Environmental Impacts of Industrial Livestock Production

  • Susan J. KrahamEmail author


Population growth, urbanization, changing economies and food preferences have increased pressure on the agricultural sector and on livestock production and related feed crops in particular. The FAO expects an increase of 70 % in world annual agricultural production from 2005/2007 to 2050 to feed the rising population, which is expected to grow by 40 % over the period (Conforti, Looking ahead in world food and agricultural perspectives to 2050, 2011). Much of the increase in crop (cereal) production is expected to come about as a result of increased demand for feed for livestock (Conforti, Looking ahead in world food and agricultural perspectives to 2050, 2011). To keep up with the demand for animal products, the method of production is changing. In the United States and increasingly around the world, family farms raising small numbers of livestock have given way to industrialized livestock practices often referred to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs. Livestock facilities confine ever increasing numbers of animals indoors. Vitamin supplements allow livestock to be confined indoors without sunlight and allow the production of offspring year round, while subtherapeutic use of antibiotics allow livestock to be confined in greater numbers and close quarters, raising the number of livestock that could be produced on a given feedlot or facility (Steinfeld, Livestock in a changing landscape: drivers, consequences, and responses, 2010). Genetics management and nutrition have also allowed animal production operations to intensify, and for the productivity of each animal to increase. For example, in the United States in 1957 it took a broiler chicken 101 days and 17.7 pounds of feed to reach market weight, while in 2001 it took only 32 days and only 5.9 pounds of feed. This has allowed US meat production to skyrocket by over 250 % over the past half-century (Pew Commission, Putting meat on the table: industrial farm animal production in America, 2008). Huge amounts of animal waste are a consequence of industrialized livestock. Inadequate regulation of manure deposition and disposal has resulted in significant air, water, and soil pollution. Animal waste from intensified operations is often disposed of on agricultural land year-round, and in far greater amounts than the land can absorb. Soils are over-fertilized thus releasing toxic runoff, and leaching contaminants. The runoff can flow into water bodies causing severe ecological harm, and decomposing waste can release dust particles, bacteria, endotoxins, and volatile organic compounds, as well as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and other odorous substances into the air (Halden and Schwab, Environmental impact of industrial farm animal production, 2008). Manure often contains many problematic substances including high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, endocrine disruptors that can interfere with hormonal signaling in animals and humans, antibiotics that can nurture drug-resistant populations in the soil they are reach, resistant forms of bacteria, and arsenic (Halden and Schwab, Environmental impact of industrial farm animal production, 2008). As noted above, the increase in livestock production increases demand for feed crops thus requiring intensification of agricultural land use and resulting in a host of environmental costs on varying levels including increased erosion, lower soil fertility, reduced biodiversity, pollution of ground water, eutrophication of rivers and lakes, and impacts on atmospheric constituents, climate, and ocean waters (Steinfeld, Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options, 2006). This chapter will address those impacts. It is organized by medium of impact. Section 1.2 addresses air pollution and climate-change related impacts. Section 1.3 provides background on water consumption and pollution related to industrial livestock. Section 1.4 takes on the range of land-based impacts including habitat, forestry and desertification. The text provides an overview of the impacts but offers specific examples from a number of countries. Many of the impacts addressed are covered in more depth and/or with more specificity in later chapters.


Invasive Species Hydrogen Sulfide Livestock Production Invasive Alien Species Animal Waste 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Anadón JD et al (2013) Effect of woody-plant encroachment on livestock production in North and South America. PNAS 111(35):12948–12953. doi: 10.1073/pnas.132058511 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Asad M et al (1999) Management of water resources: bulk water pricing in Brazil. World Bank, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  3. Asner GP et al (2004) Grazing systems, ecosystem responses, and global change. Annu Rev Environ Resour 29:261–299. doi: 10.1146/ CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baillie JEM, Hilton-Taylor C, Stuart SN (eds) (2004) 2004 IUCN red list of threatened species: a global species assessment. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland/Cambridge, UKGoogle Scholar
  5. Barker D (2007) The rise and predictable fall of globalized industrial agriculture. International Forum on Globalization, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  6. Bittman S, Mikkelsen R (2009) Ammonia emissions from agricultural operations: livestock. Better Crops 93(1):28–31Google Scholar
  7. Brand K (ed) (2005) South America invaded. GISP SecretariatGoogle Scholar
  8. Brighter Green (2013) Industrial agriculture, livestock farming and climate change: global social, cultural, ecological, and ethical impacts of an unsustainable industry. Brighter Green and the Global Forest Coalition. Accessed 15 Jan 2015
  9. Bringezu S et al (2014) Assessing global land use: balancing consumption with sustainable supply. UNEPGoogle Scholar
