Meat production requires 10 to 20 times more energy per edible tonne than grain production and has as high as a 54:1 protein inefficiency ratio (units of plant protein required to produce a single unit of meat protein) [6]. Each cow raised requires (directly and indirectly) 90 to 180 litres of water a day and passes 40kg of manure per kg of edible animal tissue. A study by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 1kg (2.2 pounds) of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometers, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days [4].

Protein rich beans require only fertilization, water and land, with very little maintenance.

Once grown, there’s a long list of energy expensive processes required to turn animals into legally consumable food; from transporting them to the abottoir, slaughtering them, cutting them into pieces, sanitizing and packaging the pieces (usually in plastic) and then delivering the result to shops where they are refrigerated until sale. Refrigeration alone is extremely energy expensive. Suffice to say very few people would be able to eat animals today were it not for this sprawling, around-the-clock, energy infrastructure.

The process required to turn beans, grains and nuts into pantry-apt food is minimal and has an extremely long shelf life, no need for energy expensive refrigeration.


‘Livestock production’ uses more than 30% of the earth’s entire arable land surface, with beef ranches driving 60-70% of Amazon deforestation today[5a][5b]. Conservative forecasts assume that over half of all arable land on earth will be dedicated to the production of cow parts, cow milk, chicken and pig parts by 2050.

Soya has 4 times more calories than red meat so the amount of soy that could be grown using the same amount of land would feed far more people than if used to raise cows. More so, a diet based around animal tissue requires 7 times more land on average than a plant-based diet yet (somewhat ironically) much of the meat eaten world-wide is raised on soya grain. 94% of all soy grown in America, for instance, is fed to livestock rather than people directly. Only 2% of all soy grown in the U.S. is eaten by people with soy based fuels consuming the remaining 4%) [14]. This makes American meat eaters the primary drivers of soy bean monocrops in that country. The trick here is to eat the bean before it gets to the cow. The more cows, pigs and chicken eaten, the more competition there is for wooded land. The more demand for animal parts, the more monocrops there are, significantly threatening the biodiversity upon which we all depend.

Agriculture has negative secondary effects. The Earth is increasingly saturated in animal waste, far more than it can readily process. Animal waste from agriculture accounts for 50-85% of all ammonia found on land and in water, contributing significantly to acid rain and air pollution worldwide [15].

According to The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization, livestock production is at the heart of almost every environmental stress confronting the planet: rain forest destruction, growing deserts, loss of fresh water, air and water pollution, acid rain, floods and soil erosion. [5]


Hard to believe, given that we were all told the ocean is apparently abundant and endless, but it’s true: 40% of the worlds oceans are considered by experts to be detrimentally affected by fishing. According to an FAO estimate, over 70% of the world’s fish species are either exploited to unsustainable limits or depleted.[7]

Species such as the Blue Fin Tuna are now endangered alongside 69 other species of fish in abundance just decades ago [8]. It is safe to say many of the fish species eaten by children today will be facing extinction by the time those children become adults.

The global harvest for fish has more than quadrupled since 1950, from 22 million tonnes to 100 million tonnes over the same period. The environmental cost is already unimaginable, along with a real threat for consumers’ health from the unnatural conditions of inland fish farms. A detailed account of both kinds of production can be found here and here.

If you like the ocean it’s a good idea to stop funding the industries that harm it. It appears too late to hope that regulation and reform will drive a shift to less destructive methods, let alone waiting hundreds of years for coral reefs and underwater ecosystems to heal. You can help slow the decay by not eating fish. If this seems unimaginable then learn to catch fish, one at a time, with a hook and rod. This has a significantly lower environmental impact than any other modern means of catching fish.


Meat eaters generally consume more than twice as much protein as they need, increasing likelihood of kidney failure, cholesterol, heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, stress. [9]

Legumes, especially soybeans, contain the largest percentage of protein among the vegetable foods and are in the same range as many meats. If legumes are a central part of a person’s diet, there will be plenty of enough protein in the diet with no need for animal-tissue. For example, one cup of cooked soybeans contains approximately 20 grams of protein; that is equivalent to three hot dogs, a quarter-pound hamburger, three 8-ounce cups of milk, three ounces of cheese.

On the other hand, industrially produced meat and fish is famously full of nasty things, from bleaching agents to antibiotics, responsible for allergies, resistance to medicines, fatigue, dehydration and a long list of cancers. Seehere and here.

