How does Animal Agriculture impact wildlife?
"The importance of forests cannot be underestimated. We depend on forests for our survival, from the air we breathe to the wood we use. Besides providing habitats for animals and livelihoods for humans, forests also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion and mitigate climate change." The importance of Forests - WWF
Whilst we often hear about the issue of deforestation, we're rarely given a clear insight into what is driving it, or what the impacts actually are for wildlife. Often the only time we see it ourselves is when new suburbs are being created, and we rarely see the victims of land clearing first hand, so this can lead us to assume a few things - namely that land clearing is due to urban sprawl, and without seeing first hand what it does to the animals, it's hard to make a connection with their suffering.
The impact on animals resident in an area to be cleared is immense. Many die during the process of land clearing, either crushed by machinery or by falling trees. Many others die slowly over days or weeks, from injuries, starvation or exposure. Animals left behind in the cleared landscape are highly exposed and vulnerable to predators. All animals in an ecosystem, from the largest to the smallest, are important, regardless of whether they are common or threatened. Land clearing impacts them all.
A WWF-Australia study estimates that tree clearing in Queensland alone kills about 34 million native mammals, birds and reptiles every year, comprising 900,000 mammals, 2.6 million birds and 30.6 million reptiles. Bulldozing of habitat, past and ongoing, is a major factor in the 80% decline of koalas in Queensland's Koala Coast.
But why is so much land clearing undertaken? Most people seem to think this is due to housing developments, or human encroachment, but this isn't the case. By far, the greatest driver of deforestation is to clear land for animal agriculture.
Raising animals for food requires vast areas of land, today, more than half of Australia’s land is used for agriculture. You might think that most of this is for growing food for people to eat, however, the truth is that 91% of this land is used to grow crops for animal feed and to create grassland for cattle to graze.
This is not only a historical issue - it remains to this day. Native vegetation is still being cleared for agriculture in Australia, with about 90% of that used to create pasture for animal farming.
Queensland, home to much of Australia's remaining forests, is currently the nation's leader in land clearing. While NSW is continuing to clear land to some extent, much of the state has already been cleared. For Australia as a whole, agricultural land occupies 53% of the Australian landmass, with 91% of this used for animal agriculture. By comparison, about 4% of Australia is used for plant farming, 2% for forestry, 0.4% for urban development and 0.02% for mining.
Despite what many people claim, the driver is not urban development, mining, plant monocultures or forestry. The largest driver for land clearing in Australia is animal agriculture.
As the Beyond Zero Emissions Land Use Report says
"Since colonisation, Australia has seen more biodiversity loss than any other continent and this rate is still one of the highest globally. Deforestation and grazing pressure are the major threats to biodiversity, and cause stress to a range of ecological communities across the continent."
Loss of biodiversity
“The true tragedy of our time is still unfolding – the loss of biodiversity. Half of fertile land on Earth is now farmland, 70 percent of birds are domestic, majority chickens. We are one-third of animals on Earth. This is now our planet run by – and for – humans. There’s little left for the world. We have completely destroyed it.” David Attenborough
Our demand for animal products - beef from cattle, dairy products from cows, pork from pigs, lamb, goat and chickens, is what is driving the absolute devastation of wildlife in Australia and across the planet. We have only been on the planet a fraction of the time it has existed and already our actions have commenced the sixth mass extinction event. We need to take action for our fellow earthlings, and we need to do it now.
What can we do?
We can reduce the demand for animal products by adopting a plant-based lifestyle. Plants require far less landmass to produce the same number of calories and nutrients, and they do so without harmful things like cholesterol, which is only found in animal products.
All animal products require more calories to be fed into the animals than we get out of the resulting 'products', it is a very inefficient way to produce food, and as highlighted, requires vast areas for grazing and to grow the feed for the animals.
Leaving animals off our plates is a great, and vital first step, but we need to do much more. We need to ensure our representatives in parliament understand the issues and support those who advocate for genuine solutions, rather than those who merely seek to greenwash and continue the status quo.
In order to reverse the environmental impacts we have been creating through our years of deforestation and land clearing, we not only need to stop land clearing, but we need to stop clearing land for animal agriculture, and we need to start rewilding areas that have been cleared. Vast areas that are not suitable for growing crops should instead be reforested, allowing increased carbon capture, providing habitat for wildlife and allowing rich, biodiverse ecosystems to reestablish.