How Much Does U.S. Livestock Production Contribute to Greenhouse Gas Emissions?


"Livestock’s Long Shadow"

A round of applause for Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein for pointing out last week the undeniable fact that meat production is a major contributor to global warming, and that consumers can make a difference by cutting out their meat consumption just one day a week. How big a difference in greenhouse gases reduction it would make in the United States has long been a topic of debate, and something I’ve wanted to clarify for quite a while. Before I explain why, I want to make it clear that there is more than enough evidence that shows reducing meat consumption nationwide would lead to dramatic improvements in environmental degradation, widespread public and personal health risks, animal welfare and environmental and social justice issues.

First off, I’m pleased to see that mainstream media outlets are finally increasing their coverage of food systems’ effects on climate change. Believe it or not, it’s taken a while for the news gatekeepers to catch on. Last year Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future’s research and policy director Roni Neff published a paper in the journal of Public Health Nutrition that found U.S. newspaper coverage did not reflect the increasingly solid evidence of climate change effects due to current food systems. Read More >

Why Industrial Meat Production is Inefficient

It looks like Meatless Monday’s “Inspiring a Movement” video is doing just that, but the meat industry is already grumbling. In particular, industry leaders have a beef with the video’s claim that, “Meat mass production, as currently practiced, is extremely inefficient.” The claim makes sense to me, especially when you consider research that suggests the amount of energy needed to produce industrial raised beef is at least 10 times greater than growing vegetables. But, wait I’m getting ahead of myself. Read More >

Early Death Attributed to High Diet of Red Meat

A new study has found that high intakes of red or processed meat may increase the risk of mortality. The research, just published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, examined more than a half-million middle-aged and elderly Americans and found those who consumed four ounces of red meat a day were more than 30 percent more likely to die during the 10-year length of the study.

According to an article in today’s Washington Post, researchers analyzed data from 545,653 predominantly white volunteers, ages 50 to 71, participating in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. In 1995, the subjects filled out detailed questionnaires about their diets, including meat consumption. Over the next 10 years, 47,976 men and 23,276 women died.

And the implications of a high-meat diet go beyond human mortality. “There is a global tsunami brewing, namely, we are seeing the confluence of growing constraints on water, energy, and food supplies combined with the rapid shift toward greater consumption of all animal source foods,” said Barry M. Popkin, a professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina, whose editorial is published with the study.

Mark Bittman Makes Appearance on The Colbert Report

Check out Mark Bittman’s appearance on Tuesday night’s Colbert Report. It’s hilarious! Bittman, who discusses his book, “Food Matters, A Guide to Conscious Eating,” make great points about the connection between diet and climate change. Jokes Colbert: “Are you implying that I’m eating while being unconscious?” Colbert clearly has an interest in environmental issues, hosting a variety of guests over the years to discuss diet, global water shortages, and farming. Incidentally, Comedy Central’s Colbert Report reaches millions of viewers around the world each night!

Study: Eating Less Meat Could Save $20 Trillion in Climate Change Costs

An article published in today’s NewScientist Magazine says cutting back on meet intake could save $20 trillion in the fight against climate change. According to the article, researchers involved say that reducing intake of beef and pork would lead to the creation of a huge new carbon sink, as vegetation would thrive on unused farmland. “The model takes into account farmland that is used to grow extra food to make up for the lost meat, but that requires less area, so some will be abandoned. Millions of tonnes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, would also be saved every year due to reduced emissions from farms,” say the authors of the study. 

If the global population shifted to a low-meat diet – defined as 70 grams of beef and 325 grams of chicken and eggs per week – around 15 million square kilometres of farmland would be freed up. Vegetation growing on this land would mop up carbon dioxide. It could alternatively be used to grow bioenergy crops, which would displace fossil fuels.

Dietary Choices Called Global Concern

Interesting reading here! A new article in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, “Health Professionals’ Roles in Animal Agriculture, Climate Change, and Human Health” (subscription required) notes what we eat is rapidly becoming an issue of global concern. “With food shortages, the rise in chronic disease, and global warming, the impact of our dietary choices seems more relevant today than ever,” state the authors. “Globally, a transition is taking place toward greater consumption of foods of animal origin, in lieu of plant-based diets. With this transition comes intensification of animal agriculture that in turn is associated with the emergence of zoonotic infectious diseases, environmental degradation, and the epidemics of chronic disease and obesity.”

The article discusses climate change and environmental degradation, noting animal agriculture accounts for 37%, 65%, and 64% of anthropogenic methane, nitrous oxide, and ammonia emissions, respectively, from ruminant fermentation, livestock waste, fertilizer use and other factors. Read More >