Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 17, 2016

Contact: Jennifer Molidor, (707) 888-9261,

New 'Extinction Facts' Labels Reveal Meat's Hidden Costs to Climate, Wildlife

U.S. Department of Agriculture Urged to Take Action on Sustainability in American Diet

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity today released its new Extinction Facts labels illustrating the extreme environmental cost of the most popular items in the American diet: hamburgers, chicken breasts and bacon. Americans consume more than 50 billion pounds of meat per year, four times the global average. This meat-heavy menu comes with high costs in carbon emissions, water pollution and habitat loss — impacts that were left out of the latest federal dietary guidelines despite support from experts and the public.

Extinction facts
Label image courtesy Center for Biological Diversity. Images are available for media use.

“What you eat has a profound effect on the planet. Every burger, chicken breast and bacon strip we consume requires enormous amounts of water, energy and greenhouse gases that put threatened and endangered wildlife at risk — along with our climate stability,” said Jennifer Molidor, senior food campaigner with the Center. “Just as nutrition facts labels you see at the grocery store reveal the health cost of dietary choices, Extinction Facts labels expose the environmental cost of our choices.”

Designed in the style of the Food and Drug Administration’s nutrition labels, Extinction Facts labels — and the information that accompanies them — crunch the numbers to help consumers understand the environmental impacts of popular meat products. The labels share the effects of each serving as well as the total consumption in the United States. For example, Americans eat an average of three hamburgers per person per week, which cumulatively requires more than 21 trillion gallons water to produce. Americans also eat enough chicken to destroy 12.4 million acres of wildlife habitat, the equivalent of 12 million football fields. And American bacon consumption comes at a cost of 331 billion pounds of pig manure — which could fill 60,667 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“Vital habitat and natural resources that go into each hamburger, chicken breast or serving of bacon add up quickly and put immense pressure on already endangered and threatened wildlife — like gray wolves, foxes, loggerhead sea turtles and Atlantic bluefin tuna,” said Molidor. “Cutting consumption of meat products by even a third could save significant land and water and dramatically reduce pollution.”

The average American’s diet includes 55 pounds of beef, 83 pounds of chicken and 46 pounds of pork per year. That's an aggregate total of 240 million pounds of hamburger, 29.1 billion pounds of chicken and 1 billion pounds of bacon.

In light of this data, the Center sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in late April urging the agency not to ignore the environmental footprint of America’s high meat consumption. The USDA declined to include data on sustainability in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, even though doing so was recommended by its own scientific advisory committee, which found that a primarily plant-based diet is healthier and associated with less environmental impact than the current American diet. In an October 2015 agency blog post, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defended this decision and stated that the guidelines were not the “appropriate vehicle” to address policy positions on sustainability. The Center is urging the USDA to publicly address those policy positions and establish a concrete plan of action to ensure a sustainable, secure food system.

Take Extinction Off Your Plate was launched in 2014 as part of the Center's Population and Sustainability program, and features information about the impact of meat consumption on wildlife, the climate, habitat, water and land. It also includes resources to help people adopt an Earth-friendly diet and a pledge asking people to commit to reducing their meat consumption.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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