  10. Burkholder J et al (2007) Impacts of waste from concentrated animal feeding operations on water quality. Environ Health Perspect 115:308–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chislock MF et al (2013) Eutrophication: causes, consequences, and controls in aquatic ecosystems. Nat Educ Knowl 4(4):10Google Scholar
  12. Conforti P (ed) (2011) Looking ahead in world food and agricultural perspectives to 2050. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  13. Cotula L et al (2009) Land grab or development opportunity? Agricultural investment and international land deals in Africa. FAO/IIED/IFAD, London/RomeGoogle Scholar
  14. Daszak P, Cunningham AA, Hyatt AD (2000) Emerging infectious diseases of wildlife--threats to biodiversity and human health. Science 287:443–449. doi: 10.1126/science.287.5451.443 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. DiTomaso JM (2000) Invasive weeds in rangelands: species, impacts, and management. Weed Sci Soc Am 48(2):255–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Donald PF, Green RE, Heath MF (2001) Agricultural Intensification and the collapse of Europe’s farmland bird populations. Proc R Soc Lond 268:25–29. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2000.1325 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. FAO (2011) Biodiversity for food and agriculture: contributing to food security and sustainability in a changing world. FAO and The Platform for Agrobiodiversity ResearchGoogle Scholar
  18. FAO (2014) The state of world fisheries and aquaculture: opportunities and challenges. RomeGoogle Scholar
  19. Formiga-Johnsson RM et al (2007) The politics of bulk water pricing in Brazil: lessons from the Paríba do Sul Basin. Water Policy 9:87–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Galloway JN et al (2007) International trade in meat: the tip of the pork chop. R Swed Acad Sci 36(8):622–629Google Scholar
  21. GAO (2008) Report to congressional requesters: concentrated animal feeding operationsGoogle Scholar
  22. Gerber et al. (2013) Tackling climate change through livestock – a global assessment of emissions and migration opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), RomeGoogle Scholar
  23. Gibbs HK (2015) Brazil’s Soy Moratorium. Science 347(6220):377–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Halden RU, Schwab KJ (2008) Environmental impact of industrial farm animal production. A report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. A project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Accessed 16 Jan 2015
  25. Hasan MR, Halwart M (eds) (2009) Fish as feed inputs for aquaculture: practices, sustainability and implications. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  26. Hoffman I (2011) Livestock biodiversity and sustainability. Livest Sci 139:69–79. doi: 10.1016/j.livsci.2011.03.016 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hoffman I, From T, Boerma D (2014) Ecosystem services provided by livestock species and breeds, with special consideration to the contributions of small-scale livestock keepers and pastoralists. FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and AgricultureGoogle Scholar
  28. Hori Y, Stuhlberger C, Simonett O (eds) (2012) Desertification: a visual synthesis. UNCCD Accessed 9 Jan 2014
  29. Horrigan L, Lawrence RS, Walker P (2002) How sustainable agriculture can address the environmental and human health harms of industrial agriculture. Environ Health Perspect 110(5):445–456CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Humane Society International (2011) An HSI report: the impact of industrial farmingGoogle Scholar
  31. Isenring R (2010) Pesticides and the loss of biodiversity. Pesticide Action Network EuropeGoogle Scholar
  32. IUCN (2000) IUCN guidelines for the prevention of biodiversity loss caused by alien invasive species. Fifth meeting of the conference of the parties to the convention on biological diversity, Nairobi, Kenya, 15–26 May 2000Google Scholar
  33. Jackson L et al (2005) Agrobiodiversity: a new science agenda for biodiversity in support of sustainable agroecosystems. DiversitasGoogle Scholar
  34. Lloyd DJ (2011) Crops for animal feed destroying Brazilian Savannah, WWF Warns. The Guardian. Accessed 26 Jan 2015
  35. Mack RN (1989) Temperate grasslands vulnerable to plant invasions: characteristics and consequences. In: Drake J et al (eds) Biological invasions: a global perspective. Wiley, New York, pp 155–179Google Scholar
  36. Mack RN et al (2000) Biotic invasions: causes, epidemiology, global consequences, and control. Ecol Appl 10(3):689–710CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Matson PA et al (1997) Agricultural intensification and ecosystem properties. Science 277:504–509. doi: 10.1126/science.277.5325.504 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McAlpine CA (2009) Increasing world consumption of beef as a driver of regional and global change: a call for policy action based on evidence from Queensland (Australia), Colombia and Brazil. Glob Environ Chang 19:21–33. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2008.10.008 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McGeoch MA et al (2010) Global indicators of biological invasion: species numbers, biodiversity impact and policy responses. Divers Distrib 16:95–108. doi: 10.1111/j.1472-4642.2009.00633.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Meyfroidt P, Lambin EF (2008) Forest transition in Vietnam and its environmental impacts. Glob Chang Biol 14:1–18. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2008.01575.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) Ecosystems and human well-being: current state and trends, vol 1. Island Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  42. Molden D (ed) (2007) Water for food, water for life: a comprehensive assessment of water management in agriculture. Earthscan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  43. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (2014) Restoration and spending plan: marks farm natural resource damages settlement. Accessed 4 Mar 2015
