This page provides the most complete determination of the numbers of animals
who died to feed Americans. (Calculated by Noam Mohr,
In 2009, the average American meat eater was responsible for about 198 deaths:
- 1/7 of a cow
- 2/5 of a pig
- 1 turkey
- 1½ chickens for eggs
- 25 chickens for meat
- 40 fish
- 130 shellfish
In all, 59 billion animals died to feed Americans in 2009. Over a lifetime, this amounts to 15,000 animals per meat eater.
Comparisons by Year
After a three year decline, the number of animals eaten by Americans rose slightly from 2008 to 2009, as a decrease in chickens and fish killed was accompanied by an increase in shellfish killed.
The number of land animals eaten in the U.S. continued to decrease. The average meat-eater in 2009 killed 1.3 fewer land animals than in 2008 (a 4% drop), and almost 3 fewer than in 2006 (a 10% drop). That amounts to more than 300 million fewer land animals killed to feed Americans than in 2008, and more than 600 million fewer than in 2006. This was due almost entirely to a drop in chickens raised for meat, which make up 89% of the land animal deaths. There was little change for other land animals.
The number of fish eaten in the U.S. also continued to decrease. The average meat-eater in 2009 killed 2 fewer fish than in 2008 (a 5% drop), and 10 fewer fish than in 2006 (a 19% drop). That’s 500 million fewer fish killed than in 2008, and 2.4 billion fewer than in 2006. However, shellfish consumption increased, with the average meat-eater consuming 5 more shellfish in 2009 than in 2008. This increase was dominated by Gulf shrimp, swimming crabs, oysters, mussels, and Pacific squid.
Note Regarding Previous Estimates
Calculations for sea animals include a great deal of uncertainty. Unlike for land animals, marine catch is reported only by weight. The number of deaths must be calculated based on the average weight of individuals of each aquatic species, for which estimates vary considerably. The numbers calculated here for 2006 - 2009 use estimates that have been updated, and thus differ considerably from earlier estimates.
There were two major changes. One was the inclusion of weight estimates listed in “Worse things happen at sea: the welfare of wild caught fish” by fishcount.org.uk, which attempts to calculate the number of fish killed worldwide. These and other updated weights resulted in an increase in the estimated number of fish killed of 33 to 40% compared with previous estimates. The other change was the inclusion of fishmeal imports and exports, as well as fishmeal and fish oil fed to those fish that were imported, resulting in an increase in the estimated number of fish killed of an additional 35 to 45%.
The biggest change was improved values for scallop weights, distinguishing
sea scallops from smaller bay scallops. Because of scallops are eaten in large
numbers, this resulted in
shellfish death estimates 43% lower than before.