Among the many environmental problems caused by raising animals for food is air pollution. Poor air quality is the largest environmental health risk in the United States and worldwide, and agriculture is a major source of air pollution. Nevertheless, air quality has been largely absent from discussions about the health and environmental impacts of food production.
According to a new report, agricultural production in the United States results in 17,900 annual air quality–related deaths, 15,900 of which are from food production. Of those, 80% are attributable to animal-based foods, both directly from animal production and indirectly from growing animal feed. We could save almost 16,000 lives in the United States every year if we didn’t raise meat. The number of lives that could be saved globally is much, much higher.
Chronic exposure to pollutants generated by animal agriculture increase the incidence of premature death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and stroke. These pollutants include those directly emitted such as fine particulate matter, as well as those formed in the atmosphere resulting from the emissions of ammonia, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and certain volatile organic compounds.
But let’s not forget the greenhouse gases such the methane and carbon dioxide emissions from animal agriculture. A UN study found that raising meat causes more global warming than all the cars, trucks, trains, planes, ships and boats in the world put together. These greenhouse gas emissions are actually a form of air pollution that can harm the life of the earth as well as the people and animals that live on it. According to the World Health Organization, climatic changes already are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually as a result of greenhouse gas pollution.
Thousands more are made ill or die from the particulate and noxious gas air pollution caused by the burning down of the rainforests to clear land to raise meat.
The answer to this air pollution consists largely of not raising meat so that we can all breathe easy.