Environmental Impact of Meat Production

Environmental Impact of Meat Production.

Due to an overgrowing human population worldwide, with upgraded lifestyles, shortage of time and dietary changes, livestock production has increased its pace. Their mass-scale production is emitting greenhouse gases threatening the environment with methane and CO2.

Over 12% of the total greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere come from livestock production. This is up from 6% in 1990. An average person eating animal-based meat dishes has three times more GHG emissions than a vegetarian meal.

Livestock methane accounts for 57% of animal-related methane emissions and 91% of all human-related GHG emissions from fossil fuel combustion. The same sources also contribute to climate change. An increase in the dairy industry is also one of the major causes of the massive methane emission. It accounts for 9% of all emissions. However, livestock could have an even more significant impact on global warming by emitting more greenhouse gases than just methane.

The latest research conducted by the UN Environment Programme found that beef and dairy products could cause up to 15% of the total emissions, or 1.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e).

How  Meat Production Impact the Environment

Meat Production

Livestock production requires far more energy per unit of food produced than any other type of farming, particularly meat production. The main sources of energy used to produce meat products includes:

1. fuel used in heating and transporting livestock;
2. growing animal feed; and
3. freshwater uses

A typical cow uses as much energy as a person living in Western Europe uses. The same animal is used for milk production, leather production, and other industrial applications. But you have to consider the size of the animals and the required volume of food and protein.

As per this study, the carbon footprint of the meat production industry is directly proportional to the total meat products consumed. For instance, to have the same energy content of protein with its carbohydrate and lipid content, you would have to consume three times as many calories of meat.

In contrast, growing plant-based foods results in only a slight increase in the carbon footprint compared with animal-based foods. As discussed in the previous section, the per calorie energy content of meat products is about 30% higher than that of plant-based foods, and for dairy products, the difference is 55% higher. So, consuming more plant-based foods in the same quantities as meat products could be one of the most sustainable ways of eating that is environmentally friendly.

Major Environmental Impact of Meat Production

Environmental Impact of Meat Production

1. Largest Contributors of Greenhouse Gases

Meat or livestock production is one of the largest growing industries and also the largest contributor to environmental hazards. Out of total world food production, 57% of greenhouse gas emissions come from meat and dairy products. According to the UK Climate Change website, “Carbon Brief”, in an interactive Q&A session, brought out the fact that 7.1 gigatons of greenhouse gases are created by meat and dairy industries. Also, beef was considered to be the highest producer of greenhouse gases. It produces 60kg of greenhouse gas emissions per kg of meat. The other most polluting emission is lamb meat.

2. Killing Forestry

The majority of meat production is done in the dairy farms, which are then sold to food outlets. Parallelly, raising this mass scale livestock needs huge and big lands for grazing. Thereby, forests and greenery are destroyed on a mass scale to raise this livestock. Particularly in South America, where forests are slashed away for the same reason.

Deforestation and forest fires globally are happening because of the farmers who deliberately put forests on fire to clear them for grazing the huge industrial livestock. The biggest example of this is the Amazon Forest fire, which was set up to raise cattle and cattle feed.

Loggers, farmers and miners illegally occupy and grab land resources disobeying the land laws and making a forceful entry, killing the residing tribals or communities staying there. Mostly, grabbing land by farmers have forced the tribals to just fight for protecting the forests.

3. Threating Wildlife

Forests are cleared, habitats encroached, and the use of chemical fertilizers for producing food for the increased livestock is forcing many species towards extinction. Animals like Jaguars are dying as they have lost their habitat in Brazil.

Unknown bio-diversities that co-exist in forests like Amazon have become a point of concern now, as the increasing livestock industry is encroaching forests and destroying them. Many types of herbs used for medicines, rainwater and other unknown vegetation are a part of human life to thrive. Without forests, medicines for curing certain diseases will never be produced.

4. New Diseases on the Rise

Oxygen levels will be tremendously reduced if forests all over the world are brutally slaughtered. As it is, Pollution all over the world is on the rise. Lack of oxygen or an increase in the level of carbon dioxide will cause respiratory diseases to increase. A severe type of allergy pertaining to food is already there. Using chemical fertilizers to grow fodder for livestock passes these allergies from the livestock on to us. The livestock industry should be controlled for our own safeguard.

5. Hampering Natural Land Area

The forests are the only source of timely rainfall, holding the soil to evade soil erosion or landslides and mudslides. Every year untimely rains destroy crops, or the news of a sudden landslide or frequent earthquakes in any country hits the headlines. Have you ever thought that grazing such huge livestock would destroy trees and pure oxygen levels as a chain reaction? How much will we have to pay back to Nature?

Have you ever wondered when we destroy forests to produce industrial meat, tonnes of carbon dioxide causes the atmosphere to heat up and aggravate global warming? Not only that, but the logs are burnt too to produce more emissions affecting the environment in the process. If we keep cutting the trees, natural calamities will recur and increase in frequency in the near future.

6. Unethical Practices

Land grabbing, forcefully killing the tribes who reside there and trying to protect forest land, setting fire to the forests to breed livestock, abusing human rights are some of the unethical measures that are adopted by the meat industry.

For example, most cattle in the USA are grain-fed than grass-fed, so that their growth is fast, and they become fatter. The animals are mostly kept under inhuman and unhygienic conditions. A large amount of grain is required to feed this outgrowing livestock when many people over the world suffer food shortages or die of hunger.