‘Food animals’ consume 80% of all antibiotics produced in America [10a][10b][10c] and at least 45% in the European Union in order to combat the illnesses they get when fed grains (cows and pigs didn’t evolve to eat corn and beans) and those from intensive farming.

Antiobiotics fed to animals are almost always in the same medical group as that of those fed to humans, and so when bacteria develops a resistance to antiobiotics on a farm it cannot be fought when encountered in people. This is the history of most epidemcis (like E-Coli) threatening modern human life.

Many scientists consider antibiotic-resistant bacteria to be the greatest threat to humans on the planet today.Grass-fed, ‘organic’ animal parts are no guarantee of safety either due to it so very often coming into contact with industrially produced animal parts.[10b]

Antiobiotics from animal parts also end up in the bodies of those that consume them, alongside doses of hormones known to have significantly detrimental impact on people, especially children [11][12]. The hormone Oestradiol 17ß, used widely by major exporters of cow pieces, is considered a complete carcinogen. It exerts both tumour initiating and tumour promoting effects.

The eating of meat affects other people, contributing significantly to food shortages worldwide. In the U.S., animals are fed more than 80 percent of the corn and 95 percent of the oats grown. The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food once estimated (Gold and Porrit) to be equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people, more than the entire human population on Earth. Instead, a vast proportion of the world’s forests have been felled to grow the grains fed to cattle. A report from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change considers agriculture to be the single most prevalent cause of deforestation throughout human history [13], depleting world oxygen supply, threatening and/or extinguishing animal and insect life, tipping surrounding ecosystems and devastating indigenous communities and their cultures.

Consider also the impact on supplies of freshwater. To produce 1kg of feedlot beef requires 7kg of feed grain, which takes around 7000 litres of water throughput to grow. The demand for water to grow food to feed cows is resulting in vast areas of arid, dying land throughout the world as water is pumped out to feedlot farms elsewhere. Data adapted from here.

While the increasing demand for ‘organic’ meat in 1st world countries has a less negative impact on the soil itself, cows still require water and cleared land on which to graze. More so, as organic meat cannot be grown as quickly as hormone engineered meat these animals consume more land and require a larger amount of plant matter over the course of a lifetime.

The Agriculture industry is full of many clever and well researched people, all looking to profit where possible: there would be more grass fed cows if it was as or more efficient than industrial methods. Replacing industrialised meat with grass-fed alternatives would rely on vastly greater rates of deforestation than currently experienced while prohibitively raising the cost of animal parts themselves (see Author’s note, below). ‘Organic meat’ is thus not a drop-in solution at the current rates of meat consumption. It is safe to say meat is no longer an environmentally or socially responsible source of protein at today’s population levels. It was ‘sustainable’ once, but not at all now.

If you are a person that believes it’s not possible to live without eating meat you may consider exploring a more immediate relationship with your choice of diet, with the origin of what you choose to put into your body. Rather than paying someone to kill on your behalf, find a local farmer and arrange to learn to kill the animal you select for eating, preparing the parts for transportation once done; the parts you freeze will last you a very long time.

Julian, one of the authors of this document, grew up on a small farm and attests to the awakening importance of taking direct responsibility for the choice to eat meat; selecting an animal, holding it down as it struggles, and then taking its life with a blade.

This is a perspective those that wish to sell you animal parts (and the large agricultural corporations they work for) would dearly rather you do not have.


“People who are comfortable with eating meat should be equally comfortable with killing animals.”

The Meat License Proposal

Meat and fossil fuel:

Most of us are aware that our cars, our coal-generated electric power and even our cement factories adversely affect the environment. Until recently, however, the foods we eat were given a pass in the discussion. Yet according to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), our diets and, specifically, the meat in them cause more greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, and the like to spew into the atmosphere than either transportation or industry. [1]

Environmental degradation:

According to a 2006 report by the Livestock, Environment And Development Initiative, the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation worldwide, and modern practices of raising animals for food contributes on a “massive scale” to air and water pollution, land degradation, climate change, and loss of biodiversity. The initiative concluded that “the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” In 2006 FAO estimated that meat industry contributes 18% of all emissions of greenhouse gasses. This figure was revised in 2009 by two World Bank scientists and estimated at 51% minimum.[3]

Meat production and food shortage:

Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States. [4]

94% of all Soy grown in the United States is fed to livestock rather than people directly. [14] 

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report summary:[5]

  • 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock (more than from transportation).


