149 million acres – half of all harvested U.S. cropland – are planted with grain for animal feed, requiring environmentally-damaging and energy-intensive resources like fertilizer, fuel, pesticides and water.
Applying fertilizer to soil and growing nitrogen-fixing crops such as soybeans generate nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Irrigation pumps, tractors and other farm equipment also release relatively small amounts of carbon dioxide. Feed production accounts for 53 percent of the emissions associated with poultry production and 23 percent of emissions associated with beef production. (See the Methodology (PDF)). Nitrous oxide accounts for most of these emissions.
Excessive pesticides and fertilizers (including manure) used to grow feed often end up polluting rivers, streams, groundwater and oceans with large quantities of damaging nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, creating oxygen-depleted “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere. Industrial farming also causes massive amounts of topsoil erosion. (Visit Losing Ground). As a result of chemical and soil runoff, tens of thousands of miles of waterways across the U.S. heartland are so polluted that they are longer fit for swimming, fishing, drinking or as habitat for aquatic life. Feed production is subsidized by tax dollars – to the tune of $45 billion over the past 10 years.