The Animal and Environmental Impacts of the Supplement Industry: A Summary of Our Findings

The Animal and Environmental Impacts of the Supplement Industry: A Summary of Our Findings

Jun 29, 2022

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Terraseed Inc

Measuring the Impact of the Supplement Industry

When the founder of Terraseed first had a vision for creating one of the most sustainable supplements on earth, she began to dive deep into the impacts of today’s supplement industry to better understand the industry’s effects on both animals and the environment. In order to share the staggering information she uncovered, Terraseed set out to publish a comprehensive report that aimed to answer 2 key questions:

  • How prevalent are animal-derived ingredients and how many animals are killed each year to produce supplements?
  • How many plastic bottles are being used for supplements, and how many end up in landfills or the ocean?

We recently published our robust Animal and Environmental Impacts of the Supplement Industry report to fill the sustainability information gap in the industry, enable others to fully understand the scope of the animal-ingredient problem and ultimately create productive conversations that lead to sustainable solutions. We’re excited to share some key findings from the report so that you can join us in shaping a more sustainable and ethical future for the supplement industry!

The Industry’s Impact on Animals

While the many different vitamins, minerals, and botanicals used in supplements can be derived from natural sources or synthesized in a lab, there are still a high number of common supplement ingredients that are derived from animal byproducts. We set out to explore the impacts that animal-derived ingredients have on the animals that provide them.

Our research revealed some astonishing  impacts that the continued use of animal-derived ingredients in supplements have on the furry and scaly friends we all know and love. We analyzed data from over 79,000 supplement products included in the US National Institutes of Health Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD) and concluded that:

  • Over 24 billion fish and 18 million cows, sheep and pigs are consumed each year to make supplement ingredients for the US market alone. (The breakdown: approximately 14.4 million pigs, 3.6 million cows, and 244.1 thousand sheep.)
  • 44% of all on-market supplement products contain at least one of the two most common animal ingredients (magnesium stearate and gelatin).
  • At least 50% of all supplement products contain at least one animal-derived ingredient.
  • Magnesium stearate, gelatin, and Vitamin D are three of the most common ingredients that contribute to the regular killing of millions of cows, sheep, and pigs every year.
  • Fish make up the vast majority of animals killed to produce supplements
  • It takes approximately 100 anchovies to make just 1 bottle of Omega-3s

 

    number of animals impacted by supplement industry

    fish infographic

    The Industry’s Impact on the Environment 

    Our studies also showed that the supplement industry has a massive impact on the environment. Considering that there are over 100,000 individual supplement products on the market in the US alone, we wanted to explore the environmental footprint that the industry creates. Our research shows that:

    • 1.8 billion plastic supplement bottles are sold each year in the US alone and many are also packaged in “secondary packaging” such as boxes, sachets, and plastic wrap.
    • 76% of supplement packaging is made of plastic.
    • While many companies have turned to glass packaging as a more sustainable alternative, glass generates more greenhouse gas emissions compared to plastic when shipped and takes over 1 million years to decompose.
    • The vast majority of plastic waste (almost 70%) ends up in landfills, while around 17% is combusted, and 3% ends up in the ocean every year.
    • According to the EPA, less than 9% of all plastic waste in the US is recycled.
    • Over 50% of the recycled plastic waste is shipped overseas, with the vast majority going to lower-income countries with ineffective waste management systems.
    • Around 3% of plastic waste ends up in the ocean every year, and this waste NEVER actually decomposes.
    • Marine and land animals mistakenly consume microplastics that can block digestive tracts, pierce organs, or cause starvation from lack of nutrients.

    Conclusions & Future Research 

    While our research has uncovered some truly harrowing realities about the supplement industry, we find hope in knowing that both consumers and brands are becoming increasingly aware of and concerned about these issues. People are showing immense interest in bettering their health, improving the treatment of animals, and ensuring the wellbeing of our environment.

    We will continue to monitor the state of the industry and we hope to report on more optimistic findings in the future as the industry continues to adapt to today’s planetary challenges. 

    Want to read the full report? Dive deep into our findings here.

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