A conscious consumption of meat is important. The meat industry has a major environmental impact in all environmental categories. It also accounts for about 50% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Today, meat and milk account for 20-30% of the environmental impact of the climate, acidification and spread of toxic substances. It also accounts for as much as 50% of the load when it comes to eutrophication. The problem comes mainly from the animals’ feed digestion, which produces a lot of methane gas. But also from manure used in fodder cultivation, changed land use and transport. Different types of meat affect the environment in different ways and to different amounts. Choosing meat that contributes positively to the environment or meat with as little negative impact as possible is important. Read more about a conscious consumption of meat here.
The Swedes meat consumption
- During the period 1980–2020, the total meat consumption increased by 23% from 64.0 kg to 78.6 kg per person and year.
- In 2016, consumption rose to a Swedish record level of 87.7 kg per person per year and then, between 2019 and 2020, decreased again by almost 4 kg. The large decrease in the past year is largely explained by reduced imports.
- The type of meat that has increased the most since 1980 is poultry meat. It has quadrupled to 21.5 kg per person by 2020.
- From 1980 until 2020, the total consumption of drinking milk has decreased by 59%. In 2020 is 65.8 liters per person.
- During the same time period, however, consumption of cheese increased by 40% to 19.7 kg per person.
- Of course, it depends very much on what you eat, but a typical vegetarian diet is estimated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20-35% compared to if you eat a mixed diet, and a vegan diet by 25-55%.
- The increasing consumption of meat, and the way in which many animals are raised, is one of the great challenges of our time.
- Today, Swedes eat more meat than recommended for health reasons and more than the planet can tolerate.
- Globally, meat consumption contributes to reduced biodiversity, increased greenhouse gas emissions and increased use of pesticides.
- By eating less but environmentally better meat, choosing more protein from the plant kingdom and not throwing away meat, you are making a heroic effort for the planet.
- Animal production accounts for 15% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions come from the animals’ feed digestion, manure, transport, but above all from the large land use required for animal husbandry. That’s more than twice as much as all cars emit.
- Cattle and sheep cause greater emissions of greenhouse gasses (15-25 kilos of greenhouse gasses per kilo of meat) than pigs and chickens (4-7 and 2-5 kilos of greenhouse gasses per kilo of meat, respectively). This is because cattle and sheep are ruminants and their feed digestion causes emissions of methane gas, which is a strong greenhouse gas.
- If you want to eat meat, the most climate-friendly alternative is meat caught in the wild (0.5 kilos of greenhouse gasses per kilo of meat).
Swedish meat on the plate
- Sweden has strict animal welfare laws.
- Sweden has lower antibiotic levels in its meat production compared to other countries in the EU and the world.
- The WHO expects the use of antibiotics to be greater for healthy animals in the world than for sick people. Previously, this was done to increase the growth of animals, but this has been banned in the EU since 2006. Despite this, a large amount of antibiotics are still used in animal husbandry. This increases the risk of multi-resistant bacteria, i.e. bacteria that no antibiotics can control. In other words – if you’re in Sweden buy Swedish meat!
- Look for organic natural pasture meat when you buy Swedish beef – these animals graze in old meadows and pastures in the summer and thus contribute to biodiversity. Natural pastures that house endangered species need grazing or mowing in order not to grow again and thus lose the habitat of these species.
- Animal husbandry takes up 26% of the earth’s ice-free land area, 33% of all arable land and 70% of all agricultural land.
- Around the world, there is a massive devastation of the forest to create grazing land for meat animals. Of the land in the Amazon where there used to be rainforest, 70% is now grazing land.
Beef and lamb
- Cattle and sheep cause about 13-39 kilos of greenhouse gasses per kilo of meat, due to their digestion which produces the greenhouse gas methane.
- There is no major difference in emissions between organic and conventional beef and lamb.
- Cattle and sheep grazing outside cause less emissions than if they are raised on feed.
- In forest-rich countries such as Sweden, grazing animals contribute to an open landscape and a rich flora and fauna. But in other countries, such as Brazil, rainforest can be cut down to make way for grazing animals and fodder cultivation, which is detrimental to plant and animal life and causes large greenhouse gas emissions.
- From a climate and environmental perspective, you should choose Swedish beef and lamb from animals that have grazed outside, so-called natural grazing meat, and avoid imported meat.
- Pork causes about 5-8 kilos of greenhouse gasses per kilo of meat. The reason why pigs do not cause as large emissions as cattle and sheep is that they do not produce methane and that they convert the feed more efficiently.
- The emissions come mainly from grain and cereal cultivation to feed and the handling of manure.
- In cereal cultivation, it is the fertilization and production of mineral fertilizers that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Conventional cultivation also uses plant protection products that can have a negative impact on the environment.
- Imported soy from South America is also used as feed which indirectly affects the environment where it is grown, read more about soy here.
- In organic meat production, the use of plant protection products in feed cultivation is negligible, therefore you should choose organic meat if you want to contribute to a smaller use of plant protection products.
- Chicken causes between 2-3 kilos of greenhouse gas emissions per kilo of meat. They are raised on cereal and protein feeds (soy, rapeseed meal, peas, etc.). It is mainly the production of feed that causes the emissions.
- In comparison with other types of meat, chicken has previously been considered to have a relatively low climate impact, as they live short and during this time efficiently convert cereals and protein feed into meat. But there are major problems in chicken production, which has made it no longer seen as a completely climate-smart meat alternative. For example, chickens largely eat things that we humans could eat directly, such as grains and soy, which would have been far more resource efficient.
- There are major challenges when it comes to animal welfare and the use of pesticides in feed. Chicken is also the type of meat that has the largest share of soy in the feed state, which is a major threat to biodiversity globally.
- Organic chicken can cause greater greenhouse gas emissions than conventional chicken. That is because the chickens are raised for a longer period of time and therefore need more feed. In organic production, however, organic feed is used which has less impact on the environment than conventional feed.
- The best choice of chicken is KRAV-labeled. These chickens have the opportunity for outdoor living, which leads to a slower growth process and a healthier chicken. In addition, the feed in organic chicken production is largely grown without chemical pesticides, which is positive for biodiversity.
- Chicken meat marked with Swedish Seal Climate Certified shows that extra measures have been taken to reduce the climate impact.
- There are not yet enough studies of the climate impact of wild animal meat in enclosure’. However, studies have shown that methane emissions per kilo of game meat are high compared to meat from domestic animals. This is due to relatively high methane emissions per animal and low carcass weights.
- Raising wild animals in pens to reduce greenhouse gas emissions thus does not seem to be effective.
Advice for a conscious consumption of meat
- Use your consumer power! Ask in the shop, restaurant and café what kind of meat it is and how it is produced.
- Choose beef and lamb from animals that have grazed outdoors, so-called natural grazing meat, and preferably locally produced and organic.
- Choose organic and locally produced chicken, beef and pork.
- Plan your purchases and do not throw away any food, and especially not meat.
- See meat as a luxury, as in the past. By cutting down on meat, you can instead buy fine quality meat from a butcher or in a market hall. Ask for advice on how best to cook it.
- Make the meat eke out with lentils or legumes in minced meat dishes. Try running 50/50 in the minced meat sauce!
- Reduce your meat consumption by replacing several dishes a week with vegetarian options. At Vego Eco (in Swedish), you get inspiration and tips for eating and living in a more sustainable and healthy way.
- Choose a vegetarian option. According to WWF’S Meat Guide (in Swedish), one serving of beef has as much climate impact as fifty vegetarian portions with as much protein and other nutrients.
Page updated 2021.