No doubt vegetables, fruits and salads produced locally in most cases provide local jobs and usually best fresh quality. On the other hand a lot of animal food (soy, corn, and others) are shipped around the world to feed animals close to those locations where they are later slaughtered, sold and consumed. The marketing slogan in those cases is also "buy local".

However wouldn't it be more sustainable and less energy consuming to feed the animals where their food is being produced and ship after slaughter just only those (animal) products being for final consumption?

  • Was there a typo in " In change a lot of animal food... "? Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 8:25
  • ... was probably unclear, so I changed to "on the other hand"
    – Salt
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 11:00
  • Are you asking specifically about the energy cost of transportation, or are you talking about the entire practice of raising animals off-pasture?
    – Nic
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 0:50
  • 1
    I am talking about the entire practice. From my point of view soy and other fruits - which even are no natural food to the animals which later consume it - draw minerals and more from one part of the world and overload and pollute - turned into slurry - an other part of the world. I assume from the energy point of view that growing animals at the place where their food is grown, slaughter them there also and only sending the final products to the countries of consumption would reduce the whole energy consumption under less than 10%.
    – Salt
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 6:16

3 Answers 3


A good question, but one for which the answer will differ for different locations around the world. Here in New Zealand, for example, very little feed is brought in from outside of the farm upon which the animals are being raised (for cattle and sheep). Livestock are grass fed and the norm is for each farm to produce enough hay/silage to get them through each winter. Naturally, unforeseeable weather events can impact upon this. Abattoirs are also generally located close to farming centers. So for this location, 'buy local' does hold true for livestock.

  • I didn't have countries in mind like New Zeeland, where animals are grown almost free in landscape. I am not opposite to feeding animals with food from local region or their farm directly, even those that grow some rabbits in their urban gardens. I wonder about the tremendous transport of animal food worldwide, produced under doubtful conditions with chemicals, etc. I really wonder if that is sustainable. However, I am not completely sure, because growing fruits in an optimized way may be efficient, not only related to economic figures, but also sustainable. In any case I have my doubts.
    – Salt
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 0:27

There are a few chapters of a good book that come to mind about the state of Confined Animal Feeding Operations or CAFO's. The book is called "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan

Much of the corn and soy in the united states is subsidized by our government for use in feeding at CAFO's which are not at all local, feeding corn to ruminants like cows also creates huge problems for the animals which is why so much commercial animals are given antibiotics.

Corn and soy are not normal animal food. New Zealand is an excellent model for sustainable agricultural practices relating to producing meat and fowl. There are other practices such as rotational grazing and recycling food waste as animal feed, pigs are great at eating our food waste, and we already generate tons of food waste. There are some great documentaries about this, notably "Wasted" link is to a trailer.


Our World in Data recently put together an interesting chart on this topic. From the article "You want to reduce the carbon footprint of your food? Focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local":

Food: greenhouse gas emissions across the supply chain

The article provides a specific (extreme) example for someone in the UK getting beef from their neighbor, vs a ranch in Central America:

Transporting food by boat emits 23 grams of CO2eq per tonne of product per kilometer. To transport the 9000 kilometers from Central America to the UK therefore emits 0.207 kilograms CO2eq [9000km * 23g per tonne-kilometer / 1000 / 1000 = 0.207 kg CO2eq per kg]. This is equivalent to 0.35% of the total footprint of the 60 kilograms of CO2eq per kilogram of beef.

If you buy from your local farmer – let’s assume you walk there, and have zero transport emissions – your beef footprint is 59.8 kilograms CO2eq per kilogram [we calculate this as 60kg – 0.2kg]. It makes almost no difference.

Beef is the extreme example. For other animal products, here's the total emissions per kg, and the share that transport makes up:

Product           kg CO2eq emissions per kg      Transport share
Beef (beef herd)            59.6                       0.5%
Lamb & Mutton               24.5                       2.0%
Cheese                      21.2                       0.5%
Beef (dairy herd)           21.1                       1.9%
Shrimps (farmed)            11.8                       1.7%
Pig Meat                     7.2                       4.2%
Poultry Meat                 6.1                       4.9%
Fish (farmed)                5.1                       2.0%
Eggs                         4.5                       2.2%
  • That example assumes that the Beef is in all other respects equal between local and imported - which is not likely as if you're going to the effort to eat local, you'd also check that it was grass-fed (less emissions from feed) etc.
    – Nick C
    Commented Feb 24, 2020 at 16:57
  • @NickC agreed, and that proves the point. You should go to the effort of choosing grass-fed beef, regardless of where it comes from.
    – LShaver
    Commented Feb 24, 2020 at 17:01
  • The NFU have published a paper on exactly this: nfuonline.com/nfu-online/sectors/dairy/mythbuster-final
    – Nick C
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 16:35

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