It would be interesting on several levels if sustainable per-capita meat consumption could be quantified in a sensible way. In a perfect world, a person would only eat as much meat as is necessary for health and well-being (some would argue that we don't actually need to eat meat at all; personally, I tend towards veganism but I don't think that humans are vegans per se).

But there are too many of us (7.4 billion), too many farting cows out there (1.47 billion), and waaaay too much industrial-level "farming" polluting the groundwater and using land that could be used for veggies.

So: If all meat production world-wide was sustainable, how much meat per person would be available? Let's assume that everyone is an omnivore, and that sustainable animal farms use local feed and don't produce more slurry than the ground can cope with.

Can anyone help put a reasonable number on this? I'm thinking along the lines of "x kg per year per person". I guess it will be small number, much smaller that the current per-capita estimates (ca. 60 kg per head in Germany), and might help people make day-to-day decisions regarding their meat consumption.

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    This depends on your definition of "sustainable". You talk about polluted groundwater, but this is perfectly "sustainable" in the sense that it can be sustained for long periods of time (potentially indefinite). It's perhaps not desirable to have more polluted groundwater than a certain level, but that is an entirely different question. Nov 18, 2016 at 10:48
  • i don't think polluted groundwater can be considered "sustainable" in the context of environmentally friendly agriculture. too much slurry on the fields means that the groundwater is polluted and cannot be taken into the water supply.
    – elli
    Nov 18, 2016 at 15:48
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    Your question doesn't mention "environmental friendly agriculture", it merely mentions "sustainability". And "environmental friendly" is also a very subjective term; even a single cow can be seen to harm the environment (it will produce waste, needs food, etc.), so we're still left with a very subjective judgement call here... Nov 18, 2016 at 16:28
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    This really desperately requires a definition of "sustainable". Can you please provide one, or link to one, otherwise your question can't be answered. Note also that "meat" is a very broad term, covering everything from insects to whales, from krill to apex predators (and there are definitions of sustainable that would allow consumption of all of those). It might also be handy if you explicitly included or excluded human meat, and one easy path to a sustainable society is via self-consumption until we reach a sustainable human population.
    – Móż
    Nov 22, 2016 at 21:12
  • Just an FYI, bovine eructation is significantly higher in methane than flatulence -- blogs.scientificamerican.com/dog-spies/…
    – LShaver
    Nov 30, 2016 at 21:33

1 Answer 1


There are a few factors to consider which would change the results, such as:

  • Animal welfare issues
  • What sort of animals you're eating
  • What you feed the animals on
  • How much of the animal you're prepared to eat

For example ruminants such as sheep/cattle tend to have more of an impact on global warming due to higher methane emissions. However they may also be able to graze on land that is not suitable for other crops.

There has been some recent research, based on a world population of 9 billion, which assumes that animals are only allowed to graze on grasslands and fed by-products not related to soy, maize or other artificial feeds, and the figure they came up with was 26 grams of meat, per person, per day. For meat solely from ruminants the figure was 19 grams. Plus 138 grams of milk pp/pd.

Unfortunately I don't have the reference, it was taken from an interview with Tara Garnett from the Food Climate Research Network

Interview here

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    Tara Garnett also wrote this interesting report What's a sustainable healthy diet? The report doesn't provide any maximum amounts for meat, but just argues that a low or meat-free diet is better from a sustainability and health point of view.
    – THelper
    Nov 24, 2016 at 9:56

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