  • 60-70 percent of previously forested land in the Amazon now hosts cattle.


  • Two-thirds (64 percent) of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems, come from cattle.


  • The livestock sector accounts for over 8 percent of global human water use, while 64 percent of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas by 2025.


  • The world’s largest source of water pollution is believed to be the livestock sector.


  • In the United States, livestock are responsible for a third of the loads of nitrogen and phosphorus into freshwater resources.


  • Livestock account for about 20 percent of the total terrestrial animal biomass, and the 30 percent of the earth’s land surface that they now pre-empt was once habitat for wildlife, in an era of unprecedented threats to biodiversity.


  • These problems will only get worse as meat production is expected to double by 2050.


1. How meat contributes to Global Warming. Scientific American, 2009

2. Williams, Erin E. and DeMello, Margo. Why Animals Matter. Prometheus Books, 2007, p. 73.

3. The Environmental impact of Meat Production, Wikipedia page

4. New York Times analysis.

5. Livestock’s Long Shadow, UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, 2006.
5a.Deforestation in the Amazon

6. U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that 1997-08-07. Retrieved 2010-05-01.

7. Overfishing: a threat to marine biodiversity

8. Guardian report on Compass ban of fish in restaurants

9. Meat and Health, UN Food and Agricultural Organisation.

10a. Farm Animals Get 80 Percent of Antibiotics Sold in U.S.
10b. Politics of the Plate: Drug Bust, Barry Estabrook, 2009
10c. Whether you buy grass-fed or ‘natural’ meat safety isn’t guaranteed

11. Meat hygiene 10th edition, Von J. F. Gracey, D. S. Collins, Robert J. Huey, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1999.

12. Barnard ND, Nicholson A, Howard JL. The medical costs attributable to meat consumption. Prev Med. 1995;24:646-655.

13. UNFCCC (2007). “Investment and financial flows to address climate change”. UNFCCC. p. 81.

14. GMO Inside Blog

15. Ammonia Emissions and Animal Agriculture, Virginia Tech.

N/A. A favourite meat-free recipes blog. Here’s another and another.

This page was written by Marta Peirano and Julian Oliver.

UPDATED: 16.02.2014



With Millions of Tons of Plastic in Oceans, More Scientists Studying Impact

Photo of a boat in the trash-filled waters of Manila Bay.

Fishermen set out amid floating garbage off the shore of Manila Bay in the Philippines on June 8, 2013.


Laura Parker

National Geographic


Consider this: The amount of global trash is expected to rise every year for the rest of the century. With no intervention, the growing garbage heap won’t even peak by 2021.

Since most marine debris originates on land, that grim prognosis, say researchers at the University of Georgia, could spell disaster for the oceans, creating an environmental hazard often compared in scope with climate change.

“We estimate we’re going to have millions of tons of plastic going into the ocean with, so far, unknown consequences,” says Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the university, who is among a group of scientists pursuing a new phase of research on ocean trash and measuring its impact on the environment and marine life. The University of Georgia group works as part of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.

But while climate change is still mired in politics and is a target of naysayers, the trouble in the oceans is an easier issue to address because it is so visible. “The one thing this issue has going for it over climate change is that you can see the garbage,” Jambeck says.

Ocean debris grabbed the international spotlight this spring during the search for the missing Malaysian jet, when multiple satellite images of floating debris repeatedly turned out to be garbage instead of pieces of the Boeing 777. (See “Plane Search Shows World’s Oceans Are Full of Trash.”)

Secretary of State John Kerry hopes to highlight the issue again next week by making marine trash one of the main topics at a two-day oceans conference that begins Monday. Kerry hopes to frame the challenges that lie ahead, including climate change-related ocean acidification and the threat of overfishing.

But the dilemma caused by the growing tonnage of mostly plastic debris is so complex, it has created a new interdisciplinary field of study. Scientists like Jambeck are examining a litany of new issues that range from the toxicity of plastics ingested by marine animals to the politics and economics of solid waste management in developing nations.

New Questions for an Old Problem

Seafarers have known for decades that the oceans are trash dumps, the ultimate sinkholes for all global garbage. So far, 136 species of marine animals have been found entangled in debris. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the first such discovery was made in 1944, when northern fur seals turned up trapped in rubber “collars” that were the remains of Japanese food-drop bags from the Aleutian campaign in World War II.

