How many animals does a vegetarian save?

A vegetarian spares the lives of a certain number of animals each time he or she chooses to forgo meat for vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and nuts. But, exactly how many animals does a vegetarian save each year? Given the scale and complexity of animal agriculture today, this number is impossibly difficult to determine accurately. But, it is possible to estimate a conservative number, say X, to allow a claim that a vegetarian saves at least X number of animals. In this post, I will attempt such an estimate for a vegetarian in the United States.

Sources cited
  1. Vegetarian Resource Group. How Many Adults Are Vegan in the U.S.?. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  2. US Census Bureau. Population Estimates. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  3. USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service. Poultry Slaughter 2010 Summary. February 2011. (link, accessed January 1, 2013)
  4. USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service. Livestock Slaughter 2010 Summary. April 2011. (link, accessed January 1, 2013)

First, a few preliminaries. To determine the number of animals saved by a vegetarian, we need at least two numbers: the total number of animals killed for food consumed in the US in a given year and the size of the US population during that year. But, estimating the number saved is not merely a matter of dividing the total number killed by the size of the population. Let me illustrate this with a simple example. Suppose there are only three people in the US: one regular meat-eater who eats 100 animals each year, one semi-vegetarian who eats 50 animals each year and a vegetarian who eats 0 animals each year. A reasonable conclusion is that the semi-vegetarian saves 50 animals per year and the vegetarian saves 100 animals per year. But, if we merely divide the number killed by the population size, we will unreasonably conclude that a vegetarian saves only 150/3 = 50 animals per year. Similarly, if we merely divide the number killed by the size of the meat-eating population, we will again unreasonably conclude that a vegetarian saves only 150/2 = 75 animals per year.

So, it is important to consider the semi-vegetarians and the Meatless Mondayers, especially since their numbers are quite large, and give them appropriate credit in our calculations. If we say that a vegetarian saves X animals per year, we should be able to also say that a semi-vegetarian saves X/2 animals per year and that a Meatless Mondayer saves X/7 animals per year. So, we will use the following formula to estimate the number of animals saved.

Number saved by a vegetarian =   Total number of animals killed
Population size ∗ ( 1.0 − VS/2 − M/7 )

where V is the fraction of the population that is vegetarian, S is the fraction of the population that is not vegetarian but semi-vegetarian (defined as those who eat vegetarian at more than half their meals) and M is the fraction that is neither vegetarian nor semi-vegetarian but does eat vegetarian at least one day per week (such as a Meatless Mondayer). Using the results of the most recent poll commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group, I will use V as 0.05, S as 0.16 and M as 0.04.

In the following, almost all of the data for the number of animals killed is for the year 2010. So, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, I will use the resident population of the United States on July 1, 2010 (mid-year) as 309.33 million.

Land animals

The number of land animals killed in the U.S. or imported minus the number exported determines the U.S. supply of meat in the market. The following table lists these numbers. The table does not include cows used for dairy, calves used for veal, hens used for their eggs or the male chicks killed by the egg industry because we are trying to find the number of animals saved by a vegetarian, not a vegan (a whole other topic for another post, another time). Two annual reports produced by the USDA serve as our sources for the number who are slaughtered or condemned: the Poultry Slaughter 2010 Summary report and the Livestock Slaughter 2010 Summary report. The import and export numbers come from the data on U.S. livestock and meat trade provided by the USDA here. Conversion from carcass weights or pounds of meat to numbers of animals is based on data in the Poultry Slaughter and Livestock Slaughter reports mentioned earlier.

Number of land animals killed for the U.S. supply of meat in 2010
Slaughtered in the U.S. or imported Exported from U.S. Estimated deaths before slaughter Total killed for U.S. supply of meat
Bovines 33,725,585 91,081 1,770,237 35,404,741
Pigs 120,222,115 20,721,056 19,492,274 118,993,333
Sheep 4,893,649 388,102 - 4,505,546
Goats 779,687 7,223 - 772,464
Bison 64,000 - - 64,000
Chickens 8,674,514,720 1,585,273,584 567,683,762 7,656,924,897
Turkeys 243,700,756 25,033,761 42,401,646 261,068,641
Ducks 23,627,000 - 569,000 24,196,000
Total 9,101,527,512 1,631,514,808 631,916,919 8,101,929,624
Sources cited
  1. USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. APHIS Info Sheet: Veterinary Services. May 2010. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  2. Agrosoft, Ltd. Understanding the Relationship between Performance and Cost. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  3. G. T. Tabler, I. L. Berry and A. M. Mendenhall (University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture). Mortality Patterns Associated with Commercial Broiler Production. Avian Advice 6(1), 2004. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  4. USDA, Economic Research Service. The Economic Organization of U.S. Broiler Production. June 2008. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  5. M. Petracci et al. Preslaughter Mortality in Broiler Chickens, Turkeys, and Spent Hens Under Commercial Slaughtering. Poultry Science 85(9), September 2006. (link, accessed January 1, 2013)
  6. University of California, Avian Sciences Department. California Turkey Production. September 1997. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)

In the table above, the estimated number of deaths before the moment of slaughter are based on the ante-mortem condemnation rates reported by the USDA, estimated mortality rates on the farm and estimated deaths during transportation. The mortality numbers for bovines from causes other than slaughter come from a 2010 USDA report on the mortality rates on U.S. beef operations. Mortality numbers for pigs come from a study involving over 50,000 sows conducted by Agrosoft, Ltd., a consultancy company on pig business management. The number of chickens who die in the broiler industry before reaching the age of slaughter is based on mortality patterns associated with commercial broiler production described in a publication by researchers in the Poultry Science Department at the University of Arkansas. The “harvested” age used for this estimate is based on a 2008 USDA publication on the economic organization of U.S. broiler production. Chickens and turkeys die in large numbers during transport to the slaughter plant and this number comes from the pre-slaughter mortality rates reported here. Finally, the rate at which turkeys die before they reach slaughter comes from a report on California turkey production by the Kearney Agricultural Center at UC Davis.

