The Potential Negative Effects Of Agriculture On Animals, Wildlife & Biodiversity

Agriculture has a number of significant positive effects on society.

But, in this guide, we outline the potential negative effects of the agriculture industry on animals in terms of welfare and cruelty, as well as wildlife and biodiversity.

 

Summary – Potential Negative Effects Of Agriculture On Animals, Wildlife & Biodiversity

Animals (Livestock Welfare & Cruelty)

There’s a range of potential livestock welfare and cruelty concerns that can impact different farmed animals.

These concerns can impact animals at birth, during their time on a farm, in transport/trade, and at the time of slaughter.

Different farming operations, and different parts of the world may have different standards and regulations around welfare and cruelty towards farmed animals – some operations and regions may be worse than others.

In addition to the treatment of animals, it’s possible that things like disease, pathogens/bacteria and sickness can impact animals in the case of diseases and bacteria that develop on, and are transmitted on farms amongst animals.

Something else worth noting is that lab grown meat is one of the newer food production methods. But, it still requires new cells, and therefore live animals.

 

Wildlife

Agriculture may negatively impact wildlife via:

– The physical damage to, loss of, or modification to their habitat

– Introducing harmful chemicals and substances into the environment that wildlife live in

– The intentional or unintentional killing of wildlife

Wildlife populations can also be depleted as a result of being fed to livestock – on example of this is with fish population that can be used as a part of cattle feed

– The use of herbicides and pesticides contributing to the development of super weeds and super pests that can dominate other plant and living organism species in the area. There’s also some question as to what effect the use of GMOs might have on animals, wildlife and biodiversity – read more about the potential pros and cons of GMO crops and foods in this guide

There are also instances though where agriculture and wildlife can benefit each other, which you can read more about here.

 

Biodiversity

Agriculture impacts biodiversity both in the environment/ecosystems, and also in the biodiversity of the crops and animals produced in agriculture itself.

Agriculture can cause both damage and loss of biodiversity in the environment.

One of the major ways this happens is via land use conversion to farms, ranches and land used for agriculture – especially on the larger scale.

But, there’s a number of other ways too, with damage to soil being one (as soil is home to a large part of the world’s biodiversity)

In terms of biodiversity in the crops and animals produced in agriculture, energy intake for humans from agriculture currently only comes from a small number of plants and animals, and genetic diversity has declined over the last century (by about three quarters according to some reports).

The prevalence of monocultures over intercropping is one example of how crops have their biodiversity reduced (and growing feed for livestock might be a main cause behind monocultures in some countries).

Overall, farmers may face conflicting priorities when trying to address biodiversity concerns i.e. a conflict between biodiversity, meeting needs and demand for the population, and meeting economic goals.

Some reports say that agriculture’s impact on biodiversity is greater than climate change’s impact of biodiversity.

 

*Note: this is a generalized guide only.

There can be a large difference in the effect of agriculture on animals, wildlife and biodiversity depending on the farming methods used – for example intensive farming vs sustainable farming, conventional farming vs organic farming, and whether or not farming places a specific focus on the humane treatment of the animals or not for example.

Ultimately, human, social, economic and animal problems are specific to individual farms, geographic locations, agricultural methods and processes used, types of agricultural products being grown or produced, and many more variables and factors.

Each farm’s needs to be assessed individually though to know the specific effects.

 

Agriculture Impacts Many Different Aspects Of Society Overall

Agriculture impacts many areas of society overall, such as:

– Soil, water, and air

– Animals, plants, and wild living organisms

– Humans

– Our food supply itself

… agriculture itself is even impacted upon by factors such as a changing climate, population growth, and technological advances.

 

But, the impact of agriculture specifically on animals, wildlife and biodiversity might be …

 

Potential Negative Effects Of Agriculture On Animals & Livestock (Welfare & Cruelty)

Animals are used in agriculture as livestock.

They can be used for meat production, but also for other animal based products like milk.

Another example of animal based products from farmed animals are animals used primarily for textiles, such as Mink farming for fur, but also different types of leather, silk, and so on.

