When you think of major causes of pollution what do you think of? Most people think of industrial plants or cars, but few of us think of the food industry as having an important role in the environment. However, agriculture is up there with the main causes of pollution and CO2 emissions.
In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture and electricity/heat production are tied for first with approximately 25% each. This is surprising because we tend to focus a lot of our energy on transportation and industry when it comes to environmental preservation. This is because we see food production as a necessary cost when in reality this is a number we could greatly reduce. For example meat is has the greatest effect because raising an animal for slaughter takes the most energy. They eat the most, drink the most, create waste, and take up the most space. The simplest change would be not eating as much meat or buy meat from smaller farms where they have the ability to be more sustainable in their meat production.
Another issue is how the agriculture industry creates a cycle. By creating more CO2 and greenhouse gases the food industry is causing temperatures to rise and rain levels to decrease. These create poor conditions to be growing plants and raising animals. The food industry could be hurting itself by making an environment that is not conducive for them to work with.
The agriculture industry also affects our usage of water. Obviously to grow living things there must be water usage but it is surprising to learn how much they differ by food and even within the same food group. The foods that use the least water to grow are fruits, vegetables, and other plants. Not surprisingly meat uses the most water. For reference, apples take about 77 gallons of water per pound, tofu uses about 302 gallons/lb, and beef requires about 1,847 gallons/lb. Beef uses six times the amount of water as tofu. This is another reason eating less meat can be beneficial for the environment and humans as a whole. There are a lot of places in the world that do not have enough water and by using more of this water for people and less in meat, it would help this problem. If you do not feel you can give up meat try to eat chicken because it uses about 518 gallons/lb, a third of the water that beef uses. The good rule of thumb is the larger the animal the more water it needs to produce a pound of food.
Similar to water, meat uses a lot of wheat to feed and create a pound of product. In the same way that it takes more water to yield a pound of beef than chicken, it takes more wheat to yield beef than chicken. It takes about 8 lbs of wheat per lb of beef, but only about 2.5 lbs/lb of chicken. Instead of using this wheat for raising animals it could be used to feed people.