What we eat and how we grow food has a bigger impact on the planet’s landscapes, water resources, and climate than anything else we do. Agriculture already uses up about 40 percent of our planet’s land area, drives 70 percent of our freshwater withdrawals worldwide, and produces over one-quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions—mainly through deforestation, methane emissions from cattle and rice fields, and nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer overuse. It also drives species extinctions and causes the greatest ecological damage to land and water. There is no landscape on the planet that hasn’t felt our impact, in large part due to agricultural activity.
Animal agriculture is a big part of this story. An astonishing 75 percent of all the land used to grow food on Earth is used to raise animals or produce animal feed. It also has outsized impacts on water resources and climate change.
So where are the solutions? We can start by reducing food waste—one of the smartest routes towards sustainability. Up to half of the food we produce globally is never eaten, lost somewhere in the supply chains between farmers and consumers. In wealthy countries, we lose most of our food in our homes, supermarkets, and restaurants. In growing countries, food is lost between the farmer and the marketplace due to spoilage or an inability to bring goods to market.
Using the crops we already grow more efficiently requires a hard look at our diets. Over a third of the world’s crop production (in terms of calories) is fed to livestock, and five percent are turned into biofuels and other industrial products. While we do consume the resulting meat, dairy products, and eggs from feedlots, only a small fraction—about 10 percent—of the original crop calories fed to the livestock turn into animal products for our meals. Eating plants is drastically more efficient than consuming a meat- and dairy-intensive diet.
It’s time to rethink our food system by curbing food waste, eating differently, and farming more sustainably.
Thirty to fifty percent of the food we produce globally is never eaten. By cutting food waste in our homes, workplaces, restaurants, and grocery stores, we can feed more people and dramatically shrink the environmental footprint of agriculture.
Animal products require much more land, water, and other resources to grow than their plant-based counterparts. Eating less meat—especially beef—can have a huge impact.
We can help encourage sustainable agriculture in our communities. Organic farms can provide more environmental benefits, including better soil health and biodiversity, than conventional agriculture. If you eat meat, grass-fed beef ranches can have a similar impact on soil. For seafood, check out SeafoodWatch.org to learn about the best sustainable choices.