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Water pollution

Animal farming and fishing are the source of many different forms of pollution leading to profound effects on global biodiversity and human societies.

Due to its high demand for feed crops, animal farming increases the global use of fertilisers and pesticides. Waste and manure from the industry also commonly find their way into water bodies. When pesticides and fertilisers from agriculture enter freshwater, marine, or coastal habitats they can lead to huge damage of those ecosystems.

The most harmful effect of this excess fertiliser and animal waste is ‘eutrophication’. The excess nutrients can rapidly throw ecosystems out of balance, causing a rapid expansion in the population of algae. This in turn prevents light from entering deeper into the water column, killing plant life and disrupting the water chemistry. It can also pose a risk to human health due to increased toxicity in drinking water¹.

Severe eutrophication in rivers, lakes, and coastal habitats can make these environments unlivable for many other species. Wastes resulting from fish farming are a particular problem for sensitive coastal habitats. It is estimated moving to vegan diets globally would cut eutrophication by 50%².

Land-use change caused by expanding agricultural land, alongside transportation, energy, industry and other sectors that are driven by fossil fuel extraction, are also damaging the oceans through a process called ‘acidification’. Carbon dioxide (CO₂) is absorbed from the atmosphere by the ocean surface. The CO₂ dissolves into the water making it more acidic.

This is a very rapid change to the environment which oceanic life has evolved to survive in, leading to extinction of countless species and the collapse of whole ecosystems. Acidification, accompanied by warming of the oceans, is killing huge areas of coral reef. These are among the most diverse habitats on the planet and half of them have already been lost³.

Bringing down emissions in all sectors is essential if we want to save our seas from the worst effects of acidification and switching to a vegan diet is one of the most effective ways to do this.

Alongside the direct impact of industrial fishing, plastic pollution also plagues the world’s oceans. The majority of large plastic pollution results from damaged and discarded fishing gear, such as nets and lines⁴. This ‘ghost gear’ entangles turtles, sharks, seabirds and other threatened animals. 

The science is telling us that plant-based diets can drastically lower the amount of pollution coming from our food systems, so follow the science and take the Plate-up for the Planet 7-day pledge.

2. Poore, J. and Nemecek, T. 2018. Reducing food's environmental impacts through producers and consumers - PubMed (