Why does animal agriculture use so much oil?

This is an extract from our book, Say No to Meat, the 411 on Ditching Meat and Going Veg.

It’s amazing how much oil is used to produce meat. In fact, agriculture uses 17 percent of all the fossil fuel (oil, coal and natural gas) in the United States, with meat production responsible for the majority of that portion. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that most animals are raised in so-called factory farms, where their feed is grown elsewhere and shipped in. These animals consume enormous quantities of crops – in fact about 70 percent of all the corn and 80 percent of all the soybeans grown in the United States are fed to farm animals. When we consider the fossil fuel used for meat production, we also have to take into account all the fuel used to manufacture fertilizers and pesticides, and to water, harvest, and ship those crops throughout the animal’s entire lifetime, as well as that required for the transportation and slaughter of the animals, plus the shipping and refrigeration of the meat. All that fuel adds up. Grass-fed animals use less fuel, but these animals use so much land that it’s not practical to feed America’s meat habit this way.

Going vegetarian saves oil. Plant based foods are simply grown, harvested, shipped and eaten directly rather than wastefully being funneled through a farm animal first. Much less refrigeration is usually required for plant foods than animal products. But the big advantage is that it takes only a pound of grain to make a loaf of bread, whereas it takes over 17 pounds of grain to make a pound of beef, requiring much more fossil fuel. We’re not kidding when we say that if you are still eating meat we would rather you drive your car to get places rather than walk! 

Professor David Pimentel of Cornell University explains it this way, “It is actually quite astounding how much energy is wasted by the standard American-style diet. Even driving many gas-guzzling luxury cars can conserve energy over walking—that is, when the calories you burn walking come from the standard American diet!”

So if you are an environmentally-conscious consumer looking to cut down on your use of fossil fuel, a non-renewable resource, switching to a vegetarian diet is a great place to start.