Researchers have found that animal agriculture produced air pollution has caused the premature death of 17,900 Americans.

Somewhere in a crowded animal feedlot in America’s Corn Belt, a cow will poop. The cow’s manure carries a quietly devastating ingredient, one that contributes to agricultural emissions and ultimately air pollution: ammonia.

New research implicates air pollution caused by agriculture production in the premature deaths of 17,900 Americans. This air pollution is linked to both ammonia and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). These findings were published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

There are solutions that could curb air pollution deaths significantly, the study team says. These include eating a more plant-based diet. President Joe Biden might not be limiting access to red meat (despite false claims) but this study suggests it could be wise for individuals to make that choice themselves.

“Dietary shifts toward more plant-based foods that maintain protein intake and other nutritional needs could reduce agricultural air quality-related mortality by 68 to 83 percent,” the team reports. “We hope food producers, consumers, and policymakers can use this information to inform their food-related decisions,” co-authors Nina Domingo and Jason Hill tell Inverse. Both are researchers at the University of Minnesota.

How they did it

The researchers estimated air quality deaths related to 95 different agricultural commodities in the United States, using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Subsequently, they estimated the per-unit annual impact of 67 products from 11 food groups. Products ranged from beef to beans.

The researchers also estimated how many deaths could be reduced if consumers switched their dietary palates from animal-based proteins to other meat or plant options, using the planetary health diet of the EAT-Lancet Commission as a guideline.

Ultimately, they found U.S. agriculture results in 17,900 deaths per year “via reduced air quality.” Roughly 12,400 deaths, or 69 percent of deaths related to air quality and agriculture, were associated with ammonia-related (NH3) emissions in livestock waste and fertilizer use. A further 4,800 deaths, or 27 percent of deaths related to air quality and agriculture, were associated with fine particulate matter (PM2.5) particles, also known as black carbon or “soot.” You can find these particles in agricultural dust and fuel combustion from field equipment.

PM2.5 consists of microscopic air particles 2.5 microns or less in size. Some scientists argue that they are the greatest environmental risk factor for human mortality.

A significant proportion, or 47 percent of deaths, are located in only a small number of U.S. counties, researchers say. These counties are in regions and states with heavy agricultural industries, including:

  • California
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • Upper Midwest Corn Belt

What’s new

The study’s results suggest U.S. agricultural operations are associated with the premature deaths of 17,900 Americans. To put that into perspective: fewer than 4,000 Americans died from fires in 2019. Eighty percent of this air pollution comes from the production of animal-based proteins.

The worst offender is red meat. “The lowest-impact production of red meat has a greater impact than the highest-impact production of any other food,” the study team writes.

Bad air quality stemming from beef production results in significantly more health issues than any other agricultural industry. The issue is:

  • 2 times greater than eggs
  • 3 times greater than dairy
  • 7 times greater than poultry
  • 10 times greater than nuts and seeds
  • 15 times greater than the average of any other plant-based food

Original source: https://www.inverse.com