Before You Eat, Get the Extinction Facts
An Environmental Article from


Center for Biological Diversity
May 2016

It’s time for the U.S. government to catch up with the rest of the world by recognizing the importance of sustainability in food policy conversations. Sign our petition calling on the USDA to publicly address the environmental cost of diets high in meat and dairy.

Ever wonder what the real cost of your food is to wildlife and our planet? Extinction Facts Labels are here to help. We’ve crunched the numbers on beef, chicken and pork so you know just how much water, wildlife and climate pollution comes with each serving.

We’re also arming you with the positive impact of reducing your meat consumption so that every trip to the grocery store is a chance to do right by your health and the planet.

The American public consumes a massive amount of meat — more than 50 billion pounds a year [1] with an average annual consumption of 55 pounds of beef, 83 pounds of chicken and 46 pounds of pork per person [2]. This enormous appetite for meat is eating away at wildlife habitats, freshwater resources and climate stability. Our planet is currently experiencing the worst extinction crisis since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and what we put on our plates has a serious effect on wildlife, especially those already endangered and threatened.

extinction facts
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Burger Facts

burgers and extinction

Chicken Facts

chickens and extinction

Bacon Facts

bacon and extinction

The Importance of Sustainable Dietary Guidelines

Research shows we can’t meet global climate targets without reducing meat and dairy consumption. As a result several countries are encouraging more sustainable diets to help mitigate climate change, save water and land, and increase food security.

eating animals water usage

The Netherlands, for example, released 2016 guidelines that called for no more than two servings of meat per week. Similarly the U.K.’s national dietary guidelines recommended a 7 percent reduction of dairy consumption and replacing several animal protein servings with plant protein each week. Sweden directly links meat consumption to environmental damage in its guidelines and calls for people to reduce the amount of meat in their diets.

However, the United States — where people eat 4 times the global average of meat — has failed to address the connection between high meat consumption and unsustainable diets in its federal dietary guidelines.

In 2015 the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans include sustainability concerns and call for less meat and more plant-based foods in our daily diets for our own health and the health of the planet. Despite the outpouring of public support for these recommendations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture omitted the environmental impact of meat and dairy from the final guidelines. Read our letter to the USDA here.

It’s time for the U.S. government to catch up with the rest of the world by recognizing the importance of sustainability in food policy conversations. Sign our petition calling on the USDA to publicly address the environmental cost of diets high in meat and dairy.

Extinction Facts

Meat and dairy production contribute at least 14.5 percent of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through feed production, animal manure decomposition, meat processing and transport. Cow manure releases two-thirds of the world’s total nitrous oxide pollution (which has nearly 300 times the global warming effects of carbon dioxide over 100 years). Ruminant animals like cows produce methane through their digestion process — a greenhouse gas 34 times more potent than CO2 over 100 years. [4, 5].


Wildlife habitat is converted to grazing areas, large-scale feedlots and slaughterhouses, as well as cropland to feed livestock. Half the landmass of the lower 48 states is used raise and feed livestock. Grazing cattle and factory farms also destroy vegetation, damage soils, contaminate waterways with fecal waste and disrupt natural ecosystem processes, resulting in less natural habitat for wildlife.


Meat and dairy production creates 2.7 trillion pounds of manure each year in the United States. Lagoon overflows and over-application of manure pollutes lakes, rivers and streams, killing millions of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and other wildlife. U.S. chicken producers use 2.2 million pounds of the arsenic compound roxarsone each year, almost all of which is excreted in chicken waste and often becomes fertilizer for other crops, polluting land, water and air. Factory farms pollute more than 35,000 miles of rivers and contaminate groundwater in 17 states.


Nearly half of the water consumed in the United States — about 150 billion gallons per day — goes toward meat production [6,7]. Irrigation feed crops for livestock and poultry account for a major portion of the water used in meat production. It takes about 110 gallons of water to grow a single pound of corn, [9] and it takes about 2,800 pounds of corn to produce a 1,250-pound cow [10].


About 22 million pounds of atrazine — a known endocrine disruptor associated with hermaphrodism, sterility and other abnormalities in frogs — are applied to feed crops. Clothianidin, a pesticide known to be toxic to bees, is regularly applied to corn. In total, 167 million pounds of pesticides are used every year in the United States to grow animal feed [13]. Pesticide residues are found in common meat and dairy products — even long-banned pesticides like DDT. Residues from glyphosate, the most commonly used pesticide in the world, allowed in animal feed can be more than 100 times that allowed on grains consumed directly by humans.


  1. Barclay, Eliza. “A Nation of Meat Eaters: See How it All Adds Up.” NPR: The Salt. 27 June, 2012
  2. USDA, “Long Term Agricultural Projections Report (Table 17)”, 2016
  3. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Part D. Chapter 5: Food Sustainability and Safety”
  4. Environmental Working Group. “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health.”
  5. The Center for Investigate Reporting. “The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers”
  6. Take Extinction Off Your Plate, “Habitat Loss, Water Use and Pollution”
  7. USGS, “Water Use in the United States”
  8. McWilliams, James. “Meat Makes the Planet Thirsty.” The New York Times. 7 March, 2014.
  9. USGS, “The Water Content of Things”
  10. USDA, “Cattle and Beef”
  11. USDA, Livestock Slaughter 2014 Summary, page 8
  12. USDA, Poultry Slaughter 2015 Summary, page 5
  13. Environmental Working Group. “Pesticides.”

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