How Many Animals Does A Plant-Based Diet Spare?
Animal advocates are always looking for new ways to promote plant-based diets to the public. One way advocates show the importance of eliminating animal products is by discussing how many animals are “saved” by going plant-based.
Determining this number is no easy feat. For example, researchers who rely on animal product consumption data may fail to consider the animals killed “indirectly” in the food industry, e.g. male chicks culled in the egg industry. However, researchers who use animal agriculture production data may overlook dietary nuances, e.g. the impact of going plant-based as a pescatarian versus a vegetarian. Although neither method is perfect, both can give us a general estimate of the lives spared by switching to a plant-based diet.
In this study conducted by Animal Charity Evaluators, researchers relied on production data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to obtain estimates of the global number of animals spared per person in one year of plant-based eating. The estimates should be approached with caution — for example, the data only includes vertebrate animals and may be inconsistent across countries. Furthermore, it’s difficult to pinpoint the total number of wild-caught fishes as well as the number of farmed animals killed indirectly in the food industry. Even though the FAO data is imperfect, the study offers a helpful quantitative picture of dietary change.
To determine how many animals are spared through a plant-based diet, the researchers used a model that looked at the “global average of animals killed for food per non-plant-based human in a year.” Specifically, the model was: (Number of vertebrates killed for food) / (Global population) – (Plant-Based population). The study encompassed a broad range of animals, including 13 species of farmed land vertebrates, 262 species of farmed fishes, and 1,373 species of wild-caught fishes.
According to the results, approximately 772 billion vertebrates were killed for human consumption on a global scale in 2018. Of these, 88.3% were fishes, 11.1% were birds, and 06.% were mammals. Among land vertebrates, chickens were the most highly-killed species at 81 billion, followed by ducks (3.1 billion), pigs (1.8 billion) and rabbits (1 billion).
The study suggests that each plant-based person spared 105 vertebrates in 2018. This includes an average of 79 wild-caught fishes, 14 farmed fishes, and 12 farmed land vertebrates (11.5 farmed birds and 0.5 farmed mammals).
While “animals saved” numbers have long been used by animal advocates to help make change, this study provides advocates with new and updated numbers with which to do their work.