7. Threat to Cope Up in the Future

By the year 2050, the demand for meat will double all over the world, said FAO. As the natural resources like land and water are depleting by days, it is going to be hard on the rapidly increasing human population. The need for profit might force the meat industry to adopt more and more unethical practices.

As producers, they need to follow the laws, control livestock production and follow the norms for a responsible act towards a healthier society. As consumers, we should change our habit of meat consumption all over the world. It is our responsibility to co-exist with Nature and utilize it within limits and according to our needs.

8. Depletion of Natural Resources

Livestock Production Involves the Following Reasons for Depletion of Natural Resources –

a. Diminishing jungles for grazing land and soya fields

b. Grazing land lacks carbon in the soil

c. Various other sources of energy like water, electricity, fossil fuels for transportation are used for growing feed crops, for processing and transporting grains and meat

d. Nitrogen-based fertilizers are used that release nitrous oxide into the environment

e. Gases like methane from animal manure contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Methane and nitrous oxide are known as more harmful and have climate warming potential than does carbon dioxide

Utilizing land for grazing could have been used for agricultural purposes for feeding humans. If everyone made their diet more plant-based than more meat-based, we would require 75% less land space than we require today to feed the industrial livestock. The UK, especially, should consume less meat and dairy products to prevent drastic climate change.

A plant-rich diet is healthier and a more nutritional way to feed the mass than destroying the precious forest lands for a meat-based production.

9. Markets Demands & Responsibilities

meat Market Demand & Responsibilities

Demands might always be there and an increase in the supplies too. But supermarkets and meat stores have to take their stance on this as well. In the UK itself, supermarkets like Tesco sell more meat and use more soya for animal feed than any other supermarket. Though supermarkets support and commit to not buying meat from linked sellers from deforestation, some of the big supermarkets still prefer buying from them. Such an unethical practice should be stopped immediately.

Big meat-producing companies and supermarkets should be acting more responsibly and should try to reduce the total consumption of industrial meat.

10. Use of Toxic Chemicals and Fertilisers

The industrial livestock grazing fields are treated with harmful and toxic chemicals and fertilizers, higher the quantity than required. Plants or lands can consume the amount only they require. An extra amount is either washed away during rains or just grazed up by the cattle. These manures contain medicines, like antibiotics, some bacteria and other such materials, which are poisonous to the environment if not stored properly. Usually, they are kept in the open and stand the risk of rains or overflowing. If it falls on the land, it produces lots of poisonous gases that are harmful to the climate. Mainly manures are composed of methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide. Overflowing may release such toxic gases into the environment.

11. Meat Has a High Carbon Footprint

Cattle grazing is done mainly on high-fibre greenery, mainly grass. Cows, Sheep and lambs have the power to digest a lot of cellulose. The reason they either belch out or release a lot of gas in the air. The gas is mostly methane. A huge quantity of methane is also released through the manure they produce. Excess livestock produces excess manure not required by agricultural farms or crop producers. Therefore, the manure lies in the open field and decomposes by itself, producing a lot more methane gas which is increasing the carbon footprint and great environmental risk.

Some Facts by Research Firms

1. According to the Worldwatch Institute, “Roughly 2 of every 5 tons of grain produced in the world is fed to livestock, poultry, or fish; decreasing consumption of these products, especially of beef, could free up massive quantities of grain and reduce pressure on land.”

2. “The number of fossil fuels to produce one hamburger production is equivalent to drive a small car up to 20 miles, according to PETA. A typical pig factory generates the same amount of raw waste as a city of 12,000 people. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat but only 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat. About 260 million acres of U.S. Forest have been cleared to create cropland to produce feed for animals raised for food. The meat industry is directly responsible for 85 per cent of all soil erosion in the U.S.”

3. The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people — more than the entire human population on Earth. It’s a scary figure to look at.

Possible Ways to Produce Meat in a Sustainable and Environment Friendly Way

There are multiple ways in which the livestock production sector can be sustainable.

1. Reduce meat consumption and cut down on meat usage in your diet.

2. Take up more plant-based meals.

3. Eliminate or reduce dairy consumption.

4. Make changes in your diet habits.

5. Donate the amount of meat that you do eat.

6. Use fewer resources when producing the same amount of meat.

7. Minimize or eliminate the use of fossil fuels and biofuels, all of which are very resource-intensive.

8. Provide livestock more space through space improvements and animal feeds

9. Reduce methane emissions by improving cattle behaviour and by using electric fencing.

10. Discourage meat production by improving demand and eliminating barriers.


Immediate action is required to educate people on the facts and figures about the climatic change caused by unlimited livestock raised in unethical ways for the human population. The use of meat in each household and eateries should be limited, and legally a certain quantity should be allowed to be used.

We should start by telling our kids the right and wrongs from the very childhood, on over-eating meat products. Social, economic and environmental impacts of mass-scale livestock production and its harmful effect should be told to people via rallies and educational channels.

Repeatedly the issue of the ever-growing human population has been highlighted as the cause for the increase in overproduction of livestock. The root cause of the problem is the population and their eating habits. Some major steps need to be taken in this aspect too. Overproduction of livestock, overgrazing, illegally occupying land, and other such unethical practices should be highlighted and immediately curbed. For the generations to come, meat production should not be doubled to feed the people but just a need-based and environment-friendly activity.