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Environmental Reasons to Be Dairy-Free

Just as aesthetics may motivate some people to avoid dairy, the thought of how the dairy industry affects the environment compels others to act. They avoid dairy products as a way of making an individual contribution to preserving the environment and the quality of the planet’s soil, water, and air.

Abundant evidence shows that mass animal agriculture — the meat and dairy industries — contribute substantially to the production of the gases believed to cause climate change. Climate change is a growing concern around the world. In the coming years, changes in the planet’s climate brought on, in part, by humanity’s dependence on animal foods, are projected to cause shortages of food, water, and arable land in various parts of the world.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in 2006 reported that livestock production for meat and milk accounts for about one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas production. That’s more than the greenhouse gases produced by all the world’s cars, trucks, planes, trains, and boats put together.

Steps for delaying or halting climate change involve protecting the planet’s natural resources, including the soil, water, and air. Some of the ways the production and distribution of meat and milk products affect the environment include

  • Deforestation: Huge areas of the earth’s landmass are used for cattle grazing. With fewer trees, less carbon dioxide is absorbed from the atmosphere.

  • Noxious emissions: Animals raised for meat and milk produce manure that sends nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide is a gas with nearly 300 times the warming power of carbon dioxide. It isn’t the only gas that animals produce either. Cows pass gas, too — lots of it. The methane they produce has a more powerful warming effect than carbon dioxide.

  • Intensive use of resources: Meat and milk production and distribution require the use of fossil fuels and huge quantities of water. Petroleum, a fossil fuel, is used for transporting animals and their feed far distances. It’s also used for running farm machinery and operating factory farms. Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used to raise animals for meat and milk products get washed into streams, rivers, lakes, and bays and contaminate the water supply.

Buying animal products from small mom-and-pop farms may be preferable to buying from large companies that engage in animal agriculture on a large scale. Small, local farmers often are more sensitive to environmental hazards associated with raising animals for food. However, in general, becoming less dependent on dairy and other animal products is best for everyone.

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