But scientific research into marine garbage is only a decade or so old. NOAA, for example, launched its Marine Debris Program only in 2006, after Congress passed the Marine Debris Act at the urging of Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

The defining moment of ocean debris research, says Jambeck, was when scientists discovered that ocean debris was no longer an assemblage of cloth, wood, and ceramics, but was composed almost entirely of plastic. Most of that is micro-plastic, meaning it has decayed and broken down into microscopic pieces that float in the water column. Richard Thompson, a British scientist scheduled to speak at Kerry’s conference, first highlighted the problem in 2004 in a paper titled “Lost at Sea: Where Is All the Plastic?”

“Once micro-plastics entered the picture and it was being ingested by marine life, it was a whole new ballgame,” Jambeck says. “That’s when the alarms started going off.”

Jambeck and her team’s research, to be published later this year, will provide new estimates of how much garbage is produced globally every year, how much garbage comes from developing countries lacking garbage collection systems, and how much litter is produced by developed countries. All trash has the potential to reach the oceans.

Yet despite the new burst of scientific study, solving the problem in the face of an increasing volume of ocean trash seems an almost insurmountable task.

Photo of a boy collecting trash on an Albanian beach.

A boy collects debris on a beach near Durres on Albania’s Adriatic Coast on April 9, 2010.

Options Are Few: Cleanup or Prevention

An alliance of 48 plastic manufacturers from 25 countries—all members of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter—has pledged to help prevent marine debris and encourage recycling. Several manufacturers are now marketing products made partly from recycled ocean plastics and abandoned fishing gear.

But the consensus among many scientists, including NOAA’s, is that cleaning up the oceans can potentially cause more harm than good. Cleaning up micro-plastics could also inadvertently sweep up plankton, which provides the basis for the marine food chain and half of the photosynthesis on Earth.

Ocean trash is driven by currents into loosely formed garbage “patches” that Dianna Parker, a NOAA spokesperson, says are more accurately described as “peppery soup” filled with grain-size plastic bits. The word “patch” suggests a defined size and location, when in fact floating debris is constantly moving, shifting with seasonal weather, and changing in shape and size.

Cleaning up even one of these areas seems impossible. Not surprisingly, the largest patch is in the largest ocean—the Pacific, which covers a third of the planet. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as it is known, is often said to be twice the size of Texas. It actually extends, at times, from Japan to San Francisco, and varies in shape and density. According to NOAA, cleaning up less than one percent of the North Pacific would take 68 ships working 10 hours a day for a year.

Beach cleanups help, but are costly and ineffective. The Ocean Conservancy, the international leader in coastal cleanups, has collected some 180 million tons in three decades of work. “We have now created the world’s best database for what actually happens on our beaches,” says Andreas Merkl, the group’s CEO. “We are the largest end-of-the-pipe, ocean-specific trash entity.”

San Francisco spends $6 million a year cleaning up cigarette butts alone, according to NOAA figures in a report called the “The Honolulu Strategy: A Global Framework for Prevention and Management of Marine Debris.” The Honolulu Strategy, developed at a NOAA conference in 2011, notes that a more effective solution is to prevent debris from being swept into the oceans in the first place.

But as long as some countries lack the ability to efficiently collect garbage from its citizens, that garbage will continue to end up in the ocean.

Plastic-Making Technology Spreads

Ted Siegler, a partner at DSM Environmental Services, a waste management firm in Windsor, Vermont, has spent a career helping developing countries set up garbage collection systems.

“In many ways, this is really simple. This is putting trucks on the road and picking up the garbage and bringing it to a proper place,” he says. “But none of that is occurring in almost all of the places that I’ve been working in the last 20 years.”

The complication, Siegler says, is the speed with which plastic manufacturing technology has spread globally.

“I could walk into a guy’s garage in Jordan and he would be blowing film to create plastic bags. Or walk into an industrial shop in Vietnam and a guy would have a brand-new Chinese knockoff of a Frito-Lay packaging machine,” he says.

“There is no end in sight to how much plastic we are going to be producing and how much we are going to be using, and that’s the scary part. If it’s important now, it’s going to be much more important ten years from now.”




Eating As Though the Environment Mattered

Imagine taking 6-20 plates of food and dumping them in the trash, perfectly fresh and edible. Off they go to the landfill. Obviously, none of us would behave so wastefully.

