In general it is assumed that the energy that is required to produce a certain type of food is a good surrogate for the total environmental burden of food products. I scanned some studies to compare fish and meat (such as poultry, pork and beef) products, however there seems not to be a common consensus:

  • Energy use for fish (cod and plaice) is higher than for meat (pork, chicken, beef) though the impact on global warming for fish is roughly the same as for pork and chicken. Beef is worse. [1]

  • Chicken performs better than filleted fish (salmon from aquaculture and cod) in terms of energy consumption. [2]

  • Meat from fish has lower energy requirements than poultry and pork (Data from mid 1990s in the Netherlands). [3]

  • Red meat causes around 150% of the greenhouse gas contributions compared to chicken and fish (focused on USA). [4]

While the first two studies compare only a small range of products the other two are localised (and study [3] is probably outdated). Are there more general studies or a consensus that I am not aware of?

Which food product chains require more energy? Fish or meat?


[1] Burg SWK van den, Taal C, de Boer IJM, Bakker T, Viets TC (2012): Environmental performance of wild-caught North Sea whitefish - A comparison with aquaculture and animal husbandry using LCA.

[2] Ellingsen H, Aanondsen SA (2006): Environmental impacts of wild caught cod and farmed salmon - A comparison with chicken. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 11, 60–65.

[3] Dutilh CE, Kramer KJ (2000). Energy consumption in the food chain - Comparing alternative options in food production and consumption. Ambio J. Hum. Environ. 29, 98–101.

[4] Weber CL & Matthews HS (2008): Food-Miles and the relative climate impacts of food choices in the United States. Environ. Sci. Technol. 42, 3508–3513.

  • 2
    If you use methane reclamation then beef becomes a high energy output option Much of the energy required to produce the beef ends up as lost potential energy in methane gas.
    – user141
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 17:55
  • Are you interested in total primary energy (including sunshine) or are you more interested in use of electricity and fossil fuels?
    – Nic
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 15:57

2 Answers 2


From http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/meat-eaters-guide-get-to-know-the-carbon-footprint-of-your-diet-lamb-beef-cheese-are-the-worst.html we have

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which I find pretty fascinating — certainly I would have put pork much closer to beef than either salmon or Turkey... really interesting stuff. I'd like to see as well the same graph but per calorie rather than per kg — certainly that would make an interesting relationship between things like rice and tuna.

  • 1
    Tis just about sums up everything I've learned on the subject. Brighter Planet did a report on the subject - it does a similar analysis that breaks emissions down per calorie and the profile is similar, with red meat performing the worst, fish in between and poultry the best. I've answered a similar question on vegetarianism that also explains the impact of farm to plate transportation (less important than type of food).
    – Eric H.
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 1:46
  • Do you have information on the context of the study? Geographic area, number of analysed systems, which years? I got the impression that there may be huge fluctuations between individual food processing chains.
    – Stockfisch
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 10:57
  • Interesting that cheese is 7x worse than milk.
    – Zach Dwiel
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 12:29
  • @Zach: One pound of cheese requires 10 pounds of milk: thekitchn.com/how-much-milk-makes-one-pound-131332 Plus, the milk in the chart is 2% milk, so about half the fat has been removed (and presumably used for other purposes), so that may reduce the carbon impact of the remaining milk.
    – Johnny
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 20:26
  • 1
    This chart would make more sense if it would feature dry matter content and not only raw mass.
    – mart
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 14:50

In this TED talk Marcel Dicke mentions that from 10kg of feed you will get:

  • 1kg of beef or,
  • 3kg of pork or,
  • 5kg of chicken or,
  • 9kg of locusts

I believe that he talks about locusts emitting less greenhouse gases as well.

You can see the chart at about 9:30 into the talk. The whole talk is quite good.

  • 1
    Thank you but this is not really the answer I'm looking for. It does not mention fish and does not refer to environmental impacts, just the efficiency of feed conversion.
    – Stockfisch
    Commented May 10, 2013 at 10:24
  • what feed? cattle can digest fiber (as can chicken, I think), pigs can not. Not sure about locusts - ask biology SE. Fiber is more abundant than starch or fat. I think the comparison makes no sense.
    – mart
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 14:48
  • @mart, of course, using feed weights is a rough proxy for energy consumption, but there certainly is a correlation. On average, more food does require more energy to produce. Locusts certainly do eat fiber.
    – Nate
    Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 22:00

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