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  • Writer's pictureRuwan

The real cost of meat?

Meat. We know how much it costs us, and what it does to our bodies… but something’s missing. How about what meat costs our planet? Is it really that bad? And how bad?! A German Grocer recently did the work for us, adding the cost of greenhouse gases, nitrogen, energy and land-use based damages to the actual price tag… giving a ‘true cost’ to the consumer.

The result? ‘Meat should cost 3 times more’ (full details in this brilliant write-up by Green Queen).

But wait, what’s CO2 got to do with my chicken dinner? For those of us just starting-out learning some of the planet-kicking secrets behind meaty dishes, we’ve broken down the main impacts meat has on our planet.

Climate change

Raising livestock contributes greatly to greenhouse gases, and it’s responsible for around 14.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions (more than the transport sector!) according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation. The standard industrial farms use huge, concentrated amounts of manure, which cause air pollution. Beyond this, cattle emit methane, which is around 25 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

Find out more here.

Land use and deforestation

If farms are raising large numbers of cattle, and other livestock, is there an environmental cost to feeding them? Absolutely. A third of the world’s cultivated land is being used to grow billions of tons of feed, mostly soy and maize. Soy is an energy-rich crop, which has become an important part of the diets of poultry, cattle, and pigs...that also takes up a lot of cultivable land, around 90 million hectares (three times the size of Italy!). 75% of deforestation in the Amazon has been linked to the global meat industry.

Find out more here.

Water use

Next up after food… water! In order to grow crops for animals to eat, clean the factory farms animals live on, and keep animals hydrated, an enormous amount of water is used. Guess how much water one single cow drinks a day? 50 gallons. On a hot day? Twice that amount. According to PETA, it takes 683 gallons of water to produce just 1 gallon of milk and 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef. Meanwhile, 1 pound of tofu only requires 244 gallons of water. If you were to go vegan, one person can save approximately 219,000 GALLONS OF WATER A YEAR!

Find out more here.

But surely we have lots of water on earth?

Water covers 70% of our planet, but it’s easy to forget that only 3% of the world’s water is freshwater - accessible for drinking by humans and animals. To make matters worse, two-thirds of that freshwater is in frozen glaciers or unavailable for human life.

Unfortunately, many water systems that ensure that ecosystems thrive and feed our rapidly growing human population have become disturbed; either they are drying up or they have become too polluted. A huge part of that is agriculture, which consumes more water than any other source.

Water pollution

There are different types of water pollution caused by livestock production. These types include: nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilisers and animal excreta); pesticides; sediment; organic matter (oxygen demanding substances such as plant matter and livestock excreta); pathogens (E coli etc); metals (selenium etc) and emerging pollutants (drug residues, hormones and feed additives).

The impacts of water pollution are immense. For one, an excess of nutrients and organic matter (animal feces, leftover animal feed, and crop residues) cause eutrophication, which causes algae and plants to grow faster and use up oxygen in the body of water that other species need to survive. In 2015, this study identified 415 coastal bodies of water already suffering from the effects of eutrophication.

Find out more here.

Oceans - yep, they’re damaged too!

You’re probably wondering how the oceans are affected by meat? We’re talking about fish now, and commercial fishing methods, like bottom trawling (dragging a gigantic net across the ocean floor, capturing everything) often clear the ocean floor of all life as well as harm coral reefs. Dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and other marine animals are also harmed in the process of “bycatch”, the capture of unwanted sea life while fishing for a different species. In the same way that factory farms cause water pollution, coastal fish farms release feces, antibiotics, parasites, and non-native fish that disrupt the food chain in sensitive marine ecosystems. This is closely tied to overfishing, a problem tied to massive over-consumption of fish.

As the ‘nail in the coffin’ here, most farmed fish are also carnivorous, and fed massive quantities of wild-caught fish. It takes 3 pounds of fish meal to produce one pound of farmed salmon.

So, what comes next? What can we do?

We know what to do. It’s just a matter of doing it... There are plenty of arguments that veganism or vegetarianism is the only sane way forward, or at the very least people will have to reduce their meat consumption significantly in order to reduce human pressures on the environment.

George Monbiot, a British writer known for his environmentalism and activism, wrote a compelling piece about why he believes “the world can cope with 7 or even 10 billion people, but only if [people] stop eating meat.” There are other options that we can explore, especially with scientific advancement, including using different agricultural models such as biodynamic farming and permaculture.

Thinking about trying more veggie meals? Check out our top tips on reducing meat in your diet, or head straight over to a vegetarian budget-friendly weekly meal plan! Interested in learning more about plant-based diets or how the planet will thank you for your eco-awesomeness? Keep in touch with us via our Instagram channel and feel free to get in touch with the team at


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