carbon dioxide emissions from raising farmed animals make up approximately 15 percent of global human-induced emissions, with beef and milk as the leading culprits.
Climate change has already destroyed habitats and threatened biodiversity. It has driven the shrinking habitat of polar bears, increased droughts around the world, and caused extreme weather events that have obliterated endangered species.
But by simply avoiding animal products, you cut your carbon footprint nearly in half. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, "that carbon footprint of meat production is more than just a big number. For polar bears, it's a factor in whether or not they'll live to see the end of this century."
It’s abundantly clear that the animal agriculture industry doesn’t care about the planet or animals. But you can boycott this destructive and cruel industry by withdrawing your financial support and switching to a compassionate, eco-friendly diet.
Click here to learn how!