That’s the conclusion of a new report from the US that compared the impact of producing beef, pork, poultry, dairy and eggs, using data about feed manufacture as well as animal emissions.
Animal farming in general uses 2-6 times more land and greenhouse gases than crops such as wheat, rice and potatoes, the study found, but beef requires 160 times more land and produces 11 times more greenhouse gases.
Commenting on the report, Professor Tim Benton of the University of Leeds said: “The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat.”
MFM supporter Sir Richard Branson recently announced that he had given up beef entirely, citing a 2010 study that calculated it takes almost 1,800 gallons of water to produce 1lb of beef.
The beef report – Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States – found that compared to the average of the other categories of meat, beef livestock:
– Generates 5 times more harmful emissions
– Consumes 6 times more nitrogen
– Uses 11 times more water
– Requires 28 times more land
The substantial difference between meats is down to the fact that, as ruminants, livestock are less efficient at turning their food into energy compared to other animals.
One way to reduce the “dramatically impactful” carbon cost of beef in the US would be cut government subsidies and trust to market forces, said lead researcher Professor Gidon Eshel of Bard College, New York State.
“There are many government policies that favour the current diet in which animals feature too prominently. Remove the artificial support given to the livestock industry and rising prices will do the rest.”
The report was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.