Food and the Environment

Key Facts

Industrial agriculture harms the environment through pollution of air, soil and water.

  • Air emissions from livestock operations make up 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Conventional crop production degrades soil health and causes soil erosion.
  • The high content of nitrogen and other nutrients in manure runoff leads to dead zones in downstream waterways.

Why It Matters

It is impossible to separate our food production, processing and distribution from our environment. Unfortunately, the industrial or “conventional” way of producing food causes large-scale environmental degradation.

Monocropped fields require chemical fertilizers and pesticides that run off into soil and waterways. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), also known as factory farms, result in excess animal waste that pollutes soil, water and air. These methods of food production use finite resources without replenishing them.

In addition, the way we produce and consume food contributes to global climate change, the effects of which exert a huge impact on the food system. Drought, flood, extreme heat and extreme cold are already affecting crops.

But new advances in sustainable agriculture are rooted in regenerative practices based on a whole ecosystem approach. They invest in the natural environment, rather than depleting it, building soil health, clean water systems and biodiversity. The sustainable approach also reduces industrial farming emissions, building environmental resilience, adapting both food production and the land to climate change.