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The rapidly expanding population of our planet is straining resources for land along with fresh water and air. A vegan diet has many benefits for health that I promote to my cardiac patients, but the smaller strain on the environment of a plant-based diet is often overlooked when discussing (or arguing) diet choices with my pro-Paleo patients. New data published in a prestigious medical journal now sheds light on how resources needed to produce different kinds of foods compare and the data is shocking.

The High Cost of Animal Products

The data was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a prestigious journal with very high standards. Researchers in New York, Israel and Connecticut used extensive databases to compare the land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the U.S. The shocking finding was that beef production required 28, 11, 5 and 6 times more land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and nitrogen than the production of poultry, dairy or eggs.

Dairy production like cheese, which might be viewed as less demanding than meat production, actually was as intensive to the environment as poultry, pork and egg production. Beef required 88 percent of all U.S. land allocated to producing animal-based calories! The authors concluded that “beef is by far the least environmentally efficient animal category.”

The Plant-Based Alternative

The researchers were also able to analyze data for the plant-based staples of potatoes, wheat and rice using the same metrics. Compared to plant food production, beef production required 160, 8, 11 and 19 times as much land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas and nitrogen. Yes, 160 times as much land, or 40 percent of the total land area of the U.S. Poultry, eggs, and dairy required 6 times as much land as the plant-based staples.

This mind blowing analysis is very revealing. Dairy is the most popular of animal based calorie sources and its production was no more efficient than poultry, eggs or pork. Beef is the second most popular animal food, making up 7 percent of all calories, and it is demanding huge planetary resources at enormous costs.

Dining with the Planet in Mind

More efficient production of these foods may develop in the future but the only reasonable response at this time is to reduce or eliminate beef (and other animal based calorie sources) for the sake of the environment. This analysis did not take into account the crucial issue of animal suffering. It also did not investigate the economic and health burden of disease associated with the consumption of animal calorie sources such as coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, and cancer.

For those of us who have chosen entirely plant-based diets, we can take comfort that we are using less than one percent of the land requirements of beef eaters and producing far less greenhouse gases at the same time. At the same time, we are maximizing the chances that we will avoid the number one killer in the U.S., heart disease, as I discuss in detail in my new book The Whole Heart Solution.

Image source: Roger Kidd/Wikimedia

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0 comments on “Exposed! Beef-Eaters Are Using 160 Times More Land Resources Than Plant-Eaters”

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4 Years Ago

Our first step in the Climate March!

"A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy." ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

"As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease." Worldwatch Institute, "Is Meat Sustainable?"

“If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains... the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

If Al Gore can do it, you can too! I did it 26 years ago and consider it one of the best decisions of my life.
Step by Step Guide: How to Transition to a Vegan Diet http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/step-by-step-guide-how-to-transition-to-vegan-diet/

4 Years Ago

I\'ve shared this and other similar information with many friends--vegan and non-vegan. Do you have any statistics and similar charts illustrating the comparison between the environmental costs of producing animals for food versus producing plants for food?

Karen Davis
4 Years Ago

Scientists are remiss to suggest that the answer to cattle pollution is to eat more poultry, eggs, dairy and other animal products..

In addition to the cruelty of poultry production, and contamination of poultry products with salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli bacteria, poultry production is a major cause of environmental pollution.

Poultry litter — the mixture of fecal droppings, antibiotic residues, heavy metals, decaying carcasses, larvae, cysts and sawdust the birds are bedded in – contains harmful levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and other ingredients that burn plant cells and poison the water.

Poultry waste spawns excess algae that consume aquatic nutrients and block sunlight needed by underwater grasses.
Factory poultry manure exposes wildlife to diseases such as blackhead disease, which sickens and kills wild birds who eat the worms that carry this disease from chicken manure in the soil.

Areas of natural beauty in the southeastern United States have been turned into smelly, fly-infested places by the poultry industry.
Wildlife habitat is destroyed to erect ugly new chicken sheds, slaughter plants, and trailer camps for slaughter plant workers.

With dwindling land to absorb the volume of poultry manure and slaughterhouse refuse in the United States, the industry seeks land elsewhere. This expansion is needless.

Plant proteins are far more sustainable for us to eat than poultry, including the cropland that is poisoned with pesticides to feed
the unhealthy birds confined in filthy, sunless sheds.

Karen Davis, PhD, President
United Poultry Concerns
Give a Cluck-Go Vegan - and get others to join you!


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