  44. Nicholson SE, Tucker CJ, Ba MB (1998) Desertification, drought, and surface vegetation: an example from the West African Sahel. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 79:815–829CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. O’Mara FP (2011) The significance of livestock as a contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions today and in the near future. Anim Feed Sci Technol 166–167:7–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Otte J et al (2007) Industrial livestock production and global health risks. Pro-poor livestock policy initiativeGoogle Scholar
  47. Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (2008) Putting meat on the table: industrial farm animal production in AmericaGoogle Scholar
  48. Pew Center on Global Climate Change (2009) Enteric fermentation mitigation. Accessed 6 Mar 2015
  49. Pimental D et al (1997) Water resources: agriculture, the environment, and society. Bioscience 47(2):97–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rejmánek M, Richardson DM, Pyšek P (2005) Plant invasions and invasibility of plant communities. In: van der Maarel E (ed) Vegetation ecology. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 332–355Google Scholar
  51. Rischkowsky B, Pilling D (eds) (2007) The state of the world’s animal genetic resources for food and agriculture. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  52. Robertson B, Pinstrup-Andersen P (2010) Global land acquisition: neo-colonialism or development opportunity? Springer Science + Business Media B.V. & International Society for Plant Pathology 2:271–283. doi: 10.1007/s12571-010-0068-1
  53. Rodewald M (2015) Manure spills putting water supply at risk. Green Bay Press Gazette. Accessed 4 Mar 2015
  54. Rudel T, Roper J (1997) Forest fragmentation in the humid tropics: a cross-national analysis. Singapore J Trop Geogr 18:99–109. doi: 10.1111/1467-9493.00007 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rudel TK, Bates D, Machinguiashi R (2002) A tropical forest transition? agricultural change, out-migration, and secondary forests in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 92(1):87–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sakirkin et al. (2012) Dust emissions from cattle feeding operations. In: Air quality in animal agriculture. Extension. Accessed 6 Mar 2015
  57. Schimel D, Stephens BB, Fisher JB (2014) Effect of increasing CO2 on the terrestrial carbon cycle. PNAS. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1407302112
  58. Sharma S (2014) The need for feed: China’s demand for industrialized meat and its impacts. IATPGoogle Scholar
  59. Steinfeld H, Wassenaar T, Jutzi S (2006a) Livestock production systems in developing countries: status, drivers, trends. Rev Sci Tech Off Int Epiz 25(2):505–516CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Steinfeld H et al (2006b) Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  61. Steinfeld H et al (eds) (2010) Livestock in a changing landscape: drivers, consequences, and responses, vol 1. Island Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  62. Sustainable Table (2009) Air quality. Accessed 6 Mar 2015
  63. Swanepoel F et al (eds) (2010) The role of livestock in developing communities: enhancing multifunctionality. University of the Free State and CTA, Cape TownGoogle Scholar
  64. Thrupp L (2000) Linking agricultural biodiversity and food security: the valuable role of agrobiodiversity for sustainable agriculture. Int Aff 76(2):265–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Tilman D et al (2001) Forecasting agriculturally driven global environmental change. Science 292:281–284. doi: 10.1126/science.1057544 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Tscharntke T et al (2012) Global food security, biodiversity conservation and the future of agricultural intensification. Biol Conserv 151:53–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. UNCCD (2013) Migratory species and desertification factsheet. Accessed 9 Jan 2015
  68. UNCTD (2013) Trade and environment review 2014: wake up before it is too late. United NationsGoogle Scholar
  69. UNEP (2014) Assessing global land use: balancing consumption with sustainable supply. A report of the working group on land and soils of the International Resource PanelGoogle Scholar
  70. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2008) National wildlife refuge system. Prescribed grazing. Managing invasive plants: concepts, principles, and practices. Accessed 15 Jan 2015
  71. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2015) Agriculture. In: DRAFT inventory of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and sinks: 1990–2013. Accessed 6 Mar 2015
  72. Vanotti MB, Szogi AA (2008) Water quality improvements of wastewater from confined animal feeding operations after advanced treatment. J Environ Qual 37:S-86–S-96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Vasey DE et al (eds) (2011) Heavy metals. In Berkshire encyclopedia of sustainability: natural resources and sustainability. Berkshire Publishing Group, Great BarringtonGoogle Scholar
  74. Wardle DA (1999) Response of soil microbial biomass dynamics, activity and plant litter decomposition to agricultural intensification over a seven-year period. Soil Biol Biochem 31:1707–1720CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Welton S, Biasutti M, Gerrard MB (2014) Legal and scientific integrity in advancing a “Land Degradation Neutral World”. Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law SchoolGoogle Scholar
  76. York M (2005) Workers trying to contain effects of big spill upstate. New York Times. Accessed 4 Mar 2015
  77. Youyong Z (2000) Genetic diversity and disease control in rice. Nature 406:718–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Columbia Environmental Law ClinicColumbia University School of LawNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations