Environmentalists react with outrange at plans to open a conservation estate to mining, set-nets trapping dolphins or the proliferation of gas guzzling SUVs, yet people rarely consider the impact of their diet on the environment. The truth is, livestock farming causes more environmental damage than any of the above activities. A FAO report showed that 18% of global warming worldwide can be attributed to animal agriculture. Global warming comes about not only through animal gas emissions but through nitrous ozide from animal wastes, and clearing forests for farmland.
Global warming is not the only environmental disaster caused by livestock farming. Fertilisers, effluent and dairy waste find their way into waterways, causing toxic algal blooms and killing native fish. The Manawatu river is one of the most polluted in the world. Most of the waikato's rivers and streams are unsafe to swim in, with approximately 90% of pollution being caused by rural runoff from dairy farms and other pasture. National Minister Nick Smith considers water pollution to be an environmental issue second only to climate change in importance. The 16,000 pigs in an intensive operation cause as much effluent as a city of 23,000 people, and this is largely untreated. Reids piggery in carterton (owners of the Premier Bacon brand) were convicted for dumping what essentially amounted to raw sewage into waterways.
Habitat destruction is a leading cause of extinction, especially in a recognised "biodiversity hotspot" like New Zealand. Thanks to our insatiable demand for animal flesh, the once diverse lowland forest that covered the Hauraki Plains, the Horowhenua and other places, have become a sea of pasture, dotted with livestock, as far as the eye can reach. Environmentalists are concerned over the damage caused by possums, but it was no marsupial that felled thousands of hectares of bush for the sake of a livestock monoculture.
Eating meat is no more a sensible option for a serious environmentalist that driving an SUV or supporting whaling. The best thing we can do for the planet is to become vegan.