There’s a range of potential animal welfare and cruelty concerns, that can impact a range of livestock animals.

Some individual farms, and some specific countries or regions may have more animal welfare and cruelty concerns than others – due to lack of regulations, or poor enforcement of them.

It’s worth pointing out that individual farms might place more of an emphasis on the humane and safe treatment of their animals and livestock, whilst others farms and agricultural operations may prioritize profit and productivity as their primary objectives.

 

– Animal welfare and cruelty concerns

Some animal cruelty and welfare issues for livestock on farms might include:

Confinement to a small, cramped, or uncomfortable 

Separating birthed animals from the mother

Painful procedures

Health and mental well being during time spent on farm dealing with stress, pain, isolation, and other issues

The dangers and safety of live transport and trade of animals

The slaughtering methods that might extend pain and suffering before death

 

Farm animals that might experience these issues might most commonly include:

Cattle (like for example in beef production)

Dairy Cows

Pigs

Egg Laying Hens

Broiler Chickens

Domestic Turkey

Goats and Sheep

Ducks

Horses

+ other animals used for fur and other goods/materials

The wikipedia.org resource in the sources list lists the individual welfare concerns for each type of farm animal if you want to read further

 

In terms of slaughtering:

… around 80 million animals are slaughtered for the production of meat per year, and this includes beef, poultry, pork, and sheep (supplements101.net)

 

– Animal diseases and sickness

There’s also the development of bacteria, disease and pathogens that can lead to sickness or death of animals – swine flu/H1N1 is the prime example of this with pigs.

Diseases and viruses originating from animals can spread quickly between animals, and especially to animals with weakened immune systems.

 

– Note on lab grown meat

Lab grown meat is an interesting example of ethics in food production.

Lab grown meat, while not requiring direct farming, still needs body tissue from animals in order to produce it

 

Potential Negative Effects Of Agriculture On Wildlife

Some issues for wildlife might include:

– Physical loss of, damage to, or modification of habitats

Wildlife habitats can be completely wiped out, or damaged/modified to the extent that they are no longer suitable to live in.

A specific example is when land is cleared for farms or ranches, and vegetation or even forests that wildlife use as their habitat and home are completely cleared.

But, another example on a much broader and indirect scale is when the emissions produced from agriculture impact the climate.

This can lead to different living conditions for wildlife, which may be unfavorable for them.

One example of this is honey bees which may be impacted by a changing climate amongst a number of other factors.

 

Habitat loss caused by animal agriculture is a serious threat to wild animals, including many endangered species (mercyforanimals.org)

 

Soil degradation [by agriculture] also impacts biological degradation, which affects the microbial community of the soil and can alter nutrient cycling, pest and disease control, and chemical transformation properties of the soil (wikipedia.org)

 

– Introduction of hazardous or harmful chemicals or substances to habitat

This can be a big issue, in particular for aquatic species, but can also impact microorganisms in soil, and animals and living things in other environments.

For example, nutrient pollution from agriculture is one of the major causes of water pollution in the world.

Agricultural chemicals like fertilizers (which can contain reactive nitrogen) and pesticides can enter the soil, water, air, and other environments where micro-organisms and wildlife live.

Wildlife and microorganisms may come into contact with these substances, or inhale, ingest, or absorb them, and there may be toxicity concerns.

Paraphrased from wikipedia.org – Although, with pesticides specifically, the impact of a pesticide might depend on the chemical family the pesticide belongs too – DDT was found to have links to impacting the health of wildlife, but it’s been banned in several developed countries (such as in the US in 1972)

General waste like animal manure and other agricultural waste can also pollute or contaminate the places where wildlife live.

 

Pesticides … nitrogen fertilizers … and phosphorus fertilizers … [have been linked to negative impacts on wildlife]

[Pesticides have also been linked to pesticide resistance in target pest species]

– journals.plos.org

 

Pesticide exposure [in the form of direct spray exposure, or consuming animals that have been exposed to pesticides] can be linked to [a range of effects] in a wide range of species.

