8 Ways Your Food Choices Impact Wildlife

Everything we eat has some impact on planet Earth—and the animals with whom we share it. Populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish have declined by 60% in the last 40 years alone. Food production contributed significantly to this loss of biodiversity.

Around the world, WWF is working to build a more sustainable food system. Consumers and food producers all share a responsibility to ensure that we can feed ourselves while preserving the habitats and natural resources that wildlife need to survive.

This journey starts with understanding how our diets affect the animals we care about. Learn about the connections between different foods and species and how you can shop smarter and eat more sustainably to help protect them.

1. Chimps and Chocolate Bars

Chimpanzees hugging
Chocolate bar wrapped in foil

The Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cocoa-producing country and one of the last remaining homes for western chimpanzees. While the country has many national parks to protect our ape cousins, forests are still being cleared illegally for cocoa production. And some of that cocoa may be making its way into the chocolate we enjoy here at home. Fortunately, certification programs like the Rainforest Alliance give chocolate lovers a way to ensure their sweet treats are produced in ways that protect forests and their wild inhabitants as well as the farmers who grow cocoa.

2. Monarchs and BLTs

Monarch Butterfly feeding on flower
BLT Sandwich

Every fall, monarch butterflies migrate from the northern U.S. and Canada to Mexico, and they rely on milkweed and other wild plants across the prairie for food and to lay their eggs. In recent years, the Great Plains lost grasslands faster than the Brazilian Amazon lost rainforest--most often to make room for cropland to produce grains for bread, oilseeds for things like mayonnaise, and feed for pigs and other livestock.

3. Sea Turtles and Shrimp

Sea turtle in Belize
Shrimp skewers

Sea turtles are some of the most majestic, long-living animals in the ocean, yet hundreds of thousands of them are accidentally caught and die in fishing nets and other gear each year. Fortunately, a growing number of shrimp and other seafood fisheries are using better equipment to reduce the incidental catch of sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, and other animals. Consumers can look for the Marine Stewardship Council logo on seafood at their grocery store fish counters, on packaged seafood, and on restaurant menus to ensure their food comes from fisheries that prioritize reducing bycatch.

4. Elephants and Instant Noodles

Sumatran Elephant
A cup of instant noodles

Sumatran elephants are charismatic and iconic. But across the Indonesian island of Sumatra, they’re losing their forest homes to the unsustainable and illegal production of palm oil. Palm oil is used in about half of the products on supermarket shelves, including many processed foods. Americans consume the greatest amount of palm oil through instant noodles, which are flash-fried in palm oil to make them crispy and dry. In fact, many instant noodle products are 20% palm oil by weight.

Consumers looking for products containing responsibly produced palm oil should keep an eye out for the Certified Sustainable Palm Oil label. It means palm oil is produced in ways that protect not just elephants and their habitats, but orangutans, rhinos, and tigers, too.

5. Tigers and Pesto

Bengal tiger on a creek bank
Pesto in a jar

With flavor as bright as its color, pesto is a delicious treat. And while basil is the star, pine nuts provide a creamy texture and savory flavor. But where do pine nuts even come from? Many come from pine trees across the Russian Far East and Eastern China—also home to currently endangered Amur tigers. These animals eat wild deer and boar, which, in turn, eat pine nuts. That’s why WWF is working with Russian communities and companies to sustain forests and the pine nuts they produce for the benefit of local communities and tigers alike.

6. Lemurs and Vanilla Ice Cream

Sifaka lemur in lemurs park, Antananarivo, Madagascar
Scoop of vanilla ice cream

It’s often equated with plainness, but vanilla is a classic flavor – and still the most popular kind of ice cream in the U.S. But what is vanilla exactly and where does it come from?

Believe it or not, vanilla is the fruit of orchids—and more of it is grown in Madagascar than anywhere else on the planet. Madagascar is also home to the world’s only native lemur populations, from the silky sifaka to the ring-tailed lemur. And while agriculture is driving the loss of their habitat, recent studies show that sustainably designed and managed vanilla plantations can actually support lemurs and connect fragmented natural habitats. WWF is working with farmers and spice companies to find more sustainable ways to produce vanilla while protecting these perky primates.

7. Humpback Whales and Swordfish Steaks

humpback whale
Swordfish steak dish

Have you ever gone fishing for bass and accidentally hooked a flounder? Or maybe a boot? Something similar happens often on fishing boats. Every day, staggering amounts of marine life—whales, sharks, turtles, dolphins, and juvenile fish—are caught accidentally in fishing gear and then discarded.

Humpback whales, for example, were frequent victims of bycatch in Pacific swordfish fisheries, but incidents have dropped since the US government and fishing industry started working together in 1994 to reduce bycatch.

Expanding these kinds of efforts around the world can also help save other endangered species that get caught in fishing nets and on lines, including vaquitas, right whales, Irrawaddy and franciscana dolphins, and harbour porpoises.

WWF is working with fisheries to reduce bycatch by promoting new technologies and gear for more efficient operations. Seafood, like swordfish steaks, labeled with the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue fish logo come from fisheries that are managed sustainably with minimal impact on wildlife.

8. Pronghorn and Holiday Dinners

Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana)
Thanksgiving dinner table

If you’re lucky enough to enjoy turkey, potatoes, greens, sweet potatoes, and more during the holidays, then you’ve got a lot to be thankful for—more than you might even realize.

The food we eat during the holidays represents a lot more than what’s on the table. All that food requires acres of land and gallons of water. And it even represents more food—a 16-pound turkey represents nearly 50 pounds of soy, corn, and other feed grains. The dairy in the mac n’ cheese, mashed potatoes, corn bread and more represents bales of forage for dairy cattle. All this production is putting pressure on America’s Northern Great Plains, home of the pronghorn antelope and many other species, which is losing millions of acres of grassland each year.

Be the hero these animals need! Use your voice today.