Environmental Impacts of Livestock Production
Approximately nine million dairy cows, 90 million beef cattle, 60 million swine and billions of poultry in the U.S. produce more than 100 times more organic waste (and nutrients) than humans; but where human waste makes its way to a septic tank or sewage treatment plant, livestock waste is usually spread untreated on the ground for its fertilizer value. USEPA calls livestock waste one of the greatest water quality problems in the U.S. today. The industry and it’s impacts on water quality and climate change are under close and increasing scrutiny by regulatory agencies, advocacy groups, institutional investors and its consumers.
- Manure waste and enteric fermentation
- Methane and oxides of nitrogen (NOx)
- Livestock account for 4.2% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (USEPA)
- Climate change is a very large focus of anti-livestock advocacy groups and industry competitors
- Livestock production is the largest source of excess nutrients (Nitrogen & Phosphorus) in most major U.S. watersheds
- Highly mobile and volatile N from ammonia (from animal waste) becomes airborne and is difficult and expensive to control
- N&P fuel harmful algae blooms (HABs) in fresh, estuary and coastal salt waters that are increasingly toxic
- HABs lead to Dead Zones in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and other large waterbodies
- Increased Nitrates from manure in groundwater contaminate aquifers, where much of our drinking water comes from
- Ammonia from livestock waste also contributes to formation of PM2.5 – small inhalable particulate matter that poses a significant health risk
- Increasing P concentrations in agricultural soils reduces productivity
- Increasing pathogen levels near waste spray fields demonstrate antibiotic resistance
- Pathogens in untreated waste used as manure leads to foodborne illness (and death)
For a more detailed discussion of the environmental impacts of livestock production, please click here.