We kill over 8.1 billion land animals each year for our food. Using the formula mentioned earlier, we find that a vegetarian saves over 30 land animals each year, over 28 of them being chickens.

A vegetarian saves more than 30 land animals each year.

Note: This post was updated on February 12, 2012, with data on import/export of land animals and deaths of land animals in the industry before reaching the age of slaughter. As a result, the number changed from 34 to 30.

Fish

Sources cited
  1. National Marine Fisheries Service. Fisheries of the United States: 2010. August 2011. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  2. A. Mood. Worse Things Happen at Sea: The Welfare of Wild-Caught Fish. 2010. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  3. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fisheries Service. Aquaculture in the United States. February 2012. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  4. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and USDA. The Future of Aquafeeds. December 2011. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)

Aquatic animals we buy for food come to us through at least three different means: commercial landings (caught in the wild, brought ashore and then sold), aquaculture (farmed aquatic animals) and imports. The sum of these minus the exports yields the total that enters the U.S. supply for sale as food. Using data from the Fisheries of the United States 2010 report by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Fisheries Statistics Division, the following table shows these numbers for 2010 (aquaculture number is for 2009) in thousands of pounds of live weight (i.e., full weight of the animals as caught). The number under landings represents edible domestic commercial landings (edible implies it does not include fish caught and used for industrial purposes such as fish oils, fertilizers, fish meal and shellfish meal; domestic implies it does not include fish caught in international waters or off U.S. shores; commercial means it does not include fish caught in recreational activities).

Live (round) weight of U.S. supply of edible finfish in 2010
(aquaculture number is for 2009)
Landings Aquaculture Imports Exports Total
Live weight
(in thousands of pounds)
5,216,208 574,197 7,288,337 4,568,219 8,510,523

Now, the table above only gives us tonnages but not the actual number of fish killed for our consumption. To deduce the number of fish, we will rely on a report produced by fishcount.org.uk, which painstakingly estimates the mean weights of well over 400 species of fish. Using the tonnages reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the report concludes that a sum total of 970 to 2,700 billion fish caught worldwide weigh a total of about 170.61 billion pounds. Being conservative in our estimate of the number of fish, we will use the lower end of their estimate (970 billion). The average live weight of a fish caught to serve human consumption worldwide, therefore, is about 0.176 pounds (we catch a lot of anchovies!). But, why is the worldwide catch of fish relevant to us? According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the U.S. Department of Commerce, 86% of the seafood we eat is imported and so, the worldwide catch of fish is representative of who we kill for what we eat.

Sources cited
  1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Fishery and Aquaculture Statistics: 2009. 2011. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  2. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Indicative Factors for Converting Product Weight to Live Weight for a Selection of Major Fishery Commodities. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  3. Counting Animals. An Estimate of the Lower Bound on Wild Fish Killed to Serve Human Consumption in the US. Research Notes of Counting Animals, Note 1, February 22, 2012. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  4. J. Bostock et al., Aquaculture: Global Status and Trends. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 365: 2897–2912, 2010. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)

According to the NOAA, 43% of sea animals we eat is an imported product of aquaculture and an additional 5% is a domestic product of aquaculture. Since the majority of what we import are fish products (as opposed to shellfish products), we can conservatively say that at least 48% of the fish we eat is a product of aquaculture. So, 48% of 8,510,523 thousand pounds, i.e., 4,085,051 thousand pounds of live weight of fish we eat is a product of aquaculture. The fishcount study estimates that the average live weight of a farmed fish is between 0.5 pounds to 11 pounds. To be super-conservative, I will use the high end of their estimate (11 pounds). So, this implies that U.S. residents eat over 371 million aquacultured fish. Using the formula described earlier, a vegetarian saves at least 1.3 aquacultured fish.

But, it is important to not forget the fish we catch, then kill and process into something to feed to the fish we farm. For every pound of a farmed fish product, more than one pound of wild catch is used as fishmeal or fish oil to feed the farmed fish. According to the recently released NOAA-USDA report, The Future of Aquafeeds, the overall fish-in fish-out ratio in modern fish aquaculture today is 1.5:1. So, we multiply 4,085,051 thousand pounds with 1.5 to get 6,127,576 thousand pounds as the live weight of fish we kill to feed the farmed fish we eat. Adding to this the rest which is not a product of aquaculture (52% of 8,510,523 thousand pounds, i.e., 4,425,472 thousand pounds), we get a total of 6,127,576 + 4,425,472 = 10,553,048 thousand pounds of wild fish caught to serve human consumption (either directly for us to eat or through being fed to farmed fish we eat).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization's 2009 yearbook, 46% of the worldwide food supply is from aquaculture. This is slightly smaller than the 48% of the U.S. food supply that is a product of aquaculture. Therefore, since the average live weight of a fish used to feed other fish is much smaller than that of fish we catch and eat ourselves, it is mathematically sound to divide the U.S. tonnage by the average live weight of a fish caught worldwide in order to obtain a conservative estimate of the total number of wild fish killed to serve human consumption in the U.S. So, 10,553,048 divided by 0.176 pounds gives us 59.96 billion fish. Using the formula discussed at the beginning of this post, we find that a vegetarian saves at least 224 wild fish.

This implies that a vegetarian saves at least 1 aquacultured fish (large fish weighing about 11 pounds) and 224 wild caught fish (weighing an average of 0.176 pounds). So, a vegetarian saves over 225 fish each year.

