What’s in your burger? More than you think

Are you a burger lover? Do you often find yourself craving a juicy burger with all the toppings? You’re not alone, but have you ever considered the hidden costs that come with meat production? Research shows that cows, if considered a nation, would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. Meat production is one of the most destructive ways humans leave their footprint on the planet. This article will explore the environmental and human costs of meat production, the hidden costs that add up, the human cost of commercial meat supply, and alternatives to traditional meat.

Environmental costs of meat production

Cattle farming has a huge impact on the environment. For instance, hectares of rainforests in South America are cleared for cattle grazing to make beef burgers and steaks. One average quarter pounder beef burger drains around 1,695 liters of water, depending on where it is made, from precious resources. The Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that global meat consumption will increase by 76% by 2050, which is alarming considering the environmental impact of meat production.

Hidden costs of meat production

While we all love the taste of a juicy burger, the hidden costs of meat production add up. For instance, livestock production uses more freshwater than any other human activity. While raising animals takes up about 80% agricultural land, livestock contributes to 18% of the world’s calories. Moreover, animal feed made from soy, one of the largest export commodities from South America, is leading to widespread deforestation and displacement of farmers and indigenous peoples around the globe.

Human costs of commercial meat supply

The massive demand for commercial meat supply has other consequences. Antibiotics used to rear livestock and keep animals disease-free often end up in our food, contributing to antibiotic resistance in humans. Recent concerns also highlight that fast-food chains use meat laden with antibiotics. It is notoriously hard to pin down how the human diet, including meat consumption, contributes to death or disease because of the many other factors at play. Yet, we know that eating processed meat in excess has negative implications for our health.

Alternatives to traditional meat

Cutting meat out of the diet entirely is not an option for many people. However, we can reduce our meat consumption and explore ways to strike an ecological balance. Reducing intensively farmed meat consumption is good for people and the planet. That means eating a sustainably reared or alternative burger or steak now and then, rather than an intensively-farmed mass-produced version three times a week. We need to eat less or sustainably reared meat in parts of the world where meat consumption per person is high. Even replacing red meat with chicken can be more environmentally friendly.

Manufacturers of vegan and plant-based meat alternatives have done research to strip the basic building blocks of meat down to protein, fat, water, and trace minerals, recreating meat entirely from plants at a fraction of the cost to the environment. UN Environment’s Champions of the Earth winners Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are examples of such manufacturers. Research by Beyond Meat and the University of Michigan found that the amount of water in your average swimming pool can produce 312 beef burgers, whereas the same amount of water can produce 60,569 Beyond Burgers.


The environmental and human costs of meat production cannot be ignored. While it may not be feasible to eliminate meat from our diets altogether, we can take steps to reduce our consumption and explore alternatives. Sustainable farming methods based on Solar Energy and plant-based meat alternatives can help us reduce the environmental impact of our dietary choices.