Is dairy production more polluting than meat production in Canada ?

Ana Lévy
6 min readMay 17, 2020
Here is a cow living in the mountains near my hometown in the South of France, Parc du Mercantour

My boyfriend and I like to debate various topics over breakfast, especially when drinking our coffees.

This morning, he argued that the meat industry has a far greater impact on the environment compared to the dairy industries — mostly because of the massive post processing chain and the long distances meat has to travel to undergo specific transformations. But for me, a vegan with a (somewhat strong) bias against the dairy industry, it wasn’t so obvious that the production of dairy had a negligible impact compared to the meat industry. You see, milk and its derivatives are everywhere! Crisps, crackers, cereals, ice cream… most of these processed foods contain milk ingredients.

This conversation did spike an interest and got me to look a little deeper:

  1. First, let’s check the facts.

The first time I heard about potential GHG emissions reduction when adopting a vegetarian diet was when reading about the study by Scarborough et al. (2014) comparing typical UK diets. In this study, high meat-eaters are those who eat more than100 g/day. To put this into perspective, the average meat consumption per capita in Canada was 150 lbs per year in 2018, or 186 g/day (1). Therefore the average Canadian would be classified as a high meat-eater according to this ranking system.

Emissions reduction potential from different diets compared to a high-meat eating habit. Data reproduced from table 3 in (2

The presented data show that eating meat is the highest emissions contributor, while the emissions difference between eating fish and being vegetarian is negligible when compared to high-meat heaters (only 1% difference).

By moving away from an intense meat consumption diet and going vegan, you would therefore reduce emissions 13% more than by going vegetarian. “Really ? OK that’s not bad” I thought out loud. Let’s try to dive a little deeper.

2. What is happening in Canada ?

Assessing emissions from a diet pattern is not an easy task. In fact, it vastly varies depending on the land, supply chain, soil type, and whether the food is locally produced or imported. Canada has not choice but to import a lot of…

Ana Lévy

Mechanical engineer who wants to help the planet. Vegan & international, living in Montreal. Here are things that matter to me. Je suis française !