A vegetarian saves more than 225 fish each year.

Doesn't this number of fish seem too high? No, because we are counting the number of fish we kill to serve human consumption and not just the number of fish that pass through our lips. The following example illustrates how easy it is for a person to cause the death of over 225 fish a year.

Suppose I eat a small 6-ounce piece (0.375 pounds) of a farmed salmon fillet (a serving size used in an official Weight Watchers' recipe). According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's conversion factors, this is equivalent to 0.75 pounds of live weight of a salmon. According to authors at the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling, the fish-in-fish-out ratio for salmon is as high as 4.9. So, about 3.6 pounds of live weight of wild caught fish would have to be killed and ground up to make the fishmeal used to feed and grow the salmon in my meal. The average weight of these wild-caught fish is conservatively estimated at 0.176 pounds (see discussion above). Now, 3.6 divided by 0.176 is 20.4. So, just eating one serving of a farmed salmon fillet from a Weight Watchers' recipe kills as many as 20 fish. It is, sadly, too easy to end up killing over 225 fish per year!

Note: The fish section of this post was updated on February 22, 2012, because the NOAA updated its web site with new numbers related to U.S. aquaculture. The total number of fish saved by a vegetarian changed from 219 to 225.

Shellfish

The shellfish we buy for our food also comes to us through three means: commercial landings, aquaculture and imports. The sum of these minus the exports yields the total tonnage of shellfish entering the U.S. supply for consumption. Using data from the Fisheries of the United States 2010 report again, the following table shows these numbers for 2010 (aquaculture number is for 2009) in thousands of pounds of live weight (i.e., full weight of the animals as caught including their shells).

Live (round) weight of U.S. supply of edible shellfish in 2010
(aquaculture number is for 2009)
Landings Aquaculture Imports Exports Total
Live weight
(in thousands of pounds)
1,309,586 455,507 3,745,735 601,832 4,568,219

In the table above and in the rest of this post, I convert the weights reported in pounds of frozen or fresh meat (without including the shell), canned meat or breaded meat into live weights using conversion factors mentioned or implied in the Fisheries of the United States 2010 report (if available) or those suggested by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations here.

Sources cited
  1. Department of Commerce. Imports and Exports of Fishery Products: Annual Summary, 2010. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)
  2. J. S. Foer. Eating Animals. Back Bay Books, 2010.
  3. G. Matheny. Least Harm: A Defense of Vegetarianism from Steven Davis’s Omnivorous Proposal. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 16:505-511, 2003. (link, accessed February 22, 2012)

So, we eat over 4.5 billion pounds of shellfish in live weight. To estimate the number of animals in these 4.5 billion pounds, we need a breakdown of this number by species type and then use estimates of the mean weights of each. I use the Fisheries of the United States 2010 report for the breakdown of the landings and aquaculture numbers. I use the Imports and Exports of Fishery Products Annual Summary 2010 report produced by the Department of Commerce for the breakdown of the import and export numbers. All of this tabulation leads to the following table, which says that 55% of the live weight of shellfish we eat is shrimp, 16% is crabs, 9% is scallops and so on. The table includes my own estimate of the mean live weight of each class of animals (my estimates are on the high side so as to generate a conservative answer to the question posed in the title of this post).

Table converting live (round) weight tonnage of edible shellfish
in the U.S. supply for consumption in 2010 to number of shellfish
Class of shellfish Percent by live weight Live weight (in thousands of pounds) Estimated mean weight per animal (in pounds) Number of animals
Shrimp 55% 2,512,520 0.09 27,916,889,000
Crabs 16% 730,915 8 91,364,000
Oysters 9% 411,140 0.07 5,873,429,000
Scallops 6% 274,093 0.1 2,740,930,000
Mussels 4% 182,729 0.05 3,654,580,000
Lobsters 3% 137,047 2 68,524,000
Squids 3% 137,047 2.5 54,819,000
Total 96% 4,385,491 - 40,400,534,000

We eat over 40,400,534,000 shellfish each year. Using the formula mentioned earlier, we find that a vegetarian saves over 151 shellfish each year, the vast majority of them being shrimp.

A vegetarian saves more than 151 shellfish each year.

How conservative are these numbers?

Very.

There is one reason why an economist may argue that these numbers are an overestimate. The existence of price elasticity of demand and the absence of price elasticity of supply in some sectors of animal agriculture suggests that a vegetarian saves fewer animals than he or she chooses not to eat. When vegetarians eat fewer animals, the price of meat drops and some people buy more meat. However, this argument from economics, I think, has a countervailing argument from sociology and psychology: a vegetarian often makes many other friends, family members, colleagues and fellow patrons at establishments eat more vegetarian meals or at least eat less meat than they would otherwise.

There are more reasons why the numbers derived in this post are conservative.

  • This number does not include the hundreds of millions of fish “harvested” through recreational fishing at sea as well as in our rivers and creeks. This also does not include the number of land animals hunted and killed for meat.
  • These numbers do not include bycatch, the fish we unintentionally catch and kill and then throw back into the sea. It is worth quoting Jonathan Safran Foer from Eating Animals here: “Imagine being served a plate of sushi. But this plate also holds all of the animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across.”
  • These numbers only include land animals who are counted by the USDA as having been slaughtered or condemned. They do not include species that the USDA does not count (e.g., rabbits and geese). They also do not include the fact that a larger number of wild animals die for animal agriculture than for vegetarian agriculture.
  • At every point in the analysis above, I have always chosen the more conservative option, especially so in live weight estimates and conversions. In fact, the formula itself underestimates the number saved by a vegetarian because it only considers semi-vegetarians and Meatless Mondayers but not the full range of eating patterns.

