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Environmental impact of meat consumption

© Fotolia | Monkey Business

The Environmental Impact of Meat Consumption

A glass of milk for breakfast, spaghetti Bolognese for lunch, a boiled egg and a slice of salami for dinner-for many people this is a typical example of a standard diet, but it is also one that raises the global meat consumption steadily. The consumption of meat and other animal related products is growing at a rapid rate, especially in developing countries. According to recent studies, the demand for meat will double by 2050. 


As well as the fact that many animals are subjected to huge suffering as a result of this industry, the ever increasing demand for meat and dairy products, is also having a detrimental effect on the environment and climate, a fact which many people are particularly not aware of.

Animal Products are climate killers

There are various signs of ongoing climate change including the melting of glaciers, frequent extreme weather conditions and global warming. This is due to the increased human-induced quantities of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20), which enhance the natural greenhouse effect. These greenhouse gases are caused not only by the burning of fossil fuels (for example; coal, natural gas, oil) but also by global transportation (automobiles, ships, and airplanes).


The livestock and production of animal products has serious implications. World-wide, 14.5% of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions are from animal production, of which the beef and dairy industries play a big part, due to the high demand for animal feed as well as the releases of methane, which are the biggest polluters in the sector.


Compared to the production of fruits and vegetables, much more energy is needed for the production of meat, milk, cheese and butter, which causes more C02 emissions. The increased production of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide is mainly caused by the fertilisation of agricultural land or the production of mineral fertilisers and pesticides.


Other Effects

  • Deforestation: For recovering pastures or for growing animal feed (such as soy)
  • Water Shortages and water pollution: much more water is needed during the production stages of meat and other animal products (For example: I kg of beef uses 15,000 liters of water.
  • Eutrophication of the agricultural land, use of pesticides and chemicals which lead to water pollution
  • Biodiversity loss: Due to deforestation of tropical forests and changes in grassland areas for the creation of agricultural land.

What can you do about it? Read our section on Animal Welfare and Nutrition"