A qualitative research study recently released by Faunalytics and Sentient Media found that major news organizations frequently fail to mention the role of our current food systems, specifically animal agriculture, on climate change. The study found that out of 1,000 articles analyzed, 93% do not mention animal agriculture’s role in the current climate crisis. Animal agriculture harms the environment through its contributions to pollution, deforestation, and greenhouse gas emissions. This omission of coverage serves to show the bias of the media when it comes to recognizing animal agriculture’s harmful effects. Lack of coverage by prominent media organizations may also lead to lessened public awareness.
Impact of Animal Agriculture on the Environment
Animal Agriculture’s environmental impact is both vast and devastating. The raising of cows, chickens, pigs, and other animals for human consumption causes irreparable damage. Vast amounts of resources are used to provide the animals with food and water. Production of feed crops for animal agriculture is incredibly water intensive. Additionally, animal agriculture and the production of livestock feed uses large amounts of land. Frequently, native habitat is destroyed in order to make way for livestock animals. This contributes to deforestation and loss of biodiversity. Livestock production also is a contributing factor to pollution, especially of waterways. Animal waste flows into the waterways. This pollutes these aquatic environments, causes algae growth, and reduces oxygen available for aquatic creatures.
Animal Agriculture and Greenhouse Gasses
Greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture also contribute to the industry’s negative impact. According to the study, between 11.1 and 19.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the meat and dairy industries. Cattle farming alone is responsible for over 60% of these emissions. Even more alarming, methane gas makes up more than 50% of animal agriculture emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is responsible for a large percentage of global warming. It is produced by animals, specifically cows when the belch, fart, or excrete waste. Additionally, more greenhouse gasses are produced by the animal agricultural industry during transportation of feed, livestock, and processed meat.
Cattle Ranching and the Amazon
Faunalytic and Sentient Media’s study highlighted the large role that cattle have in animal agriculture’s impact. The alarming impact of cattles is not only due to their greenhouse gas emissions, but also to the large swaths of land necessary to house them. Cattle ranching, along with other commercial pursuits, is proving devastating to the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon is the largest forest on the planet. It plays a particularly important role in the global climate.
According to the National Geographic Society, the Amazon absorbs a quarter of all the Carbon Dioxide absorbed by the Earth. Deforestation of this unique habitat is occurring at an alarming rate. Around 17% of the Amazon is already gone. Soon, the important water cycle here will be broken, and much of the forest will give way to grassland. This will further negatively impact the climate. Although it is not covered in the study, lack of media coverage highlighting the dangers of continued demand for beef, will prove especially detrimental to the environment.
What the Study Found
The research study analyzed 1000 articles from various major media sources. All of the articles discussed climate change. Of those articles analyzed, only 7% mentioned animal agriculture as a driver of climate change. In the articles that did mention animal agriculture, only 30% mentioned cattle and only 22% mentioned methane. While the articles did not discuss animal agriculture in conjunction with climate change, they were more likely to mention fossil fuels and industry as contributors. Additionally, the articles reviewed were more likely to frame animal agriculture as a victim of climate change rather than a driver.
Why Does This Matter
Lack of comprehensive media coverage about climate change greatly affects people’s understanding. Reducing meat consumption, especially in the more affluent Global North, would help bring the world closer to emissions goals in a timely manner. If more people adopted plant-based diets, it would have a great positive impact on the environment. However, since there would need to be a widespread reduction in the amount of animal products consumed, it is vital that the media help to spread the message that plant-based diets can truly have a substantial, positive environmental impact.
How You Can Help
Following a plant-based diet, and encouraging others to reduce their meat and consumption can help reduce demand for animal based products. Find tips on how to persuade others to adopt a vegan diet in this article by Phoenix Huber. Other ways to help include supporting protection of forests and other natural areas, lending your voice to animal rights and climate activists, and supporting publications which highlight the role of animal agriculture in climate change. According to this study, publications which are better than average at mentioning animal product’s role in climate change include the Los Angeles Times, Reuters, and CNN.
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