In the context of health and sustainability, it is crucial to understand the trade-offs between animal welfare and the environmental impact of meat consumption. This duality poses an important dilemma that needs to be addressed in an informed and balanced manner.

Meat production has a considerable environmental impact. Livestock farming systems use approximately half of the world’s habitable land and account for a significant share of greenhouse gas emissions. Beef, in particular, has a much higher carbon footprint than other animal protein sources such as chicken and fish. Reducing consumption of beef and switching to alternatives with a lower carbon footprint can significantly reduce the environmental impact.

However, choosing meat with a lower carbon footprint can have negative consequences on animal welfare. As an example, switching from beef to chicken or fish, despite its benefits for the environment, can lead to more animals being slaughtered and living more painful lives. Intensive production systems, common in aviculture and aquaculture, often worsen animal’s quality of life due to massive overcrowding and breeding methods.

It is difficult to get around this trade-off. Swapping beef for chicken and fish will reduce the environmental footprint but at the cost of more animals living in painful conditions.


The Balance between Sustainability and Ethics

A paper published in the Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education highlights the importance of education to change consumer perceptions and behaviours regarding meat. The implementation of educational programmes informing about environmental impact and animal welfare can be key to foster more sustainable dietary choices.

For health professionals, educating patients about these trade-offs is essential. Fostering a balanced diet that includes plant-based alternatives can be a viable solution to minimise both environmental impact and animal suffering. In addition, promoting responsible consumption practices, such as choosing animal products that certify high welfare standards, can help mitigate these adverse effects.

The path towards a sustainable and ethical diet requires informed decisions and a deep understanding of the consequences our dietary choices have. Health professionals have a key role to play in guiding society towards more responsible and balanced consumption practices.



  • Hannah Ritchie (2024) – “What are the trade-offs between animal welfare and the environmental impact of meat?” Published online at Retrieved from: ‘’ [Online Resource]
  • Alsaffar AA. Sustainable diets: The interaction between food industry, nutrition, health and the environment. Food Science and Technology International. 2016;22(2):102-111. doi:10.1177/1082013215572029



Clara Bermúdez Tamayo, MPH PhD
Technical Director Andalusian Health and Environment Observatory
Andalusian School of Public Health.
Campus Universitario de Cartuja, Cuesta del Observatorio, 4, 18011 Granada