In making food choices, people have different priorities: cost, taste, animal welfare, accessibility, cultural preferences, religious traditions, and/or environmental impact. The facts provide an unbiased view of the overall impacts of our food system. This section will focus on two of the biggest contributors to climate change associated with our food system: industrial animal agriculture and food waste.
Deforestation also contributes to biodiversity loss. Which in turn, threatens the world’s food supply. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Director-General Jose Graziano, “Biodiversity is critical for safeguarding global food security, underpinning healthy and nutritious diets, improving rural livelihoods and enhancing the resilience of people and communities.”
Animal agriculture also has significant and negative impacts on water quality and quantity.
Heavy pollutants -- like nitrates, sulphate, phosphate, copper and zinc -- are present in fertilizers and animal waste. These pollutants may eventually leach into groundwater or surface water. When too many of these chemicals and minerals find their way into our rivers, lakes and oceans, they can cause algae blooms and ocean dead zones.
Producing meat does not just affect water and land; it also takes a serious toll on air quality. Because of the high density and close proximity of animals in factory farms, the animals' concentrated manure releases harmful gases into the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide, methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are a few potent gases that not only harm human health but also contribute greatly to climate change. According to the Center for Disease Control, exposure to these gases can also cause serious respiratory problems as well as mental health deterioration.
When all the different forms of waste from factory farms decompose, they release particulate matter into the air. These particles can include dry manure, feathers or bits of feed. Since they can be absorbed into the body, these small particles are very dangerous for humans living or working near the large-scale factory farms. Absorption can cause illnesses ranging from asthma to cardiac arrest. The amount of emissions released from factory farms is similar to smokestacks, accelerating climate change.
We waste a lot of food. In the U.S. alone, we waste between 30 to 40 percent of our entire food supply! That’s equivalent to tossing out 133 billion pounds of food and $161 billion down the drain annually. It is also the equivalent of throwing out 1,249 calories per person per day.
Food waste contributes to climate change and wastes valuable resources that could be used for other purposes. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that food waste accounts for 8.2 percent of the total human-made greenhouse gas emissions. When we toss still-edible food into the trash, it ends up in landfills where it generates methane. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 34 percent of all methane emissions in the U.S. come from landfills.
Globally, almost 1 billion people are hungry, and almost 2 billion people are eating too much of the wrong food. In the U.S. alone, almost 40 million people live in food insecure households, meaning they are unable to acquire enough food to meet the dietary needs of the household. Still, we throw away the equivalent of 141 trillion calories per year.