Food, Inc: Happy Vs Sad Meat?
An Environmental Article from


Convenient Vegan, Vegan Soap Box
August 2009

If you eat dairy or meat products, regardless of their origin and how they were produced, you significantly contribute to climate change.

Last night I was privileged to have the opportunity to see Food, Inc., the new documentary on factory farming, produced by Eric Schlosser, among others. (The screening was sponsored by Conservation International.) It’s an excellent film that is currently making its way through the film festival circuit. You can see where it’s going on its website.

One of the farms featured in the film as an alternative to the factory farm is Polyface, the farm visited by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan represents this farm as the obtainable, desirable future in his book. And there is no doubt that it is a much smarter, more ecologically sensible farm than any factory farm.

However, meat production of any kind is not doing the environment any favors. Consider this quotation by Michael Tidwell, an environmentalist, writing for his magazine, Audubon:

    But with global warming, here’s the inconvenient truth about meat and dairy products: If you eat them, regardless of their origin and how they were produced, you significantly contribute to climate change. Period. If your beef is from New Zealand or your own backyard, if your lamb is organic free-range or factory farmed, it still has a negative impact on global warming.

    This is true for several reasons. Again, the biological reality of ruminant digestion is that methane is released. The feed can be local and organic, but the methane is the same, escaping into the atmosphere and trapping heat with impressive efficiency. Second, no matter the farming method, livestock makes manure that produces nitrous oxide, an even more awesomely impressive heat trapper. Livestock in the United States generates a billion tons of manure per year, accounting for 65 percent of the planet’s anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions.

    Even poultry, while less harmful, also contributes. Ironically, data released in 2007 by Adrian Williams of Cranfield University in England show that when all factors are considered, organic, free-range chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming than conventionally raised broiler birds. That’s because “sustainable” chickens take longer to raise, and eat more feed. Worse, organic eggs have a 14 percent higher impact on the climate than eggs from caged chickens, according to Williams.

    "If we want to fight global warming through the food we buy, then one thing’s clear: We have to drastically reduce the meat we consume," says Tara Garnett of London’s Food Climate Research Network.

    So while some of us Americans fashionably fret over our food’s travel budget and organic content, Garnett says the real question is, "Did it come from an animal or did it not come from an animal?"

This isn’t some vegan radical talking. Nor is Audubon magazine notably focused on food production. And there is simply no getting around the points he makes.

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