Best Food Facts keeps tabs on issues in the world of food and agriculture, and earlier this summer, Dr. Judith Capper of the Animal Sciences Department at Washington State University, let us know about a report from the Environmental Working Group, stating that reducing consumption of meat will help the environment. Is this true? Here's what Dr. Capper has to say.
Does cutting back on meat really benefit the environment?
- Dr. Capper: It's important to realize that all human activities have an environmental impact. Although some groups promoting a vegetarian or vegan agenda may suggest that reducing meat consumption would have a significant effect upon the environment, if the entire U.S. population adopted the "Meatless Mondays" concept and eschewed red meat and dairy for one day per week that would reduce the total U.S. carbon footprint by only 0.44%. This is a negligible effect.
How are products that are certified organic, humane, and/or grass-fed least environmentally damaging?
- Dr. Capper: There is no link between certified "humane" products and environmental impact. Such products are only certified on the basis of animal handling and welfare standards set out by the certifying organization, which bear no relationship to environmental impact. It is philosophically tempting yet scientifically and biologically incorrect to suggest that organic or grass-fed systems have a beneficial carbon footprint compared to conventional production. Organic and grass-fed systems have considerably lower growth rates and slaughter weights than conventional systems and as such require a greater amount of resources (land, water, energy) and emit more greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide) leading to a considerably increased carbon footprint per pound of meat.
If we were to analyze the entire system, the calculation would have to include all environmental costs of growing crops, grain transport, and animal transport. In terms of beef production, conventional beef would have a smaller environmental impact than grass-fed beef relative to land, water, energy and carbon. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, livestock production accounts for 3.12% of total emissions.
Read more on Dr. Capper’s blog - http://bovidiva.com/.
For more on grass-fed beef as compared to conventionally-fed beef, see our earlier post here.