A vegetarian, therefore, saves at least 406 animals per year (30 land animals, 225 fish and 151 shellfish).

A vegetarian saves more than 406 animals each year.

My numbers are larger than the ones previously quoted in animal advocacy circles (usually 50, 95 or 100). Given how conservative my methodology is and how much larger my numbers are, vegetarians have been undercounting the number of animals they actually save and short-selling their impact on animal lives. Yet, this estimate is a work in progress. With more data becoming available and more meticulous tabulation of some things ignored in this post (such as bycatch), the estimated number is actually bound to increase.

A vegetarian saves at least an animal a day!

Comments

Tracye Bennis-Sine

Interesting! I'm glad to see you've considered semi-vegetarians, and those who eat a lot of vegan or vegetarian food because they know so many veg*ns. As a vegan, I know this applies to some people in my life.

One thing I have wondered is if lacto-ovo vegetarians eat more eggs and dairy products than the average meat-eater, because they replace the meat with other animal products. I'm sure this varies from individual to individual, and is, thus, hard to calculate. I encourage anyone adopting a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet to make sure that meat is replaced by beans, seitan, tofu, and other plant foods, keeping the amount of eggs and dairy the same as before - or, even better, lower - if they want to meet or exceed the numbers mentioned.

Harish

Thanks for the comment, Tracye!

I do not know if vegetarians tend to eat more eggs and dairy than meat-eaters. If there is credible data available on it from any recent scientific polls, it will be easy to incorporate it in the formula I use. But, we will need data not on exactly not how much eggs/dairy a vegetarian eats, but on how much eggs/dairy a vegetarian eats in place of how much meat.

B.A.

Interesting blog!
I'd like to mention that these numbers are VERY conservative. These numbers do not include:
1. wild animals killed by habitat destruction for grazing land and feed-growing land
2. wild animals killed by pollution and diseases from animal farms
3. animals culled on farms (runts, male chicks, etc.)
4. animals that die incidentally on farms
5. animals that die during transport
6. downed animals disposed of at stockyards or "low-quality" animals disposed of at slaughterhouse intake
7. animals killed by pesticides used on feed crops and by the harvesting of feed crops
8. human animals killed by slaughter accidents, animal-derived pathogens, or animal farm pollution, or who could have been saved by eating grain we instead fed to animals

I would love to see attempts at adding some of these to the calculation!

Noam Mohr

I'm surprised you didn't use the more thorough calculation at http://AnimalDeathCount.blogspot.com, especially since you quote J.S. Foer's "Eating Animals" but not the this source of his numbers therein. This source doesn't account for semi-vegetarians, but it does include far more considerations than you have, including imports/exports, US fish numbers, bycatch, animals that die from causes other than slaughter, and so on.

Kenny

Fabulous article, thank you.

One question - you're talking just about vegetarians in the U.S., correct? Just want to make sure of that.

Sincerely,
Kenny

Harish

Yes, Kenny, I am only considering the US in my analysis. I am sure the worldwide numbers would be different.

Betty R

Wonderful! It's true that a vegetarian will get other friends and family to give up some meat :) I don't cook meat at my house very often (I think I have purchased meat about 5 times since August 2011) so my husband usually gets burgers/etc from restaurants. My daughter is almost two and she doesn't like meat at all! and we don't consume cow's milk and very few eggs. The only things we do still consume every now and then is cheese and butter (I alternate between that and margarine/veg spreads). I am not 100% Vegan but this article makes me want to try a little harder! Thank you so much I love it!

wendy

What about vegans? No chickens or cows suffering - that's saving animals too. I'd like to see those numbers, just saying.

Rub

I think the numbers are way off, if my calculations are right. in order for a human to consume what you are saying you need to be eating over 150 animals a day. Even if you were eating small animals like doves or shrimp, that is still to much of a number. I love meat, but I eat steaks once or twice a week, I eat a burger every other day or so, and snacks throughout the day. I don't think any human being consumes as much meat as this posts likes to say.

Liz

Thank you for this, I really enjoyed reading! Sometimes I feel disheartened and feel like I'm not even making an impact by refraining from eating animal products, this really helped to quantify things. :)

Anna

Thank you for writing this. I wanted to tell you that I posted some of the information you provided in a debate on the following page: http://www.care2.com/causes/the-invisible-and-the-innocent-10153000000-victims-of-the-u-s-food-industry.html#new_comment. However, I didn't cite your page as my source because of the title - the people with whom I'm debating would have immediately dismissed the information as propaganda. In retrospect, I should have asked for your permission first. I did forward the link for your page to another vegan.

CAW

Isn't the number of animals saved offset to some degree by the number of animals killed to support the increased intake of plant-based foods?

This is the oft-raised retort that vegans still kill animals incidentally through harvesting plants. So meat-eater kills X animals (directly and indirectly in raising feed) and Y animals indirectly. Vegan kills X - X animals (for a total of zero animals relating to meat) and Y +(some number that reflects the increased calories from plants). It would seem your estimate (while conservative for other reasons) is inflated by ignoring incidental kills.

I just wanted to make the argument before a meat-eater did so as to nip it in the butt.

CAW

. . . an afterthought: If the incidental kills to grow feed grossly outweigh the incidental kills to grow plants consumed by the vegan, then your number might be even more conservative still. So I shouldn't say your number is inflated; it just doesn't account for incidental kills (when it probably should at least talk about it).

Rhea

Thank you for this article. I had been thinking recently about the number of animals saved by going vegetarian or vegan.

