The creation of milk occurs everywhere. Due in large part to population expansion, rising affluence, urbanization, and the westernization of cuisines in nations like China and India, the demand for dairy products worldwide keep rising.
These have caused a number of environmental impacts of dairy farming. Freshwater and soil resources are under increasing pressure because of the rising demand for dairy. Around 270 million dairy cows are cared for by millions of farmers worldwide who produce milk.
The dairy industry is accountable for numerous forms of environmental pollution, including sizable emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, thanks to its industrial-scale farms housing thousands of cattle.
The extent to which milk production affects the environment depends on the methods used by dairy farmers and feed producers. Climate change is a result of greenhouse gas emissions from dairy cows and their excrement.
Local water supplies might be harmed by improper treatment of manure and fertilizers. Additionally, unsustainable dairy farming and feed production can destroy forests, wetlands, and other ecologically significant habitats like grasslands.
The industry not only harms the environment but also causes a great deal of animal suffering. The limited number of businesses that have grown to control the sector are also substantially to blame for driving out smaller, family-run farms.
Smaller businesses struggle to supply milk at low prices set mostly by large farm operations that are often reinforced by subsidies and other financial incentives.
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Environmental Impacts of Dairy Farming
More greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock raising than any other source in the food industry. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the worldwide dairy cow herd expanded by 11% while milk output increased by 30 percent between 2005 and 2015. 2.9 percent of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions come from the dairy industry.
In addition, dairy production in intensive agricultural systems significantly contributes to soil erosion and deforestation, as well as air and water pollution. 92 of the 195 nations committed to achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement have recognized their own cattle industry as a potential area for climate action to support national emissions reduction targets.
1. Water and Land Usage
The dairy business not only produces a significant quantity of emissions but also consumes a lot of resources. In the United States, 41% of the land is earmarked for livestock, according to Bloomberg’s data.
Of that land, about 160 million acres are designated particularly for grazing animals. Particularly when combined with the improper management of manure and feed supplies, the size of animal agriculture has accelerated the rate of deforestation and a loss in soil quality.
Another issue is the use of water. One gallon of milk requires 144 gallons of water to produce, according to the World Wildlife Fund. About 93% of that water is used to grow fodder for dairy cows. Between two and twenty times as much water is used to make cow milk as it is to make plant-based milk substitutes.
2. Air Pollution
In the United States, the dairy industry plays a significant role in greenhouse gas emissions. One-fifth of the nation’s estimated total greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to dairy farms. Other types of air pollution are also brought on by dairy farms, including an estimated 19% to 24% of the nation’s total ammonia emissions.
Pollution from dairy farms and other livestock production facilities can be fatal. The number of fatalities linked to livestock air pollution has surpassed the number of fatalities linked to coal power stations.
Approximately 12,700 Americans perish each year in the US as a result of exposure to pollutants from animal husbandry operations. Emissions from dairy farms are responsible for about 2,000 fatalities.
3. Water Pollution
The nearby communities’ local rivers are contaminated by intensive dairy farming operations, rendering them risky if not outright unsafe. Large vats are used to store the manure before it is spread on surrounding crop fields from thousands of dairy cows kept in factory farms.
But because there is just too much manure to safely and effectively apply to the field, nitrogen and phosphorus frequently leak into the neighboring waterways.
Over time, these vats may also develop cracks and tears that permit their contents to leak out, contaminate nearby bodies of water, and reach the groundwater. Our streams are dying all across the world as a result of increasingly severe algae blooms.
The enormous increase in algae stops aquatic plants from growing by obstructing the sun and removing oxygen from the water, which kills fish and insects.
Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, which are present in animal manure and fertilizers used to increase agricultural productivity and feed the vast number of farmed animals, promote algal blooms.
The effects are disastrous if these nutrients enter the waterways. The same thing is taking place everywhere in the world, including in the US, UK, India, Ireland, New Zealand, and any other country with a sizable dairy farming industry. Because of dairy and other animal farms, the streams are disappearing.
Animal husbandry has a lot of waste since animals consume a lot more calories than they do in meat, milk, or eggs.
Land must be cleared to grow the cow’s food, which contributes significantly to deforestation when cattle are raised for agricultural purposes, notably to generate milk for use in dairy products.
And because of this, far more land is required to cultivate food for them than if we were only growing food for ourselves. Even though animal agriculture uses 83% of the world’s acreage, it only provides 18% of the calories we consume. Such a waste!
And even though there is more cropland available, the number of domesticated animals on the market does not. We take the land we want from nature instead of living within our means.
Not only are forests and other important habitats cleared for cow grazing, but also to cultivate the soya used in their diet.
Wildlife also suffers when forests are lost, and indigenous people are displaced. According to scientists, the sixth mass extinction in human history is underway, and animal agriculture is a major contributing factor.
5. Soil Health
Dairy production compromises soil health in a variety of different ways. Soil clogging is one instance, which happens when the earth is overly damp. The earth becomes more compacted as a result of the cows’ movement, which hinders plant growth. Using or moving heavy equipment over too-wet soil can result in the same issue.
6. Climate Change and Methane
Cow captivity has an impact on the environment in addition to the animal cruelty involved in dairy farming. Strong climate-altering gas methane is 84 times more warming than carbon dioxide during 20 years.
Where do we begin?
The United Nations claims that lowering methane emissions is essential for addressing climate breakdown. Cows are by far the main contributors to animal agriculture’s methane emissions, which account for around 27% of all human-related emissions.
The fact that cows are ruminants and their digestion produces methane is the first problem. There are simply too many of them, which is the second issue. Each of the 270 million cows that have been raised just for their milk burps out a significant amount of this gas into the atmosphere.
The 13 largest dairy companies in the world have been discovered to produce the same amount of greenhouse gases as the entire United Kingdom due to methane emissions and other climate-destroying activities.
7. Ocean Dead Zones
The same process is taking place in the world’s oceans, where algae blooms deplete the water’s oxygen level to such an extent that marine creatures are forced to leave or perish.
Since the 1960s, the number of dead zones has doubled every ten years. In 2008, there were 400 recognized dead zones.
Again, this is due to nutrient pollution, specifically from farm animals and human waste. Further extinctions are inevitable if we don’t reverse this dire trend.
Go dairy-free. It’s a rather simple (and delicious) suggestion. We can alter our diets in little ways that will change the globe.
It is straightforward to understand why one small change can have a significant impact given that dairy milk generates three times as many emissions as soy milk.
And soya isn’t always used to make plant milk. Oat, almond, cashew, hazelnut, hemp, and coconut milk are just a few of the commonly accessible variations that can be consumed alone, in tea or coffee, in cereal, in milkshakes, or baking.
Additionally, keep an eye out for plant-based ice cream, cream, cheese, and yogurt as there are so many options available.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.