Big Agriculture, Food Waste, Have Huge Climate Footprint

February 8, 2022

Above, New York Times look at Big Ag influence in Washington, and in the atmosphere.
Below, folks, we waste a buttload of food. That’s bad for everyone, and hell for animals.


You may have heard the grim statistic by now: Around one-third of food produced in the US is never consumed, ending up in landfills as waste. 

The biggest benefit of reducing food waste is self-evident — over 10 percent of US households experience food insecurity, and diverting food that’s safe and edible but destined for those landfills to those in need could help millions lead healthier, better lives.

But there’s another benefit of reducing food waste that’s starting to get more attention, and the EPA recently shined a spotlight on it in a new report: “Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste.”

“This uneaten food results in a ‘waste’ of resources—including agricultural land, water, pesticides, fertilizers, and energy—and the generation of environmental impacts—including greenhouse gas emissions and climate change,” the authors write in the report.

According to the EPA, food waste accounts for 2 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions — about half that of aviation. While meat, dairy, and eggs compose just a little over a quarter of US food waste by weight, the EPA report authors argue that there are disproportionate environmental benefits to reducing animal product waste. That’s because animal products typically require much more land, water, and energy — and emit more of the greenhouse gases carbon and methane — than plant-based foods.

But there’s another potential major benefit to reducing animal product wastage: preventing hundreds of millions of animals from entering factory farms in the first place.

According to USDA data from 2010, Americans throw out 26 percent of meat, poultry, and fish at the retail and consumer level. Harish Sethu, a data scientist and author of the blog Counting Animals, says America’s meat waste problem means we’re raising about a billion chickens, more than 100 million other land animals (mostly turkeys, pigs, and cows), as well as capturing around 25 billion fish and 15 billion shellfish (mostly shrimp), only to have them wind up in a landfill.

While the data is over a decade old, the situation is likely worse now, as US meat productionrose 10.3 percent from 2011 to 2018 while food waste only decreased by 1 percent.

In 2015, the USDA and EPA set a goal of halving food waste by 2030 from 2010 levels. If the US can hit this target, it could help reduce the number of land animals condemned to a lifetime of suffering on a factory farm each year, and the number of fish and shellfish whose lives end in capture and slaughter — though the full extent of the benefit will require more research.

5 Responses to “Big Agriculture, Food Waste, Have Huge Climate Footprint”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:


    “The people being paid to kill our planet” are … (wait for it) farmers. Not the fossil fuel industry. That is the message of that video.

    And you fell for it hook, line, and sinker, Peter.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Lots of profitable industries are bad for the planet or people directly. We know about FF in terms of spills, toxic combustion products, and greenhouse gases. The video said to fight against the fossil fuel industry, but look at mass food production, too.

      In the US, for example, mass use of medically important antibiotics in industrial farming has contributed to increased drug-resistant diseases in humans. (At least in some parts of Europe they disallow bulk human-medical antibiotic use in livestock.)

      Fertilizer runoff and poop lagoon failures have become even bigger problems in increasing rain-bomb weather conditions.

      There should be more enforcement of laws regarding labor and livestock abuse, too.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        The “report” cherry-picks global data and misapplies it locally and is hyperbolic as hell. “Meat is not “killing our planet”, fossil fuels are. If you can’t recognize and decry hyperbolic propaganda, maybe you shouldn’t comment about it.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Even before the emissions response really started to kick in, we had problems with agriculture, from land-clearing to corn monocultures to mass-scale livestock growth, to abuse of undocumented laborers. Bad practices hiding behind “but the FF industries are worse!” don’t make the practices less bad.

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Austin (“four-star city in the One Star State”) added food compost pickup to its yard waste collection a few years ago. (In my case it’s mostly coffee grounds and the last rubber carrots or slimy lettuce.)

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