And yet that’s precisely the effect each time any of us consumes meat, since the vast majority of the calories consumed by a chicken, pig, or other animal goes into keeping that animal alive (or into producing bones, blood, and other parts humans don’t consume). Only a small fraction of those calories is turned into flesh.

And that’s just the pure “calories in, calories out” equation. When you factor in all the extra stages of production that are required for meat relative to grains and legumes, the anti-environmental nature of meat consumption becomes even more stark: First, you have to grow many times more corn, grain, and soy (with all the required tilling, irrigation, crop dusters, poisons, and so on), than would be required if we ate the plants directly. Then you have to transport all that grain and soy to feed manufacturers, in gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing 18-wheelers. Then you have to operate the feed mill (again, using massive amounts of resources), truck the feed to the factory farms, operate the factory farms, truck the animals many miles to slaughterhouses, operate the slaughterhouses, truck the meat to processing plants, operate the meat processing plants, truck the meat to grocery stores (in refrigerated trucks), and keep the meat in refrigerators or freezers at the stores.

With every stage comes significant additional energy needs, and with that energy use comes air and water pollution, and massive greenhouse gas production. Of course, grains and legumes require some of these stages too, but they cut out the pollution spewing factory farms and slaughterhouses, as well as multiple stages of heavily polluting tractor-trailer trucks. And as was already noted, they also require a fraction of the calories (and tillers, pesticides, herbicides, etc.) from crops, since those crops are turned directly into food rather than funneled through animals first.

The vast inefficiency of funneling crops through animals means that eating meat is —according to the United Nations — “one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.”

For space, I’ll look briefly at just two of those issues:

Eating Meat Causes More Global Warming Than Everything Else Combined
When United Nations’ scientists evaluated the vast quantity of resources required for meat production, they came to the conclusion that eating meat causes almost one-fifth of all global warming, which is forty percent more warming than all cars, trucks, planes and other forms of transport — forty percent more than all transport!

World Bank and International Finance Corporation agricultural economists Dr. Robert Goodland and Jeffrey Anhang, however, point out in a study published by the WorldWatch Institute (and cited by Bill Gates), that meat “has been vastly underestimated as a source of greenhouse gases, and in fact accounts for at least half of all human-caused greenhouse gases.” For one thing, the U.N. ignored respiration, which is a huge cause of warming (these are domesticated animals who would not exist if they weren’t being raised for meat). Once you crunch the numbers more scientifically, the proportion of global warming caused by farm animals surpasses fifty percent — that’s right, as much as all other human sources of warming combined. This alone should cause everyone who cares about climate change to cut back (or out) animal product consumption.

The Meat Industry Causes Global Poverty
Because meat is so resource intensive, competition is created for crops “between affluent meat-eaters and the world’s poor” (WorldWatch). As Oxfam’s Ben Grossman-Cohen explains,

It takes massive amounts of land, water, fertilizer, oil and other resources to produce meat, significantly more than it requires to grow other nutritious and delicious kinds of food. . . If we don’t reduce our environmental footprints as we increase production, poor people … will be the first to suffer. Eating less meat is a simple way to reduce the pressure on global resources and help ensure that everyone has enough to eat. To say it simply, eating less meat helps fight hunger.


What About Eating Meat That Isn’t From Factory-Farmed animals?
The U.N. and WorldWatch reports indict the inefficiency and waste that are inherent in meat production. No matter where meat comes from, raising animals for food will require that exponentially more calories be fed to animals than they can produce in their flesh, and it will require all those extra stages of CO2-intensive production as well. Only grass-fed animals eat food from land that could not otherwise be used to grow food for human beings, and even grass-fed animals require much more water and create much more pollution than soy, oats, or wheat (and most are raised in climates where they’re only eating exclusively grass for a fraction of the year).

It’s true, of course, that vegetables are also resource intensive. But the substitute for meat is not broccoli, bananas, or bok choy. Vegetarians needn’t consume any more fruits and vegetables than meat-eaters; we consume more grains and legumes as a substitute for meat. Eating these crops directly, rather than feeding them to animals so that humans can eat meat, requires exponentially fewer resources and causes exponentially less global warming and pollution.

Every time we eat meat, it’s as though we’re throwing away 6-20 calories worth of grains and legumes for every calorie we take in. Plus, we’re contributing to exponentially more water use, desertification, air pollution, global warming, global poverty, and more.