The Worst Food for our Planet?

A new study by American and Israeli researchers has determined the environmental cost of producing beef, dairy, poultry, pork and eggs. Their findings reveal the high price the planet pays per calorie or gram of protein of each of these meat products. Beef lovers in particular may be alarmed to know that growing cattle used 28 times more land, consumed 11 times more irrigation water while feeding and used six times more nitrogen fertilizer, a recognized pollutant in rivers, streams and lakes. Joking aside, beef cattle also “released” five times more greenhouse gases, such as methane.

Just looking at the size of cattle gives you a clue regarding these resource-hungry animals.  They grow slowly and need more food to produce a pound of protein. The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, outlines the fundamental problem with growing cattle and other animals for food. The authors write that, “Livestock-based food production is an important and pervasive way humans impact the environment. It causes about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is the key land user and source of water pollution by nutrient overabundance. It also competes with biodiversity, and promotes species extinctions.”

The study’s authors designed their methodology to account for the different types of beef production, such as grazing and cattle feedlots and designed an analysis to create equal footing among the pork, poultry and eggs, and dairy.  They also attempted to account for factors such as cattle grazing on semi-arid land that is not necessarily valuable from a crop production perspective.  However, it’s not all about growing food for people. Such terrain may be home to endangered species and native plants that have their own unique importance in the ecosystem. Gidon Eshel, an environmental physics professor at New York’s Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson who led the study was quoted in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, stating, “The best way in this context to lower your environmental impact is to eliminate beef whenever possible and replace it with other sources of sustenance.”

Fortunately, there are many other sources of protein with lower environmental impacts, such as sustainably-harvested organic nuts, beans and seeds. They tend to be less expensive than meat and eggs as well. Most people eat too much meat protein in their diets.  The average American eats 248 pounds of meat every year, which accounts for 40 percent of his or her total caloric intake.  Most nutrition experts maintain that no more than 10 percent of calories should come from meat. So switching it up to include some other sources is easier on the stomach, the wallet and the environment.

Take the FREE WEEKEND WONDER DETOX QUIZ to determine which detox is best for you.  Check out my new books Weekend Wonder Detox and 60 Seconds to Slim. Subscribe to my free e-magazine World’s Healthiest News to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow my blog on my sites and, and Twitter @mschoffrocook and Facebook. Copyright Michelle Schoffro Cook.

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Becka T.
Becka T.9 months ago

Thank you!!!

Erin H.
Erin H.about a year ago

Interesting article, thank you!

Fi T.
Fi T.about a year ago

Eat for better health and better environment

Marina Shypova
Marina Shypovaabout a year ago

Yeah, it's difficult to change our diet, but we should try.
Thank you!

Marija Mohoric
Maria Mohoricabout a year ago


Carole R.
Carole R.about a year ago

Thanks for the post.

Naomi R.
Naomi R.about a year ago


Jessica L.
.about a year ago

Bad beef.

Anna Wang
Anna Meng Wangabout a year ago


Dale O.
DaleLovesOttawa O.about a year ago

Genoveva M M had stated: "I wish some people would respect the fact that others care for the life of animals, and the planet."

Certainly, that is the case, but also, respect the fact that many omnivores are concerned about the planet and are also involved in many environmental and other concerns and that many are involved in many aspects of animal welfare as well.

The idea that if one is an omnivore and eats some meat does not disqualify anyone from either being concerned about the planet and its future or for caring about animals.
Most of the domesticated farm animals would not have ever been alive had they not been raised for food in some way. Obviously, working against factory farms and how they treat animals is a major concern and there are omnivores that refuse to obtain meat from that particular source. One can eat meat and still work against big agriculture by continuing to expose their methods to the public and how they raise animals in conditions that should not exist.