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Animal versus Plant Proteins and their Environmental Impact

In my blog post "Good for You, Good for the Planet" I explore the issue of food production techniques and global eating pattern trends on environmental sustainability and conclude that we all need to change our ways both at a macro level- with government policies and agricultural producers leading the way- but also by demanding change through our own advocacy, and by the power of consumer demand (or lack of demand!) for certain food groups and products.

My premise (based on facts not personal opinion!) is that a diet based around plants foods which have been minimally processed is not only great for your health but also far more sustainable for the planet. For more detail check out the EAT Lancet Planetary Health Diet .

But why is plant protein more sustainable than animal protein?

Animals need to eat too

In addition to the area of land on which animals live, a huge amount of land is also used to produce feed for them. In many parts of the world animals such as cattle don't have enough grass in their paddocks to feed them year round, so crops are grown specifically to make animal feed. Livestock and feed for livestock uses 77% of agricultural land worldwide, yet only provide for 18% of the world's calories.


Once that animal feed is grown it has to be moved to where the animals are. In Australia in recent years we experienced animal feed being trucked thousands of kilometres to meet shortages in areas affected by fire and floods.


Crops grown to feed animals take up masses of land. Just soy, grass and maize, all destined for animal feed, account for 67% of deforestation which results in above and below land carbon losses.

Animals themselves create emissions

Enteric fermentation (ie burping and farting!) as well as manure and the effluent in aquaculture ponds create even more emissions. Research is underway to try to decrease methane gas production in cattle by adding seaweed to their diet.

Animal Processing creates emissions

Although we can all grow beans and harvest and eat them, most animals require processing first. The emissions from slaughter houses and processing plants creates further emissions in the system.

High Wastage Rate

Animal products are prone to spoilage and, as such, often have to be kept refrigerated and have a shorter shelf life than many plants foods. This can lead to high wastage rates.


Animal production requires a much higher acreage than plant foods production. When we look at how much land is used to raise 100g protein from different sources, even given the high percentage of protein in meat, we can see how inefficient a use of land animal production, especially sheep and beef cattle is.


Eat more plants!

Radical shifts are needed in global agriculture if we are to feed the world more equitably, slow down the climate crisis and also feed humans in a manner that sets the up for long healthy lives.

In the wait for industry and governments to get their acts together, we can do our bit by making successive small changes in the way that we shop and eat.

What changes will you make?

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