We always hear the number 95 and I was thinking how that number would be even greater if the person was a big eater. I, myself, began my vegan journey pushing 270 lbs. with the majority of my meals being meat-based. Given how much I and my husband would eat in one sitting, I imagine we might be saving almost twice the number of the average person (which one day we hope will balance that high number we ate if only karmically).

Michael

Thanks for the honest effort, Harish. I don't like including shellfish, because that, I think, just distracts from the issue of suffering. Although not "vegan," eating a clam is very much like eating a plant. (And eating "vegan" foods like wet-grown rice kills plenty of vertebrates.) Personally, I'm wary of mentioning fish, especially such large numbers -- do people really believe they eat ~4 vertebrate fish every week?
Finally, I would like to caution against the idea of focusing on how "great" vegetarians / vegans are. Many vegans I know don't need ego help; they cut themselves off from the public (and thus hurt animals) with their sanctimony and moralizing. None of us are perfect, and we can all improve -- we can all do more for the animals.

craig musselman

your caluculations are overly simplistic in other ways too.

in addition to the hundreds of animals killed by the plow to make your bread say, vs a cow eating in a pasture on hay like in canada which kills few.

you forgot all the spraying of pesticides that go on your healthy vegetables (most vegetarians are not organic) since they demand "pretty" food.

But there are many other environmental tragedies that vegetarians are commiting due to lifestyle choices. Theoretically I could walk to the farm where my steak was raised so very little transport pollution, whilst your bananas and other tropical fruits on which you depend, currently organic or not involve vast fossil fuel use, and their organicness if any is a result of MASS poison kill-offs of entire islands of most small creatures. For instance St. Lucia is almost entirely devoid of life smaller than a cat due to historic poisoning. No birds, butterflies, etc.

On top of that meat is almost all mechanically harvested (corn grain etc) whilst your pretty fruit and vegetables involve flying exploited minorities thousands of miles from their countries to hand pick ever thing you put in your mouth...so the alberta tarsands, middle east wars, etc are chalked up to YOUR death column too...so they can have oil to transport all your fancy fruits and vegetables.
If you eat plants to be healthy, so be it, but if you are in any way saving animals...you might as well enjoy your burgers, you are causing more deaths than you could imagine.

Harish

Hi Noam, I did not know of your analysis (let's call it the ADC analysis for AnimalDeathCount) until I saw your comment on this post. This weekend I was able to look through your data and it was very interesting for me to see how someone else was approaching the same problem.

It is obvious that much hard work has gone into the ADC analysis. A difference between my post and the ADC analysis is that my post comes up with 219 finfish and the ADC analysis comes up with a much smaller 43. I think 219 is a closer estimate of the actual number because the ADC analysis does not consider two significant facts: (1) 84% of our seafood is imported, and (2) half of that is a product of aquaculture.

Since 84% of our seafood is imported, the international catch of fish reported by UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (used in this post) is a better representation than the U.S. catch (used in the ADC analysis) of who is killed for our seafood.

The second fact that 42% of what we eat is an imported product of aquaculture is not considered in the ADC analysis. Each pound of, say, farmed salmon we eat is grown using at least 8 smaller fish (1.5 pounds) killed and ground up to make fishmeal fed to the salmon. This multiplicative factor significantly expands the number of fish we kill for our food and should be applied to all of the aquaculture products we eat. While fishmeal fed to fish is considered in the ADC analysis, it is applied to a much smaller quantity of seafood we eat (and not 42% of it as in this post).

If these two facts are accommodated into the ADC analysis, the numbers of finfish estimated by the ADC analysis and this post would get much closer.

Harish

Anna, thank you for sharing the data from this post. It is perfectly fine if you did not link to it. I completely understand your concern re: propaganda.

CAW, thank you for your comment. I updated the post today with import/export data for land animals and took the opportunity to add a mention about how vegetarian agriculture kills far fewer wild animals than animal agriculture. I had received the same feedback privately from others as well.

Michael, the number of fish we kill for our food is not the same as the number of fish that pass through our lips. So, yes, we do not eat ~ 4 vertebrate fish every week, but we kill ~ 4 vertebrate fish every week for what we eat.

Tracye Bennis-Sine

This doesn't answer the question of whether lacto-ovo vegetarians eat MORE eggs and dairy than non-vegetarians, but it is interesting further reading for anyone who hasn't seen it:

http://measureofdoubt.com/2011/06/22/why-a-vegetarian-might-kill-more-animals-than-an-omnivore/

It lays out the animal foods that kill the most animals per calorie, and the least. It does not include all animal products, such as fish, goat, lamb, etc., but it includes most of the American favorites.

In summary, eating chickens and eggs kills the most animals per calorie, of those foods being considered; dairy kills the least.

Harish

Hi Tracye, thanks for the link. The article on the Measure of Doubt site compares eggs to beef and then inexplicably jumps to the conclusion that a vegetarian kills more animals than a meat-eater. It lists but conveniently ignores the chicken eaten by meat-eaters and its very high death count per calorie. For a credible and thorough evaluation of the number of animals killed per calorie, there is no better analysis than at the Animal Visuals site below:
http://www.animalvisuals.org/projects/data/1mc

But yes, it is certainly possible for a vegetarian to kill more animals than a typical meat-eater by eating an insane number of eggs.

Steve

This is terrific stuff. Add statistics on the amount of resources used in feeding the animals and getting them to market (feed + fuel to get feed to the animals, other costs of meat production, etc etc) this is even more compelling. I once read something about it taking 100 lbs of grain to produce 1 lb of meat (or something along those lines; forgive my laziness here).

Jade

Thanks so much for this. I appreciate how comprehensive it is, and the fact that you include sea creatures. As a vegan since 1989 and a vegetarian since 1988 I hadn't really thought of it in terms of saving lives. I had hoped that my commitment reduced suffering and environmental damage, but I had never researched any statistics.

