41% of Land in Contiguous US Is Used to Feed Livestock

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Cow grazing on grass on a sunny day

Franklin Levert / Getty Images

When Katherine wrote that cutting meat and dairy is one of the best things you can do for the planet, I think many of us focused on the methane emissions inherent in beef and dairy production. But that's by no means the only environmental impact. Whether it's polluted waterways or energy consumption, livestock production has a lot of different environmental challenges.

And chief among them may be land.

This was hammered home to me in a recent interactive Bloomberg article about land use in the United States. While urban areas take up 3.6% of land in the contiguous united states, and cropland takes up about 20%, the Bloomberg article states that when you combine land used for animal feed and actual grazing land itself, a whopping 41% of US land (nearly 800 million acres) is used to feed farm animals.

To be fair, animal agriculture advocates will point out that pastured animals are utilizing often 'low quality' land and turning it into nutrients for us humans. And some will also argue that there are ways to manage pasture to better sequester carbon. But other studies suggest this is rarely the case.

Yes, there are ways to minimize emissions with better managed pasture. But I can't help but wonder if there's also better things we could be doing with all that land.