Doctor’s Tip: The case against meat, part 3 — Environmental impact and animal cruelty

Dr. Greg Feinsinger

The book “How Not to Eat” by Mark Bittman and Mark Bittman and David L. Katz, M.D. points out that “there are no healthy people on a cooked planet.” According to an article in the respected British medical journal Lancet, climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. Physicians need to speak out about this.

It’s disturbingly clear that the planet our children and grandchildren will inherit won’t be as livable as it is today, and eventually human civilization will be at risk. “How to Eat” notes that “the environmental footprint of animal foods … is astronomically higher than that of plants.” Following are a summary of the environmental issues associated with eating meat:

GREENHOUSE GASSES are warming the planet. An article in Scientific American noted that raising red meat such as beef, lamb, and pork are responsible for somewhere between 10 to 40 times more greenhouse gasses than growing plant foods. Raising 100 grams of beef releases 50 kilograms of greenhouse gasses; poultry 5.7; tofu 2. An article from the University of Oxford in collaboration with the LCA Research Group from Switzerland, published in Forbes, noted that meat and dairy provide 18% of all calories consumed on the planet but account for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. An analysis from the World Bank found that animal agriculture is responsible for over 50% of all greenhouse gases.

WATER is becoming more scarce as the world becomes hotter and more crowded — and some areas including the American West more arid. Eating a vegan diet requires one-thirteenth the amount of water than a meat-based diet. A person who chooses to eat a plant-based diet saves 1,100 gallons of water daily.

DEFORESTATION is problematic for several reasons, an important one being that trees absorb planet-warming carbon. A 2009 study indicated that four-fifths of deforestation across the Amazon is linked to cattle ranching — both grazing and raising food to feed cattle.

LAND: Raising animals for food occupies around 45% of all the land on the planet. A person on a plant-based diet for a year requires one-sixth of an acre of land; a vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy requires three times that; a person who eats meat, dairy and eggs requires 18 times more land.

FEEDING THE SEVEN BILLION PEOPLE ON THE PLANET: A well-researched paper by a local religious leader notes that it’s ethically important to “get the grain from the mouths of animals and into the mouths of starving humans.” She points out that “ethics author Dr. Will Tuttle says enough food is being grown worldwide to feed between 12-15 billion people, although we have only about half that many on the planet, and still around a billion people go hungry every day” because “50 percent of the grains and legumes grown worldwide is used to feed animals.” Animal activist and former cattle rancher Howard Lyman agrees.

SEWAGE WASTE: It’s estimated that 70.4% of cows, 98.3% of pigs, and 99.9% of chickens raised for meat are raised on factory farms. These farms produce huge amounts of sewage, which causes water pollution and other environmental problems.

ANTIBIOTICS are used in factory and even conventional farming to prevent disease and to make animals grow faster, which contributes to antibiotic resistance.


The large majority of meat that Americans eat is raised by factory farming. If you want to see how cruel factory farming is, watch the documentary Food, Inc.


The aforementioned Forbes article concluded that “a vegan diet is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth.” It’s particularly important to avoid or a least cut back on beef, pork, and dairy.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment, or email

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