Also, I appreciate your inclusion of the effects of those who have reduced their consumption of animals flesh. None of my friends are vegan and only one is a vegetarian, but many now eat animals much less than they used to.

I completely disagree with the comment made by Michael. Shellfish are animals and as such have rudimentary nervous systems. Therefore they do experience pain. Being boiled alive must cause them pain.
And to make a sweeping claim all that vegans uniformly "cut themselves off from the public (and thus hurt animals) with their sanctimony and moralizing" is a ludicrous, untrue, and disrespectful thing to say.

Jano Kupec

Hi Harry, very nice article!
One more thing to add to the equation pops into my mind: grass fed animals. What percentage of cows in the US are grazing on pasture lands? How much milk/meat can be "produced" solely by grazing? What would grazing change in the numbers above (i suppose it would increase the number of (wild) animals saved by vegetarians, and decrease the number for vegans - but by how much)?

I thought about this some time ago, but never got myself to analyze that thoroughly. IMO, it's an interesting thing to consider.

Jano Kupec

Gary

Craig:

- Most meat-eaters also eat fruits and vegetables.

- Most grain in the US is fed to farm animals, so the average meat-eater is contributing to much more plowing and pesticides.

- One can choose conventional or organic vegetables; one can choose imported or local vegatables.

- Studies repeatedly show that farm-to-plate transportation makes up only a small percentage of energy use and environmental impact. In short, vegan beats local - but why not do both? Nearly all meat comes from factory farms which use tremendous amounts of water, fuel, and land (indirectly, for feedcrops). Grazing displaces native wildlife, and ranchers, with the aid of the US government, kill even mre wildlife. 70 percent of rainforest clearing is attributable to grazing and feedcrops.

- Nearly all animals raised for food are killed as babies or young adults, and are bred to overproduce flesh, milk, or meat. At least the animals killed by plows (a figure which is largely unknown) might be of any age and had a normal life up until then.

- Even places like Polyface Farm, exalted in Food, Inc., use animals bred to grow at hyper-fast rates (causing pain and suffering) and require inputs such as hay and supplemental feed that make them much less efficient than most people think.

- Yes, farm laborers may be exploited. Again, carnists also eat vegetables and indirectly eat most of the grains in the developed world. Slaughterhouse workers are similarly exploited, and it is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Recent studies also show that the mere presence of slaughterhouses drives up the crime rate in surronding areas.

So there are lots of potentially complicatng factors. Harish has done a very thorough job investigating the core numbers. I doubt he has "forgotten" anything but chose to focus on central factors since that in itself is quite complicated and lengthy. If we are going to look at additional factors, let's not cherry-pick only the ones that support our lifestyle. If we're concerned about harming animals, let's first stop intentionally harming them, and then let's work on ways to minimize our unintentional impacts, e.g. from plows. No doubt, if we put our minds to it, we can make progress in that area, too. But we can stop raising animals just to kill them immediately.

Harish

Thank you, Gary, for the very comprehensive comment. It is a great response to some of the questions posed and arguments made in defense of eating meat.

Jane Tiberioq

Love your site. I also love animals and I have a site that has current issues that need signatures, and a lot of education for people about animals. I love it if you would check it out and pass it on!
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/146/198/194/we-want-the-certified-raised-and-handled-program-for-animal-welfare/

Dion J

So a vegetarian saves 406 animals per year?
Where exactly are these saved animals kept?

Pablo

Michael - there are scientific studies showing that not only do fish feel pain, but it's also likely that prawns, shrimp, and other decapod crustaceans also feel pain - or something similar, so I think many would agree they should remain in this type of calculation. I'm less familiar with similar work with bivalve molluscs.

Daniel

Very many animals die from dairy and egg farms each year so you can't use the amount of animals that die for "food". Your numbers do apply to vegans though.

Harish

Daniel, I suppose you meant to write "vegetarians" instead of "vegans"? Yes, these are numbers calculated for vegetarians, not vegans because I do not take into consideration eggs and dairy in this post. But, vegans are vegetarians too, so these numbers do apply to vegans as well (just that a more accurate number for vegans will be slightly larger).

Bettina

Hi Harish,

Thanks for crunching these numbers. Do you think you'd be calculating how many animals eating vegan (not living vegan) would save?

I'm about to launch a try vegan / vegan lunchbox month, so I'm curious.

Thanks!
Bettina

Harish

Bettina, it's great that you are trying out a vegan lunchbox month! A vegan reduces the suffering of animals by quite a bit more than a vegetarian (because egg-laying hens probably endure more prolonged and intense suffering than most farmed animals). But, the number of additional animals saved by a vegan is small (likely less than 2) on top of the 400 or so animals already saved by going vegetarian. These calculations, however, do not take into account less direct impact on the animals such as wild animals killed in producing grain for the animals.

VolodyA! V Anarhist

Hi, it's a great analysis, i especially liked the fact that you tried to keep it conservative, it's better to know the minimum in this case rather than going the advertising route and saying that vegan saves "up to" some number. Great job.

Also i would like to thank you for keeping all the troll posts here, like the people who argue that vegans don't care about environmental issues or that eating some animals is like eating a plant. The stupidity our their arguments actually go to further our goals. Keep up the great work.

Neal

Hi Harish. Great article. Well done for all your hard work in reasearching the numbers. My only question is in relation to a comment you made...

"the number of additional animals saved by a vegan is small (likely less than 2) on top of the 400 or so animals already saved by going vegetarian."

