Impact of Animal Agriculture

Article contributed by The Green Restaurant Association


Did you know that livestock production produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector? The majority of livestock in the United States is raised on factory farms, which are typically industrial-sized farms that raise cattle, chicken, or other animals for their meat and byproducts in high-density and often unclean conditions.

Not only are factory farms often inhumane for animals, they also can cause harm to the environment. The majority of farms still use pesticides and other chemicals in growing meal for their animals and in killing and treating their stock. The chemicals used on factory farms all trickle through the ecosystem, polluting waterways and soil and can even be digested by consumers.

Two major ways that these factory farms impact the environment are through air pollution and waste production. The massive amounts of manure produced by the livestock on factory farms release methane, nitrous oxide, and other gases into the air, impacting the quality of life of the farm workers as well as the already-confined animals. The methane released by factory farms is particularly worrisome considering methane, as compared to carbon dioxide, is 25% more effective in trapping greenhouse gases over a 100-year period, according to estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Animal waste, sewage, and pesticides can also impact the ecosystems near factory farms. Chemical runoff from fields or manure piles can end up in rivers or larger bodies of water. This buildup increases the levels of toxic chemicals like arsenic, which can cause illness or become poisonous in high doses, especially for children.

So how do you figure out if a meat product is humane or organic? Some retailers may use marketing terms that may be misleading and confusing to consumers. Some meat retailers showcase their products as “natural” or any other number of health buzzwords to mislead customers. For example, by federal regulation poultry cannot be given growth hormones at any stage of their growth process, so “no hormones added” labels are meaningless. It’s important to find Certified Humane and Organic products to ensure you’re actually purchasing meat that is better for animals and the environment.

Restaurant owners and other food service providers can find sustainable meats through these resources:

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There are several Green Restaurant Distributors™ that provide certified meat and animal byproducts. Massachusetts-based company Dole and Bailey sells a variety of Certified Humane and USDA Certified Organic meat products. Virginia-based retailer Ayrshire Farms sells veal, pork, eggs and other animal byproducts that are USDA Certified Organic and Certified Humane. More Green Restaurant Distributors™ can be found under our “Find Products” tab.

What consumers can do:

  • Reduce your meat consumption while dining out. A great way to do this is by participating in “Meatless Mondays
  • Some restaurants publicly display their humane sourcing claims; check them against the GRA’s standards to see if they are reliable or not.

The Green Restaurant Association can help your restaurant source more sustainable seafood. Check out our seafood standards here, and email outreach@dinegreen.com to learn more.