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2014-07-24

Beef’s environmental impact 10 times that of other meat

Beefburger Beef is bad for the environment (Photo: Charles Henry/flickr)

Beef is around 10 times more damaging to the environment than any other form of livestock, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists from the US and Israel analysed how much land, water and nitrogen fertiliser was needed to produce dairy, beef, poultry, pork and eggs, using data from the US Department of Agriculture among other sources. They found that beef production required on average 28 times more land, 11 times more irrigation water, and 6 times more nitrogen per consumed calorie than other animal-derived calories. Cattle are also responsible for releasing five times more greenhouse gases. The environmental impact of dairy, poultry, pork, and eggs were mutually comparable. Even when pasture resources were excluded, beef still required far more land than other meat and dairy products. When compared to the three staple plant foods potatoes, wheat, and rice, the environmental costs of beef per calorie are even worse, requiring 160 times more land, 19 times more nitrogen and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases. One reason is that cattle make far less efficient use of their feed. While it has already been known that beef has a greater environmental impact than other meats, the researchers say that their study is the first to quantify the scale in a comparative way. By highlighting the meat product with the highest environmental resource burden, the authors wish to empower consumers to make dietary changes that mitigate some of these impacts. The results could also show government agencies the directions corrective legislative measures should ideally take, the authors said.

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