Many meat eaters use the organic label as a salve for the conscience when buying meat. Adding beef or chicken to the online shopping trolley, they rationalise: “I know meat is bad for the environment, but at least what I do eat is organically farmed.”
To those committed carnivores who believe this is the least planet-damaging way to continue eating animals, apologies – a new study has blown that vain hope out of the water.
Taking into account domestic livestock and imported feed, researchers in Germany have shown that beef and lamb has the same harmful impact on the environment whether it is organically or conventionally farmed. And while raising organic pork produces slighter less greenhouse gas emissions than the alternative, organic chicken is actually worse for the climate than non-organic.
The researchers had set out to calculate how much the cost of different meat would have to rise to offset the environmental damage caused by the emissions of raising and transporting livestock and feed such as soy, which has been linked to deforestation in the Amazon and beyond. Domestic animals are often grass-fed, but that means they grow more slowly and pump out greenhouse gases for longer. A 2017 Oxford study mowed down the theory that grass was always greener than grain.
Meat taxes are urgently needed, the researchers said, so that those who continue to eat meat pay their fair share towards the ecological destruction associated with the livestock and dairy industries. Current pricing is not representative, said one of the researchers, Amelie Michalke: “The prices are lying. Climate costs are rising and we are all paying these costs – they are not adequately put on to the [most polluting] products.” One investor network has said it is “inevitable” that meat prices will rise.
The cost of animal products should rise by 40 per cent, the study concluded, with the money raised going towards encouraging farmers to become greener as well as helping poorer families adapt to the price rises. Organic meat should be 25 per cent more expensive, they added, because shoppers already pay a premium, while organic milk should rise by 20 per cent and conventional milk by about a third.
The researchers had expected organic products to score better on the climate front. But while there was less pollution from fertilisers and pesticides, lead researcher Maximilian Pieper of the Technical University of Munich said in terms of greenhouse gas emissions: “It actually doesn’t make much difference.”