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Environmental Effects of the Meat Industry

Humans have been consuming meat for as long as we can remember. Initially, meat consumed raw, and about 200,000 years ago, the first hearths were used. Meat was an essential component of diets up until the Agricultural Revolution when wheat and rice began to be massively grown. There is a great debate about the nutritional benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets in today’s society. However, overall modern-day vegetarians are as healthy as those who eat meat and also can be seen to have lower rates of heart disease. There was a rapid growth in the consumption of meat during the 20th century, which translated to an increase in meat production as well.

Within the 20th century, meat-based diets began to symbolize wealth, along with nutritional balance. Many societies demand meat-based diets due to dietary values and protein intake needs. Many humans consume meat because they enjoyed the taste and grew up eating it. Those individuals oftentimes do not think about the negative consequences of their consumption patterns or are not educated on it. Further, the trend of meat consumption has been increasing steadily, and it can be related to increased wealth and a sign of affluence. This can even be associated with a shift away from vegetables and grains to a meat-focused diet. This is thought of as a “nutrition transition,” as it is unlikely that the ecological footprint of food consumption will decline throughout this process. As the human population continued to grow, food production (and meat production) increased as well. This increase further reflects in adverse effects being seen within our environment.

The consumption and production of meat have been negatively impacting our environment for quite some time. It is known that 70% of freshwater consumption worldwide is for crops and livestock, relevant primarily to farming and meat production. While industrial agriculture as a whole has adverse environmental effects, the meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than transportation. Further, half of the methane and two-thirds of the nitrous oxide released by humans is due to crop and livestock production. “Worldwide meat consumption has tripled since the 1960s, increasing by 20% in just the first decade of this century, and this is largely due to the spread of industrial meat production methods across the globe (Worldwatch Institute, 2011). Meat production and consumption are expected to continue to rise by at least 30% by midcentury, with the most dramatic increases happening in the world’s two most highly populated countries, China and India,” (Scott, Amel, Koger, and Manning, 2016). This further proves the point that humans are eating an absurd amount of meat, and the consumption is increasing to harmful levels.

Another primary concern is the growing human population, and how to properly feed the prospective 10 billion people that will inhabit Earth by 2050. Scientists recommend a mainly plant-based diet to sustain the growing populations. This diet is based upon a report compiled by a group of 30 scientists from around the world, focusing on nutrition and food policy. The scientists believe that meat and sugar consumption must drop by 50% in order to reduce climate change inducing gases and preserve land for biodiversity. They took into consideration greenhouse gases, water, and crop usage, nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers, and habitat preservation. Another factor in the battle against meat production is food waste. In the United States, almost 30% of food is wasted. Many strategies are being created to divert food waste, including better food storage technology, zero-waste lifestyles, and, most importantly, education. In order to get people in the right direction regarding consumption and waste reduction, it is crucial to educate them first on the consequences of their actions. Many people do not know that their wasted meals contribute to this ecological crisis, along with their consumption patterns and diets. Once educated, people are more likely than not to take up some newfound knowledge and even share it with friends and family members.

While many believe that meat is a necessary dietary intake, there are many studies published proving that meat consumption actually has adverse health effects. “The consumption of red meat was classified in 2015 by The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as probably carcinogenic to humans, while the consumption of processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans,” (Modlinska and Pisula, 2018). While there is a distinct difference between vegetarians/vegans and meat-eaters, there is also a difference between meat-eaters. This difference can range from “heavy meat-eaters” to “flexitarians” who eat meat only a few days a week. When looking at influencing consumers to change their diet patterns, it is most plausible to try and control flexitarians, as they are most likely to listen to and understand the voices of sustainability advocates.

Those who consume meat regularly oftentimes respond to pressure to reduce meat consumption in various forms, such as denying that animals are suffering and being killed, using religious and health justifications, and thinking of humans as most dominant. These are thoughts that must be purged in order to protect the environment and reshape food consumption patterns. One way to change people’s views on consumption patterns is to educate children about food production and origins. If humans are taught right from wrong at a young age, they will grow up following those morals, and further spread their knowledge to others. Another way to change people’s views on consumption patterns is to break their habits. It is tough to break habits, but once someone stops eating meat and becomes educated on the cons of consumption patterns, they are more likely not to go back to their old habits. Another way to break a relationship with meat is to develop “meat consciousness,” which means to be more mindful of how often you consume meat and what kind of meat is being consumed. This is likely the most plausible option for many meat lovers, as they do not want to become vegetarian or vegan, but need an alternative to their daily consumption patterns.

To become more meat conscious, one must plan their meals around plant-based foods, along with shopping organic, local, and sustainable when possible. Making a schedule of days committed to not eating meat is also a significant step in the right direction, along with setting up “meatless Mondays” as a start. Making any kind of change to your diet is better than making none, and influencing others to follow in your steps spreads awareness and reduction.


Caton, P. (2015, September 14). Eating Less Meat, More Plants Helps the Environment. Greenpeace USA.

Dagevos, H., & Voordoouw, J. (2013). Sustainability and Meat Consumption: Is Reduction Realistic?

Gibbens, S. (2019, January 16). Eating meat has ‘dire’ consequences for the planet, says report. National Geographic.

Modlinska, K., & Pisula, W. (2018, September). Selected Psychological Aspects of Meat Consumption- A Short Review.

Scott, B. A., Amel, E. L., Koger, S. M., & Manning, C. M. (2016). Psychology for Sustainability: Vol. Routledge (4th ed.). Taylor & Francis.

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