Environmental Impact of Animal-Derived Ingredients in Medicine
Updated: Sep 10
Global warming, climate change, the greenhouse gas effect… we all have heard how the choices we make in our daily lives contribute to these crises. One of our biggest contributions? Consuming products that contain animal-derived ingredients.
Three of the most common animal-derived ingredients include lactose, gelatin, and magnesium stearate, all derived from cows and pigs. These three ingredients are found in about 20-59% of the 100 most common drugs in primary care (BMJ, 2013). The global gelatin market is expected to reach about 4.42 billion dollars (USD) by 2026 due to an increase in demand from several pharmaceutical industries (GlobeNewswire, 2020). Animal-derived ingredients are present in three out of four medications that we ingest regularly, and they contribute significant negative effects on the environment.
What specific effects do animals have on the environment?
"...the top three meat firms (JBS, Cargill, and Tyson) emitted more greenhouse gases than the entire country of France"
Animals contribute to much of the greenhouse gas effect in agriculture. Peter Lehner, a managing attorney for the non-profit environmental law firm EarthJustice, explains that this effect comes from the “ruminant emissions of cows” whose “waste on the ground converts into methane,” (McMahon, 2019). In addition, a study found that in 2016, the top three meat firms (JBS, Cargill, and Tyson) emitted more greenhouse gases than the entire country of France (GRAIN, 2017).
Livestock contribute to a significant percentage of carbon emissions, albeit the specific amount is debatable. Many experts have calculated that livestock contribute about 15% of the world’s carbon emissions. However, in 2009, the Worldwatch Institute found uncounted emissions that increased that number to about 51%!
Livestock also have a high water usage and contribute to water pollution. A 2010 study found that animals had significantly higher water footprints. Vegetables had a water footprint of about 322 liters/kg and fruits had a water footprint of 962 liters/kg. Meat, however, had much higher water consumption. Chicken had a water footprint of 4,325 liters/kg, pork had a water footprint of 5,988 liters/kg, and beef had an astonishingly high number of 15,415 liters/kg! The earth has growing water constraints because our freshwater sources are drying up (Water Footprint Network, 2010). Runoff of animal feces into bodies of water lead to eutrophication, the excessive growth of plants and algae. This phenomenon uses up the limited supply of oxygen in the body of water at the expense of other species present (van der Zee, 2018).
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have found that livestock is the world's largest user of land resources. They state that “grazing land and cropland dedicated to the production of feed [represent] almost 80% of all agricultural land” and “the total land area occupied by pasture is equivalent to 26% of the ice-free terrestrial surface (FAO, 2020). Large areas of land are thus used to raise animals that will be used to produce various consumer products.
What can you do to help?
One step you can take to help protect our environment is cutting your usage of products containing animal-derived ingredients, whether it is through adopting a plant based diet, or using animal-free products. VeganMed’s marketplace is a great place to start looking for animal-free products you can use in your daily life, and make your contribution to helping protect our environment!
A special thanks to Anvi Brahmbhatt for her research and contribution to this post.
Disclaimer: The product and/or medical information provided on VeganMed is of a general nature and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or product.
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Zee, Bibi van der. “What Is the True Cost of Eating Meat?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 7 May 2018, www.theguardian.com/news/2018/may/07/true-cost-of-eating-meat-environment-health-animal-welfare.
McMahon, Jeff. “Meat And Agriculture Are Worse For The Climate Than Power Generation, Steven Chu Says.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 4 Apr. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2019/04/04/meat-and-agriculture-are-worse-for-the-climate-than-dirty-energy-steven-chu-says/#7871a67211f9.
McMahon, Jeff. “Why Agriculture's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Almost Always Underestimated.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 3 Dec. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2019/12/02/5-reasons-agricultures-greenhouse-gas-emissions-are-usually-underestimated/#10130ce6ac80.
Supporting social movement struggles against free trade and investment agreements, et al. “Big Meat and Dairy's Supersized Climate Footprint.” GRAIN, www.grain.org/article/entries/5825-big-meat-and-dairy-s-supersized-climate-footprint.
Fabrique [merken, design & interactie]. “Water Footprint of Crop and Animal Products: a Comparison.” Home, waterfootprint.org/en/water-footprint/product-water-footprint/water-footprint-crop-and-animal-products/.
“Animal Production.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, www.fao.org/animal-production/en/.
Data, Reports and. “Gelatin Market To Reach USD 4.42 Billion By 2026: Reports And Data.” GlobeNewswire News Room, "GlobeNewswire", 11 Apr. 2019, www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/04/11/1802983/0/en/Gelatin-Market-To-Reach-USD-4-42-Billion-By-2026-Reports-And-Data.html.
“Why can’t all drugs be vegetarian?” The BMJ, bmj.com/bmj/section-pdf/752705?path=/bmj/348/7944/Analysis.full.pdf.
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