Wildlife can be impacted by pesticides through their direct or indirect application, such as pesticide drift, secondary poisoning, runoff into local water bodies, or groundwater contamination.

– beyondpesticides.org

 

Atrazine is a herbicide [can cause] problems in mammals, amphibians and fish that have been exposed.

Pesticides and herbicides can cause toxicity to non target species like bees and other non target species

– wikipedia.org

 

Other agricultural chemicals and substances [that can affect wildlife] can include pollutants like sediments, nutrients, pathogens, metals, and salts (wikipedia.org)

 

In addition to killing insects or weeds, pesticides can be toxic to a host of other organisms including birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-target plants. Insecticides are generally the most acutely toxic class of pesticides, but herbicides can also pose risks to non-target organisms (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

 

The wikipedia.org resource listed goes into more detail about the potential toxicity of different pesticides from different chemical families

 

– Direct or indirect killing of wildlife by farmers

This can be intentional, or unintentional

One example of unintentional killing is the use of heavy machinery for harvesting crops, whereby wildlife may get unintentionally caught up

An intentional example is when farmers have to protect their crops from pests

Other intentional examples are farmers protecting their livestock by culling predators, and also culling animals that destroy or degrade their land on their farm (such as wild pigs and boar)

 

– Wildlife populations being depleted when used as livestock feed

One example of this is when fish species are used as part of cattle feed for beef production

 

One-third of the world’s fish catch is fed directly to livestock.

Roughly 20% of all currently threatened and endangered species in the US are harmed by livestock grazing.

– earthsave.org

 

… out of the 20 million tons of fish caught by commercial industries a year for purposes other than eating, about 90 percent are, in fact, food grade.

… these perfectly edible fish are being turned into fishmeal and fish oil, which is primarily used to feed farmed fish or factory farmed animals, such as pigs, and chickens …

– onegreenplanet.org

 

– Super weeds and super pests dominating other plant and wildlife species

The use of herbicides may contribute to the development of super weeds that are able to dominate other plant species in the areas, and the same can be said for pesticides that contribute to the development of super pests 

 

Potential Negative Effects Of Agriculture On Biodiversity

Firstly, agriculture can cause damage to biodiversity, and also loss of biodiversity in the environment.

The major ways this happens are via:

– Land use conversion (to farms, ranches and land used for agriculture – especially on the larger scale)

– The impact different agricultural practices have on soil (the soil holds majority of the world’s biodiversity), forests and vegetation, and other environmental factors

– The impact of pesticides and fertilizers on biodiversity

Secondly, agriculture can lack biodiversity itself in the crops being produced via the prevalence of monocultures over intercropping as just one example (smisonianmag.com mentions how a major cause of this is ‘… the growth of cereals and soy to feed the ever-growing livestock industry).

Energy intake for humans from agriculture currently only comes from a small number of plants and animals, and genetic diversity has declined over the last century (by about three quarters according to some reports).

Overall, farmers may face conflicting priorities when trying to address biodiversity concerns i.e. a conflict between biodiversity, meeting needs and demand for the population, and meeting economic goals.

Some reports say that agriculture’s impact on biodiversity is greater than climate change’s impact of biodiversity

 

Tillage, fertilization, and pesticide application [release chemicals and compounds that impact] biodiversity (wikipedia.org)

 

[There are many ways] Agriculture can cause a loss in soil quality and soil degradation

[And] This is a problem because soils hold the majority of the world’s biodiversity …

– wikipedia.org

 

[modern agriculture] has … been responsible for considerable damage to biodiversity, primarily through land-use conversion [land and habitat conversion (in particular forests, wetlands, and marginal lands) to large-scale agricultural production] which is expected to remain the largest driver of biodiversity loss beyond 2010 and at least to 2050 

[other ways modern agriculture damages biodiversity are through] overexploitation, intensification of agricultural production systems, excessive chemical and water use, nutrient loading, pollution and introduction of alien species.

