Essay Sample on The Environmental Effects of Meat Production/ Feedlots

Published: 2023-09-27
Essay Sample on The Environmental Effects of Meat Production/ Feedlots
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Ecology Food Agriculture Climate change
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1384 words
12 min read

The production of food from animals has accelerated at an alarming rate due to growing demand over the years. Globally, there is about 70 billion livestock with more than 6 million slaughtered for meat, and about 56 billion killed for other products every year (Ilea 155; Oppenlander 25). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that global meat consumption will double in the next 30 years. Rearing animals in feedlots and slaughtering them in the food industry has severe impacts on the environment. Global warming, coupled with the depletion of natural resources and the extinction of plants and animals, has been on the rise because of the growing meat industry. Recently, there has been a stir about grass-fed meat production systems, which allegedly are healthier and safer for the environment. This paper analyzes the environmental effects of meat production using various sources of literature.

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The livestock sector is a significant contributor to detrimental environmental changes, including the atmosphere, water, and land pollution. According to an article published by Matthews (1) under the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this venture emits more greenhouse gases than the transport sector. A report by FAO showed that the livestock industry accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Steinfeld et al. 23). Another survey by Goodland and Jeff (6) reported a higher proportion (51) of the same. Although there is a vast difference between the two, probably because FAO used outdated sources, both estimates portray livestock production as the second-largest polluter of the environment. It is worse than the transport industry, which surprisingly stands at only 13% (Dopelt et al. 3). Cutting the costs per unit of livestock production by half is necessary to prevent further damages to the environment and worse environmental predicaments.


According to an article published in the University of Oxford, grass-fed meat production is almost as bad as the feedlot system. Claims that the former is the solution to the environmental crisis related to livestock activities are false. Animal pastures do not benefit the environment; instead, they contribute to the problem. According to the University of Oxford (1), grass-fed livestock can improve the sequestration of carbon, but only for limited periods and in specific conditions. This change is reversible and is significantly dwarfed by the greenhouse gases emitted by the animals globally. Livestock production and consumption contribute to environmental problems, regardless of the method. Both feedlots and grass-fed meat lead to changes in lands, water, and damaging greenhouse gases.


Meat production is among the most substantial contributors to harmful gases like carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, and nitrous oxide. According to Matthews (1), livestock account for more than 9% of carbon dioxide produced from human-related activities. They release this gas, which contributes to global warming, naturally. Furthermore, this industry generates the most significant proportion of other human-related harmful gases. It contributes to 68% of nitrous oxide emissions, a gas that persists in the atmosphere for long, and harms the protective ozone layer (Dopelt et al. 4). Compared to carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide is more likely to cause global warming by 296 times, as reported by the same authors. 35 to 40% of all methane emissions worldwide come from reared animals (Dopelt et al. 4). This gas product also harms the ozone layer and increases the risk of global warming 23 times more than carbon dioxide. Of the total ammonia emissions, livestock accounts for 64%, according to Dopelt et al. (4). The presence of this gas in the air contributes to acid rain, which harms people, other living things, and the soil. Animals produce these products naturally from enteric fermentation, leaving limited ways to control them. Although farmers can adjust diets and improve the recycling of waste to reduce the alarmingly high levels of emissions, the best solution would be to reduce the amount of livestock.


The other environmental problem of meat production is the degradation of land. Livestock for food production uses 30% of the entire land surface on the earth and two-thirds of the productive part (Oppenlander 10). With FAO’s projections, this proportion is likely to increase from the clearing of forests for pastures due to an increase in animal rearing, leading to more deforestation (Steinfeld et al. 150). 70% of the Amazon forest has already been cleared for grazing to satisfy the demand for meat, causing the extinction of indigenous flora and fauna. The point of clearing forests is to provide more space for livestock and the production of their food. Dopelt et al. (5) reported that about 40% of all harvested farm produce globally feeds animals. If the world used half of that proportion to feed all the starving people, it would solve the problem of hunger. The other option would be using the available land rationally to reduce deforestation.


This livestock sector depletes the increasingly scarce water resources and degeneration of coral reefs. Overgrazing interferes with the water cycles, leading to reduced replenishment of water resources. Animal wastes, and the products used, such as antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides, results in water pollution and eutrophication. In the South China Sea, livestock is the most significant inland sources of nitrogen and phosphorus contamination (Goodland and Jeff 7). These gases are harmful to the marine ecosystem, as they lead to a loss in biodiversity.


People are consuming more meat products every year due to increasing prosperity. With this trend, Matthews (1) projects that global meat production, which was at 465 million tons from 1999 to 2001, will increase more than twofold to approximately 1043 million tones. Ilea 160 also predicts a similar predicament, where the livestock industry will thrive immensely in the coming years. Technology has brought new ways to process meat into different tasty products, which appeal to the modern lifestyle, and it will keep doing so, leading to an increase in the demand for animal products. This trend is commendable, as it will provide livelihoods to more people and boost the economy. However, this rapid growth will come with a steep environmental price, which will affect the health of the people, discrediting its worth. Having a thriving economy and a comfortable livelihood is useless if the process risks the lives of individuals.


Compared to grass-feeding, feedlots are more effective in reducing financial expenses and economizing on water and land. Innovations like selective breeding and enhanced feed production, reduce carbon footprint. However, nitrogen accumulation remains significantly high, dwarfing this benefit. Feedlots may be the future of the livestock industry, but they still cause significant damages to the environment. Animals still produce harmful gases than vehicles, regardless of the rearing system used. From the analysis, the problem results from the high number of livestock available in the globe. Finding ways to deal with the issue of high nitrogen concentration from feedlots can mitigate this crisis, but it cannot solve it. The best solution would be to reduce the consumption of meat of all types. Merely switching to feedlot production while maintaining the current consumption rate does not help the environment.

Works Cited

“Is grass-fed beef good or bad for the climate?” University Of Oxford, 3 Oct 2017,

Dopelt, Keren, Pnina Radon, and Nadav Davidovitch. “Environmental Effects of the Livestock Industry: The Relationship between Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behavior among Students in Israel.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 16, no. 8, 2019, pp.1-16,

Goodland, Robert, and Jeff Anhang. “Livestock and climate change: What if the key actors in climate change are... cows, pigs, and chickens?.” Livestock and climate change: what if the key actors in climate change are... cows, pigs, and chickens? vol. 1, no. 1 (2009). pp. 19-30,

Ilea, Ramona Cristina. “Intensive livestock farming: Global trends, increased environmental concerns, and ethical solutions.” Journal of agricultural and environmental ethics, vol. 22. No. 2, 2009, pp. 153-167,

Matthews, Christopher. “Livestock a major threat to environment.” FAO Newsroom vol. 1, no. 1, 2006, Accessed 9 July 2020.

Oppenlander, Richard. Food choice and sustainability: Why buying local, eating less meat, and taking baby steps won’t work. Hillcrest Publishing Group, 2013.

Steinfeld, Henning, et al. livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. Food & Agriculture Org., 2006.

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