Sharing Skills

Meat and Dairy

and the planet!

You’ve probably heard a lot in the last few years how we need to reduce our meat and dairy intake.

But why?

50% of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture and 77% of this is used to produce meat and dairy products. 

Meat accounts for nearly 60% of all greenhouse gases from food production.  
Beef alone accounts for a quarter of emissions produced by raising and growing food.
Paper published by Nature Food

Meat has become too cheap but that’s because we’re not paying the true cost for it. At the moment, farmers across the world are paid subsidies by their governments to produce meat that is affordable to the consumer.

After World war two governments relaxed regulations and gave incentives for farmers to produce as much food as possible. This meant trees and hedges being cut down to make way for more farm land and heavy machinery. This also means that more pesticides and fertilizers are used, which leads to poor soil health, less biodiversity and more greenhouse gases.

We are cutting down forests to make way for cattle and feed farms at an unsustainable rate. We have become so dissociated from nature that we don’t realise how much we need it to survive.

Forests, trees, hedges, plants, and grass provide homes for nature. As well as this, they provide us with food, fuel, medicines, household products and much more. They provide shelter, they hold onto soil when there’s floods or drought. They also help us to breathe and regulate gases in the atmosphere – taking in carbon dioxide and giving us oxygen. They also absorb other toxic gases. It really would be beneficial to have more trees and plants around our food crops.

The more nature we destroy, the less trees and plants there will be to absorb the greenhouse gases being produced by the extra farm animals being put on that land.

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture:

  • 50% – agricultural emissions come from the digestive process of cattle
  • 25%  – management of soils
  • 15% – fertilizer, animal waste spread on fields
  • 10% – energy use – tractors, heating buildings
    source – World Resources Institute


We need to reduce meat consumption by 20% to meet net-zero targets by 2050.
If everyone in the UK swapped just one more red meat-based meal to a plant-based meal per week, we would cut the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 million tonnes. 

There are different ways that meat is produced. Some farms keep a relatively small herd of cows on grass through the summer and into the autumn. These cows will be kept in barns during the winter and fed on silage, which is grass that was grown (and pickled to preserve it) in the spring before, on the same land before they let the cows back out.

The benefits of farming this way

  • Meat available for those who want to eat it.
  • Provides grassland for wildlife with hedges and trees around the perimeter. Providing more biodiversity than fields full of one type of crop.
  • Sheep are often kept on land that is difficult to access with machinery so wouldn’t be useful to farming any other way.
  • Management of land by a restricted number of farm animals provides the right conditions for ecosystems to thrive.
  • Jobs for farmers.
  • Some land is unsuitable to grow crops so some would say this land would be wasted if it didn’t have animals on it.
  • During WW2 thousands of acres of land was ploughed up. A new mentality was set that any fallow land was wasted land. Farmers still feel this way today.
  • Farm animals also provide other products – leather, wool, products for manufacturing.
  • Animals can eat spoiled crops that are unsuitable for human consumption.
  • Grasslands do need to be managed by grazing animals so we may as well use these animals for meat.

Argument against farming animals this way

  • Farming this way still takes up a lot of land. Hedges and trees are kept to the perimeter as farm machinery still needs to work the land.
  • Farming animals takes up too much land. 77% of agricultural land is used to feed livestock. We would need less land to grow crops so we could plant more trees and give more land for nature.
  • The amount of sheep kept on some land is detrimental to ecosystems. Sheep eat everything so plants do not have a chance to grow.
  • There would still be jobs in land management, tourism.
  • If we didn’t farm animals, land wouldn’t be a premium so this land could be returned to nature.
  • Some farms are installing bio-digesters that use food waste to provide power to their farm and sometimes homes nearby.
  • Pastures are cut at the end of the spring and collected for winter silage, wiping out insects, plants, birds and other wildlife.
  • Not all small scale herds are 100% grass fed. Diets are supplemented with grain and other crops which requires more land and a lot comes from other countries including soya from Brazil and palm oil from Indonesia.
  • Climate change means that weather patterns are changing. Our winters are getting wetter and springs dryer which means the grass doesn’t grow as much. At a local farm, their grass harvest was down by 40% this year meaning they will have to supplement the cows with more feed.

Industrial animal farming

Unfortunately most of the world’s meat comes from industrial scale farms. Without them we would not produce enough meat to provide people with the amount they have become accustomed to eating.

Meat would be a lot more expensive than it is now so people with smaller incomes would not have as much access to this food as those with more disposable income.

40% of our meals are bought from cafes, restaurants or takeaways. Keeping prices low enough for people to afford to eat out this much relies on industrially farmed animals. There has been a lot on the news recently about land used in Brazil to graze cattle and produce soya. Even if you buy British meat, the feed given to that animal could have come from the Amazon. 75% of the soya and maize produced in the world is for animal feed WWF report – Appetite for destruction.

In the UK, at least 90% of soy is fed to animals and at most 10% is used for food;

  • soy use is particularly high in poultry and pork production;
  • dairy production is also a significant overall user of soy, but the amount of soy used to produce a kilogram of dairy protein is much lower than for a kilogram of chicken protein.
  • The Food Climate Research Network, University of Oxford

The Soil Association – does climate change mean I need to stop eating meat?