– cbd.int

 

[In addition modern agricultural practices impacting biodiversity in other ecosystems, there’s also agricultural biodiversity to consider]

[Specifically on the homogenization of agricultural production systems leading to a decrease in biodiversity:]

… it is estimated that about three-quarters of the genetic diversity found in agricultural crops has been lost over the last century …

… today, 90% of our food energy and protein comes from only 15 plant and 8 animal species, with disturbing consequences for nutrition and food security.

Wheat, rice and maize alone provide more than 50% of the global plant-based energy intake.

– cbd.int

 

[Overall when trying to address the impact agriculture has on biodiversity …]

[There is a conflict of interest to] preserve biodiversity and [also] contribute to meet the nutritional needs of a growing population.

However, they do not control all factors involved including those related to agricultural policies, incentives, markets or consumption patterns, and therefore need support from government policy.

– cbd.int

 

[Impact of agriculture on biodiversity vs climate change’s impact on biodiversity:]

Agriculture and the overexploitation of plants and animal species are significantly greater threats to biodiversity than climate change … [as] nearly three-quarters [about 62%] of the world’s threatened species faced these threats, compared to just 19% affected by climate change (theguardian.com)

 

Read about species decline in the UK due to agricultural practices in the ecifm.rdg.ac.uk resource in the resources list

 

A Few Other Notes On Agriculture

The impact of any agricultural process or product will differ depending on variables such as:

– The individual farm or agricultural operation 

– The geographic region (different States or Provinces within a country, or different countries such as developed and developing countries)

– The agricultural practices usd (e.g. intensive agriculture vs more sustainable agriculture, or conventional agriculture, and organic agriculture)

– The conditions and resources available e.g. natural rainfall, amount of freshwater supplies available, temperature, quality of land etc.

Agriculture is a circular/connected activity – livestock and fertilizer for example can produce greenhouse gas emissions which speeds up climate change, but then climate change can impact things like temperature, rainfall, growing seasons etc. that impact farming

Based on these variables and many others, agricultural products need to be assessed on a case by case, or individual basis.

 

Other Potential Effects Of Agriculture

For a balanced view on the potential effects of agriculture, these guides contain some of the other potential effects:

Positive

Potential Positive Effects Of Agriculture On Overall Society

 

Negative

Potential Negative Effects Of Agriculture On The Environment, & The Sustainable Use Of Resources

Potential Negative Effects Of Agriculture On Human, Health, Society & The Economy

 

Sources

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_agriculture

2. Conrad, Z., Niles, M.T., Neher, D.A., Roy, E.D., Tichenor, N.E. and Jahns, L., 2018. Relationship between food waste, diet quality, and environmental sustainability. PloS one13(4), p.e0195405. – https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0195405

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cruelty_to_animals 

4. http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/home/en/news_archive/2012_Impacts_of_farming_intensification_on_wildlife.html

5. https://www.beyondpesticides.org/programs/wildlife

6. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/10/agriculture-and-overuse-greater-threats-to-wildlife-than-climate-change-study

7. https://mercyforanimals.org/humankind-has-killed-off-60-percent-of-wildlife

8. https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/wildlife/threats/

9. https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/farming

10. http://www.ecifm.rdg.ac.uk/species_decline.htm 

11. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/16-002-x/2015002/article/14133-eng.htm 

12. https://www.cbd.int/agro/Whatstheproblem.shtml  

13. http://www.earthsave.org/environment.htm

14. https://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/most-environmentally-destructive-foods/

15. https://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/cows-are-eating-a-huge-amount-of-fish/

16. https://supplements101.net/meat-industry-statistics/

17. https://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/meat-and-animal-feed.html

18. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/extinction-threatens-foods-we-eat-180965081/

19. https://www.bioversityinternational.org/mainstreaming-agrobiodiversity/

20. Aktar, Md Wasim et al. “Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: their benefits and hazards” Interdisciplinary toxicology vol. 2,1 (2009): 1-12. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2984095/

21. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pesticide

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