Consumers’ views and concerns about the welfare of farm animals may play an important role in their decision to consume dairy, meat and/or plants as their primary protein source. As animals are killed prematurely in both dairy and beef industries, it is important to quantify and compare welfare compromises in these two sectors before the point of death. Seventy world-leading bovine welfare experts based in 23 countries were asked to evaluate the likelihood of a bovine to experience 12 states of potential welfare concern, inspired by the Welfare Quality® protocol. The evaluation focused on the most common beef and dairy production systems in the experts’ country and was carried out separately for dairy/beef calves raised for red meat, dairy/beef calves raised for veal, dairy/beef calves raised as a replacement, and for dairy/beef cows. The results show experts rated the overall likelihood of a negative welfare state (i.e. welfare risk) to be higher in animals from dairy herds than from beef herds, for all animal categories, regardless of whether they were used to produce milk, red meat or veal. These findings suggest that consuming food products derived from common dairy production systems (dairy or meat) may be more harmful to the welfare of animals than consuming products derived from common beef production systems (i.e. from animals solely raised for their meat). Raising awareness about the linkage between dairy and meat production, and the toll of milk production on the welfare state of animals in the dairy industry, may encourage a more sustainable and responsible food consumption.