Wouldn't the lives of all the male calves from the dairy industry make a bigger difference between vegetarian and vegan than you suggest?
Dairy breeds are mostly unsuitable for the beef market so these are just 'by-product deaths' which vegetarians cause (by supporting the dairy industry) but vegans don't.
The number of male dairy calves killed each year must surely be considerable?

Harish

Neal, Here is a rough calculation to answer your question. There are no more than 10 million dairy cows in the US. If each of them produced a veal calf each year, the total number of calves killed is 10 million. Assuming each cow is milked for an average of five years, the total number of cows killed per year is 2 million. So, dairy causes the death of up to 12 million animals per year. With over 300 million people in the US, that is less than 0.04 animals per person per year. Using the analysis method used in this post, a person not eating dairy saves at most about 0.04 additional animals per year.

Neal

Dion J asked...
So a vegetarian saves 406 animals per year?
Where exactly are these saved animals kept?

They are not 'kept' anywhere. They're saved from being forced into the world to start with, not made to live a miserable life and finally not made to die against the consciouse will to live that they have developed by that time.

The best way to think of it is 'miserable lives, and then unwanted deaths' for which vevetarians/vegans are not responsible in contrast to carnists who are.

Neal

...of course I should add that in the case of non-farmed animals (most fish, molluscs etc), they are 'kept' where they naturally exist; in the wild.

Amy

I think you have over simplified this, and perhaps even made a mistake in your choice of dialect. You are not 'saving' animals, you are simply not eating them. Until you are actively making a difference in the life of an individual, then stop tooting your horn and puffing your chest.
I'm a vegetarian and I would never say that refusing to eat meat is saving an animal. How about you volunteer at an animal shelter? Become a foster parent to a rescue dog. Donate to a horse rescue, a greyhound rescue, ANYTHING! Your 'activism' is lazy and pretentious.

Amy

"They're saved from being forced into the world to start with, not made to live a miserable life and finally not made to die against the consciouse will to live that they have developed by that time."

holycowforreal?!
Whoah man. The meat industry does not magically stop killing as many cows just because you're not eating it. Don't say it is supply and demand, because companies like McDonald's make sure that isn't a problem. Get real.
Acting like an overly emotional extremist isn't going to convince intelligent people to stop eating meat.

Kim

@Amy...Wow...you are really a nasty woman. This page, and the person that gathered this information, is not on a mission to harm anyone or anything. Do you think that you are so brilliant that you are the only one who realizes what goes on with the horrific animal farming that takes place in this world? Guess what? You are not. As far as activism...how do you know what anyone on this page does or does not do in regard to degrees of activism. We could be out all day, everyday taking steps to better the lives of the creatures that we inhabit this Earth with. As far as, "acting like an overly emotional extremist"...why don't you just stop flat out being a complete b*tch. Especially to the small percentage of people who actually do care. What a miserable being you must be to emit such hate and negativity. One can only imagine how nasty a person to be around you truly are if your unpleasantness is so apparent from just a comment on a post.

Eric Triffin

Besides the animals people are saved! If at least 5 people could eat from the feed necessary to produce one portion of meat, then every time I did not put meat on my plate I was able to invite 5 other people to eat who would otherwise have had their last meal. In 60 years of not eating meat I have thereby allowed over 300 people/years of life to be lived!

Fran Luck

I find your numbers to be totally abstract and not at all placed in the context of the way the killing-of-animals industry actually works. I myself do not understand this fully, but it seems obvious to me that there has to be some kind of tipping point in unsold 'animal portions', BEFORE such a vast industry would respond AT ALL--ie: start to raise less animals for slaughter, or catch less fish--resulting in the saving of animal lives. Unless you can present evidence that such a 'tipping point' has been reached, it is not realistic to say that being a vegetarian (or vegan) has had ANY effect on the killing of animals--i.e., has saved ANY animal lives.

I'm not saying it is not possible to save animal lives by becoming vegetarian--but that it would have to be done on a massive scale in order to have an impact (in other words be an organized movement/campaign instead of a collections of individual lifestyle choices). And it would have to be monitored for effectiveness. Then your numbers would be more than abstract arithmetic calculations without any connection to reality and how the system works.

Fran Luck

In reply to Kim: Calling Amy a bitch and saying she is negative because she refutes this hypothesis, insults both animals (a bitch is a female dog) and women (what would you call a man who made the same point--even in the same way? Certainly not a bitch--which shows how sexist you are being).

I just sent a post that made pretty much the same point as Amy--about doubting that the meat/fish industry actually responds in the way that the author implies that it does. It is an important point and I'd like to see the writer of the blog give it a serious response. Thanks.

Harish

Fran: Vegetarians are a large enough group that they are collectively beyond the tipping point where the meat industry would notice the reduced demand. This reduced demand has actually reduced production (see here). This is the reason that the industry sometimes vigorously fights efforts like the Meatless Monday campaigns.

The meat industry does react to reduced demand and the only debate is about the extent to which it does react and how quickly it is able to react. This depends on the type of animal product. It is hard for the dairy industry to react quickly to reduced demand and kill fewer animals (because cows are milked for five years) but it is much easier for the chicken industry (which processes new chickens every forty-five days). In general, reduced demand does reduce production but not by the same amount as the reduction in demand. For example, using elasticity data for animal products, agricultural economists Norwood and Lusk calculate that a vegetarian reduces production by about 70% of the amount he/she chooses not to eat.

Andrea K

Thank you Harish for taking the time to research the numbers and lay them out so well here. The calculation is inherently very complex and you did the best job one could do without over complicating it - ie. you stated that you're making some assumptions (for example not including the number of wild animals killed by harvesting grain most of which is used for animal feed).
It's an excellent overview, well thought out. I've been looking for such a calculation.

