Meat Consumption and the threat it brings to Biodiversity

by Eleanor Egan – 

Meat Consumption has increased rapidly in the last century with a 20% expansion in the last decade alone[i]. This brings a host of environmental issues including effects on climate change. Developed countries are consuming over double the quantity of meat products compared to developing countries[ii],  which has lead to unsustainable eating habits due to the lower costs and easy access to a growing range of meat products for the consumer.

Increased meat consumption has specifically increased biodiversity loss. Westhoek et al.[iii], states that 30% of biodiversity loss is linked to livestock production. This stems from deforestation and land conversion creating more grazing space for commercial farming[iv]. E.Crenna says  In Brazil the change in land use from natural areas into farming of soy bean for feeding animals has led to the loss of habitats suitable for endangered species including the black-faced lion tamarin and ring-tail monkey”[v] . As the demand for meat increases globally, more land use change will occur to accommodate production of enough feed for farmed livestock. This will only further exacerbate the risk to biodiversity.

Meat consumption rate (kg) per capita by country gradient map (2002). Source: dieghernan, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

 Life Cycle assessment (LCA) are important research tools for analysing life cycles and supply chains to help identify hotspots of environmental damage. LCA studies focus on food systems; their impact the environment and how they can be improved. Research into the endpoint of a LCA allows us to assess current and potential biodiversity loss. Crenna, found that in the EU, pork and beef meat contribute to 43% of species loss over a year[v].

Finding the endpoint allows for intervention in potential hotspots for environmental damage5 possibly reducing the effects in the future. Current endpoint calculations have evidenced that animal-based products are primarily responsible for species loss due to the transformation of land to grow animal feed. This information provides governments with time to adjust policies to protect biodiversity and keep in line with Sustainable Development Goals[vi]. Knowing the endpoint also allows us to change our eating habits to include less meat and therefore reducing future impacts. LCAs also provide information surrounding which food groups cause the least harm to the environment allowing people to actively make better informed decisions about their diets.

Life Cycle Assessments also show where and how products are transported. This enables decision makers to understand the impact of importing/exporting produce as many developed countries cause more biodiversity damage by importing products. A. Chaudhary says 17% of global biodiversity loss occurs due to commodities destined for exports[vii].  Increasing awareness could encourage sourcing more locally to start more sustainable consumption patterns in the future. LCA’s provide useful data to question and challenge the impact that growing meat consumption is having on biodiversity.


[i]   Ritchie, H., (2019). Which Countries Eat The Most Meat?.  BBC News. [Accessed 30 November 2020].

[ii]   Stoll-Kleemann, S. and O’Riordan, T., (2015) The Sustainability Challenges of Our Meat and Dairy Diets. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, [online] 57(3), pp.34-48.

[iii]   Westhoek, H., Lesschen, J., Rood, T., Wagner, S., De Marco, A., Murphy-Bokern, D., Leip, A., van Grinsven, H., Sutton, M. and Oenema, O., (2014). Food choices, health and environment: Effects of cutting Europe’s meat and dairy intake. Global Environmental Change, 26, pp.196-205.

[iv]   the Guardian. (2020). Rising Global Meat Consumption ‘Will Devastate Environment’. [Accessed 1 December 2020].

[v] Crenna, E., Sinkko, T. and Sala, S., (2019). Biodiversity impacts due to food consumption in Europe. Journal of Cleaner Production, 227, pp.378-391.

[vi] 2020. THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development. [online] [Accessed 1 December 2020]

[vii] Chaudhary, A. and Kastner, T., (2016). Land use biodiversity impacts embodied in international food trade. Global Environmental Change,  38, pp.195-204.