Seven Facts About Food Choices & Planet Earth on World Environment Day

Food on your plate could either cause or help solve climate change, habitat destruction, species extinction, water pollution & food scarcity. This Environment Day, find out how.

Fri Apr 24, 2020

Happy World Environment Day!

Throughout evolution, our food choices have only had an impact on our immediate surroundings. But globalisation of food comes with a massive environmental impact. Did you know that the food you eat is likely a leading contributor to climate change, species extinction, and environmental destruction, apart from just the leading causes of death such as heart disease and strokes?

Here are seven ways in which your food choices can save (or destroy) Plant Earth. Which side are you on? Given a choice, I believe we all would like to be on our planet's side, because, well, if we end up destroying it, where do we and millions of other species live?

Discover the immense power of food choices on the world and perhaps, choose to celebrate World Environment Day by trying vegan!

In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations compiled and published a report called 'Livestock's Long Shadow: Environment Issues and Options'. Here's what they found.

1. 30% of the World's surface area is used for growing animals

Lambin & Tuner et al, 2011

That's 3.9 billion hectares, of which 0.5 is used to grow crops for feeding animals and the remaining 3.4 is used for pastures and animal farms. Animal agricultural takes up a major chunk of agricultural land, up to 78%. Imagine the possibilities if all of this land is converted to growing plants. To begin with, we would have more than enough food to feed the 900 million humans being who are malnourished.

2. Animal Agriculture Contributes to One-Fifth of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions

At 18%, animal agriculture contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions than all global transportation combined! We often hear people saying they took the bus instead of their car to work today to reduce pollution or chose to skip one plane trip, or even started cycling to the shop every day. This is easy to understand because we can see the dark, polluting gases coming from a vehicle's exhaust.

However, animal agriculture uses a huge chunk of transport by itself. Apart from transport, it also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions through all four of the other major contributors: energy, industry, waste, land use, land-use change and forestry, and agriculture.

When it comes to agriculture, animal agriculture is responsible for nearly 80% of all emissions, similar to the statistics for land use above.

Choosing to eat three oranges instead of a big cup of milk could not only help reduce these toxic gases from polluting our atmosphere, but it could also give us a similar amount of calcium! Did you know that research now shows dairy products have little or no benefits for bone health?

3. Animal farming is leading to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, especially in India

Chicken consumption in India is growing faster than anywhere else in Asia. Areas of chicken high consumption (30 kg/km2) are projected to grow 312% by 2030. Chickens today grow faster and don't fall sick despite living in cramped and crowded conditions. The secret to making both of these happen is widespread antibiotic use in chicken and other farmed animals. The problem with this unregulated antibiotic use is antibiotic-resistant bacteria. India suffers from bacterial diseases more than most other countries in the world, and antibiotics have played a crucial role in saving people's lives from bacterial infections. Unfortunately, antibiotic resistance is on the rise and this could spell out extreme danger in the future.

Antimicrobial residues have been discovered in milk and meat in India, and we rank No. 4 in the world for antibiotic use in animal farms. Choosing to consume plant foods over animal foods will help curb antibiotic resistance and potentially save millions of lives in the future.

4. Water is used, polluted, and depleted severely by animal agriculture.

The water used by animal agriculture exceeds 8% of global water use. Animal farming also causes 15% of global water depletion every year.

Not only does animal agriculture use and deplete water, it also pollutes what's left on the planet. The livestock sector is responsible for 55% of erosion as well as 32% and 33%, respectively, of Nitrogen and Phosphorous runoff into freshwater resources. Apart from these, the pesticides used for growing animal feed and maintaining pastures also get into our groundwater, and so do antibiotics and heavy metals from the fields.

The solution? Switching to organic farming has been shown to have an equally good yield as intensive chemical farming, while maintaining and improving soil fertility and water quality. Even more so when we choose to consume organic plant foods rather than animal foods.

5. Domesticated Animals account for 66% of the biomass of all land animals...

... while human beings account for 40%, and wild animals, just 4%! The lead researcher of this study, Prof. Ron Milo, told the Guardian, "It is definitely striking, our disproportionate place on Earth... When I do a puzzle with my daughters, there is usually an elephant next to a giraffe next to a rhino. But if I was trying to give them a more realistic sense of the world, it would be a cow next to a cow next to a cow and then a chicken."

Forests have been cut down to make way for pastures, soybean and corn fields that will be fed to animals. Exotic fodder plants kill off important native plants. Fire is used to manage pastures. Overpopulation of cattle causes overgrazing. Any local animals that pose a threat are systematically killed off. The best way to save animals is, yes, to stop consuming them. As a bonus, this is also the best way to save wild animals in the environment, by stopping this leading cause of habitat destruction and species extinction.

6. We may see fishless oceans by the year 2048.

Pollution and over-fishing are destroying marine ecosystems in an alarming way. For every kg of shrimp that is caught, anywhere between 5 and 20kg of 'bycatch' is caught in the nets. These are fish that can't be sold, and so are tossed back into the ocean - dead. This accounts for 40% of fish caught worldwide.

7. Every day, more than 150 MILLION animals are killed for food in the world

And this is only land animals! This comes out to 56 billion land animals killed every year. If we include fish in the figure, we kill 3 billion animals every day, and trillions every year.

Phillip Wollen OAM, a leading animal rights leader, says, "If human beings we killed at the same rate, we would be wiped out in less than a weekend!"

This Environment Day green your plate by choosing more Whole Plant Foods such as Fruits, Vegetables, Pulses, Grains, Nuts and Seeds. Choose local seasonal foods over exotic ones. Choose health for ourselves and the planet. Every step that we take towards eating Plant-based helps. Every step is a step towards a reduced carbon footprint. Make a difference, starting today.

Get started with our FREE 21 day Plant Based Kickstart, complete with daily Nutrition Science Videos, Complete Meal Plans over 200+ Whole Food Plant Based Recipes from all over India and the world! Click here. I hope you find it super useful! :)

Be blessed.

Dr Achyuthan Eswar
Lifestyle Physician & Co-founder,, PHC Lifestyle Clinic & Plant-based Kitchen


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