Explained: Animal Agriculture

Environmental issues are the topic of our generation, and rightly so. More and more the consequences of our modern day lives are coming to the forefront of our consciousness, but it can be easy to become overwhelmed with so many terms and ideas being thrown around. The Curious Environmentalist was created to make environmental and conservation topics more accessible. My name is Rebecca, the founder of The Curious Environmentalist, and as I am learning about the world around me and the problems it faces, I am sharing that knowledge in the hope that, together, we can make significant, long-term change.

Animal Agriculture

The term animal agriculture has become increasingly popular when talking about environmental issues and the human impact on the planet. More and more, we are realising that our intensive farming methods are considerably damaging to the environment and something that we need to reconsider if we want to live sustainably.

So, what exactly is animal agriculture?

Animal agriculture is often referred to as factory farming, or intensive farming. Basically, it is the global spread of mass industrialisation practices of the breeding, raising and slaughter of certain species (commonly referred to as ‘livestock’) for human consumption. In our Western societies, the main issue surrounds cattle and the farming of beef, however, the problems surrounding animal agriculture encompass all intensive animal farming.

‘Livestock’ is a general term which can globally include:

  • Cattle
  • Sheep
  • Pigs
  • Goats
  • Horses
  • Donkeys
  • Mules
  • Buffalo
  • Oxen
  • Llama
  • Camels, and more. 
Animal Agriculture

We primarily need animal agriculture to fulfil the food source of meat in our modern diet. However, there are also other benefits such as the use of animal manure for fertiliser, as well as economic distribution amongst lower income nations.

Why is animal agriculture an environmental issue?

The environmental footprint of animal agriculture is huge. Farming animals contributes to many other environmental issues including soil degradation, water pollution and poor distribution, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and more. It is also responsible for an estimated 18 percent of human-produced greenhouse gases that we have put into the atmosphere – meaning it is one of the driving causes of human induced climate change.

It is also a controversial issue as it has been argued that humane and responsibly managed animal agriculture could be the answer to the problems surrounding animal agriculture, although this is contested by some animal rights campaigners and environmentalists. This is something that I believe is highly subjective, so if you want to learn more about this controversy then I suggest you continue you own research into this topic. 

Animal Agriculture

It is argued that humane and responsibly managed animal agriculture is not an issue because:

  • It uses less feed, water and fuel than intensive farming methods.
  • It reduces both costs and pollution into surrounding environment.
  • It creates jobs and boosts local economies.
  • By adopting environmentally friendly practices and encouraging natural processes such as nutrient recycling it can help reduce environmental impact.

However, many argue that the issues surrounding animal agriculture are systemic and that ‘humane’ farming of livestock is not possible. As I said before, this is something that I encourage you to form your own opinion on through additional research, it is a fascinating topic of discussion.

As with many environmental issues, there is not one simple solution. There are a variety of things that we should all be adopting to reduce the impact of animal agriculture on the planet, including plant-based alternatives or clean meat (essentially lab-grown meat products that eliminate the need to slaughter animals for food.). Other ways to make a difference include:

  • Shopping Smart – buy ‘free-range’, ‘pasture-reared’ or ‘outdoor-reared’ products.
  • Shop Local – buy from local farms and be in the know about local farming practices.
  • Reduce Food Waste – embrace leftovers and meal planning.
  • Stop Overeating – we eat too much, so cut down; save money, calories and impact.
  • Reduce Meat & Dairy – try vegetarian/vegan meals throughout your week.

Want to learn more? Check out these links.

Animal Agriculture: Negatively Impacting The World Around Us, by Grant Lingel (2o19, Sentient Media)

Livestock, by The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (last edited 2020, Britannica.com)

Importance Of Animals In Agricultural Sustainability & Food Security, by L. Reynolds, M. Wulster-Radcliffe, D. Aaron & T. Davis (2015, The Journal of Nutrition).

Five Ways The Meat On Your Plate Is Killing The Planet, by F. Vergunst & J. Savulescu (2017, The Conversation).

Farm Animal Welfare, by WAP (World Animal Protection).

Take Action To Stop Farmageddon, by CIWF (Compassion In World Farming).

Clean Meat: The Logical Solution To End Factory Farming, by Grant Lingel (2018, Sentient Media).

This blog was written by Rebecca Hansell. It originally appear on Small World, Big Cause in 2021, but has been re-edited for The Curious Environmentalist.

Thank you to Mickey Stanley for his research for this blog.


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