The impact of meat
Compare the impact of the different types of meat, fish and meat substitutes based on Dutch data.
How does the impact of meat products differ in the Netherlands?
The shown comparison is only based on the emission of greenhouse gases that are released during the production and consumption of the foods (the emission of CO2, methane, nitrogen, etc. is combined under the single denominator CO2eq). Unfortunately, the comparison picture is not as black and white as in this figure. There are so many other things at play when comparing choices between types of meat, such as: animal suffering, the nutrients in these products or, for example, overfishing. In addition, the land use and water consumption of these products are not included in this figure.
Nevertheless, this hopefully provides a useful insight into one of the most important challenges of the moment: reducing our collective greenhouse gas emissions.
What explains these differences?
Chicken has a relatively low greenhouse gas emissions impact, compared to the other types of meat. The emission of chicken per kg is comparable to that of many types of cheese.
The reason being that chickens do not produce methane (something pigs and cows do) and chickens need significantly less animal feed per kg of meat (only 2 kg per 1 kg of meat, source: MilieuCentraal).
Pork has significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions than beef, the numbers are close to those of chicken and cheese. This is because pigs emit less methane than cows, but also because breeding pigs take less time and they reproduce more efficiently than cows.
As can be seen in the figure above, beef is by far the worst choice in terms of CO2 emissions. This is partly because cows emit a lot of methane (they are ruminants) and they need much more food than for example chickens (19 kg grass per 1 kg meat, source: MilieuCentraal). An advantage of cattle on the other hand, is that they eat grass and do not compete for food with humans (like chickens and pigs do).
The greenhouse gases from fish are mainly released during the energy-intensive fishing at sea. Most fish species on this site belong to the ‘better’ meat choices in terms of CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, fishing is associated with many other major environmental problems.
In addition, it is interesting to see that the farmed fish products on our site emit more greenhouse gases than the wild-caught variants. This is partly because farmed fish are still fed with wild catch.
How do other alternatives compare?
What can you do to reduce your climate impact with meat alternatives?
Unfortunately, the best solution is not to replace one type of meat with another. Because although less greenhouse gases are released during the production of chicken and pork, these types of meat also pose other problems, such as deforestation for the food of these animals. Therefore, reducing your meat intake remains our most important tip. And fortunately, with the exception of vitamin b12, all vitamins, minerals and proteins from animal products can also be found in vegetable products. Here is a short information section about the alternatives.
Nuts are a good choice when it comes to global warming! The CO2eq emissions of nuts are much lower than those of meats. Unfortunately, the water consumption of nuts is very high and nuts (just like avocados) are often produced in countries where this is a major problem.
Legumes (such as beans or chickpeas) are a great meat substitute! Legumes are very healthy and contain a lot of protein and iron. And the CO2 emissions required for the production of beans are many times lower than those of the various meat and fish types.
See for example our chili sin carne for a delicious vegetarian recipe based on beans.
All ready-to-eat meat substitutes on this site deliver a much lower CO2 emission than the various meat and fish types and are therefore a good climate choice (see for example the vegetarian schnitzel schnitzel or hamburger)! These numbers may differ for dairy-based meat substitutes.
One problem with meat substitutes, is that they often include soy in these substitutes. But for comparison, soy is also used in for example chicken and pig feed.
Cheese as a meat substitute is not the best choice for the climate. For example, the CO2eq emission per kg of cheese products is the same as that of chicken and many types of fish. Within the different types of cheese, younger cheeses and mozzarella are the best choices, because less milk is required for their production.