Enid

Harish - I was looking for a calculation like this because I'm writing a thesis for my Master's in Humane Education. So thank you very much for your hard work. I've been vegan since June 1996 and I have to believe that a certain amount of animals (land and water; I never ate birds who fly) have been saved (or not born) because of my commitment. And unlike the comment made above that vegans and vegetarians demand pretty food, I just want food that's not laced with pesticides or GMOs (as I'm sure most, if not all, of us want). I'm annoyed by people who attempt to make an argument that continuing to eat animals is ok. If only to stop destroying our planet (the land and water supply), people should seriously consider moving to a plant based diet. And since we're all connected simply because we live on the same planet, the grains that are used to raise animals for food could be used to feed people in the developing world. We are a global world and no longer do we have the excuse that we have nothing to do with someone living across the world.

Marta

Vegetarians don't save chickens or beef or bees because they die at the end of their productive life because of vegetarians.
They eat theirs "products" (milk, cheese, cream, ice creams...), eggs and honey and at the end they die as well.

Vegans save lifes, vegetarians don't save some ones.

Marta

When I say "beef" I mean to say cows, veals and so on.

Even if vegetarians don't eat them they send them to the slaughter.
Male baby chicks are killed as well for having eggs and bees for having honey.

Robert

You can calculate the number of animals you save on http://vegetariancalculator.com but they only count 202 animals saved per year.

Melanie

I think a lot of people confuse the difference between number of animals eaten and number of animals saved. Since animals are often fed to other animals, there is a multiplying effect.
The calculations do not reflect a perfect model, but it is a good point to start the discussion from. Different people may agree or disagree as to whether animals fed to other animals should be included, for example.
Also, some people want to count the animals killed by the plows and pesticides for grain production, the vast majority of which, I understand, is fed to animals to produce meat.
With the recent campaign to ban the Meatless Monday program at the US White house, it is obvious that industry is threatened by the growing meat-reduction and vegan movements. That said, export markets are flourishing, thanks to increased prosperity in countries like China and even India.

H.R. Heilander

If my diet were crickets, a proposed protein source for the future, I would put an end to about 150 little souls per meal.

So by eating beef burgers or roast chicken, I save the lives of probably 150,000 animals per year.

When we eat Yogurt, we kill most of the 2 billion little bacteria animals per serving. So if you could avoid one serving of bacteria, you would save about 2 billion animals more than a strict vegetarian who did eat that one serving of yogurt.

So let's put our own personal slaughter numbers into perspective. If we are to be vegetarians, "saving lives" is a dumb way to measure it.

Jeremy

Agree with H.R. Heilander. Also isn't the premise that one is saving the lives of animals by refraining from eating meat a bit flawed? The animals which are most commonly consumed are raised for consumption, if demand drops wouldn't that just mean production would drop (ie the animals would never be born in the first place) as well? It's not a if demand for beef drops 20% then 20% of cows would be allowed to freely roam the countryside and procreate at will.

Silly Man

Jeremy: Saving lives, in this context, means suppressing demand for meat, consequently reducing production and thus preventing them from being born into a life of intense suffering and eventual brutal death.

Mike

Vegetarians save ZERO animals per year.

(a) vegetarians do not suppress demand and thereby save animals - the animals they didn't eat just go to waste.

(b) for every animal you don't eat, I'm going to eat three.

Harry

There is of course a major flaw in this argument, and that is that a vegetarian is not saving any animal at all. A farmer is not going to look at a cow and say "A vegetarian doesn't want to eat you therefore I will not kill you.

Farming, the food industry and in this case the meat industry is driven by supply and demand. It costs a meat farmer a considerable amount of time and money to raise an animal for meat. he is therefore not going to keep more animals than he can reasonably supply to market. If half the world went vegetarian, farmers might then farm with half the animals they used to keep. They would then kill any surplus animals or unwanted young that are born, and gradually their herd would reduce. So less meat animals would be farmed, but vegetarians aren't saving these animals because they were never concieved in the first place. You can't save something that doesn't exist. And if they have been concieved, then the farmer would have to kill it because he is not going to grow it just to watch it die of old age.

Incidently people seem to forget that most prey animals in the wild are killed by other animals that then eat them. It is not wrong or immoral to kill an animal to eat. everything does it, including us.

Very few wild prey animals live a long, stress free and happy life. Most will die either in the first year, or after a few years, and they will almost certainly die a suffering death, either through starvation, accident, disease or predation. In fact predation is usually asociated with all of the first three. So after suffering a broken leg, or disease, it then has to suffer the torment of being eaten alive. Sadly it is how life works

In fact it would be hard for anyone to dispute that a cow in a farmer's care has a happier and less stressfull life than a wild cow. It is supplied with rich food, shelter, kept free of parasites, and doesn't have to spend its life looking over its shoulder the whole time for predators.

Jack

This is a joke. How many animals are slaughtered by razing the fields to farm the vegetarian diet? WAY more than you save. But I guess you think mice and rabbits aren't the same right?

Brianna Holloway

This is a pretty good article. It definitely has me thinking about my choice of meats.

Ankur

It is a great article Harish! But perusing through the comments you get the idea of how different people are. Vegans think Vegetarians are no good, its hard for a regular meat eater to give up meat and they get defensive. The numbers are an eye opener and make you realize how significant the impact is on the resources and the environment. If watching a video of baby seal being clubbed to death or being skinned alive doesnt stop you from wearing fur/leather, seeing birds downed for feather doesnt leave a lasting image on your heart and you are still pulled to grab that down coat on sale, no number will ever be significant enough for you. It has to come from the heart. I have made my peace with the fact that humans are capable for great evil. I just pray and ask forgiveness from all the animals that have suffered beacause of us.

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