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Murder on the Environment

18th August, 2009

New Scientist: 18 July 2007

A kilogram of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for 3 hours while leaving all the lights on back home.

This is among the conclusions of a study by Akifumi Ogino of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, and colleagues, which has assessed the effects of beef production on global warming, water acidification and eutrophication, and energy consumption.

Steak’s big carbon footprint

18th August, 2009

Adelaide Now: November 18, 2007 01:15am

EATING one less steak a week is better for the environment than leaving the car in the garage, a new report reveals.
The Meat’s Carbon Hoofprint report, compiled by Adelaide experts, compared the greenhouse gas emissions of cattle and vehicles, and found beef was almost four times as damaging to the atmosphere.

The report’s authors, Adelaide University climate change chair Professor Barry Brook and Animal Liberation committee member Geoff Russell, used the example of a family of four eating 4kg of beef a week and driving a two-tonne Ford Territory 200km each week.

Beef’s footprint 14 times its own weight

26th August, 2009

A study was funded by the UK Government´s Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on the carbon footprint of beef, tomatoes & etc. The author, Adrian Williams of Cranfield University, developed a computer model to calculate the carbon footprint of beef and some other agricultural products.  This finds 1 kg Beef  (deadweight) has a carbon footprint equal to 14 kg CO2e

On the DEFRA website it is now difficult to access to this work but details can be found in the resources section of the Green Ration Book.

Beef’s footprint 25 times its own weight.

28th August, 2009

Methane has a much shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide so to compare the effect of an extra tonne of methane released into the atmosphere with an extra tonne of carbon dioxide, it is usual to choose a fixed number of years over which the comparison is made. See Wikipedias entry on Global Warming Potential (GWP).

The usual number for the GWP of methane is measured over 100 years (GWP100). This sets methane at 25 times carbon dioxide. But some say that, because climate change is urgent, we need ways of reducing the heating caused by greenhouse gasses in timescales much shorter than 100 years. There is a the recent New Scientist Article Methane controls before risky geoengineering, please.  It makes the case for taking control of methane emissions much more seriously and says

Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. A tonne  of methane is responsible for nearly 100 times more warming over  the first five years of its lifetime in the atmosphere than a tonne   of CO2 …

Wikipedia gives the Global Warming Potential of methane measured ofer 20 years as 72 times that of caron dioxide.  In his model Adrian Williams calulates the carbon footprint of Beef and Lamb using GWP20 (methane compared to CO2 over 20 years) as well as the conventional GWP100.  Using this  finds 1 kg Beef  has a carbon footprint equal to 25 kg CO2e.

1oz beef = 1 day’s food ration.

6th September, 2009

The Red Meat Industry Forum describes processing beef carcasses in a doument BeefCarcassRMIF.pdf. This says:

 The parts of cattle, pigs and sheep not required for  human consumption are collected by licenced  renderers, usually on the same day.

Renders process most animal by-products  from the meat production chain that do not end up on the consumer’s plate. In the western word, this represents about a third of the weight of animals slaughtered.

It is a complex issue to allocate carbon footprints to items that are the co-products of  a beef carcass – dividing the overall footprint into the separate footprints of sirloin, rump, brisket or bone. But if the waste from a carcass is discounted, the remaining beef has a carbon footprint 37  times its own weight, under the assumptions of the previous post.

The Green Ration Book says:

The average UK citizen creates 11 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide ( CO2e) a year. New UK targets aim to cut this by 80%. Dividing the ration equally between categories “consumables”, “building”, “transport” and “government”, allows 1.5kg per day for each category.

Food will be probably be a large proportion of a consumables ration,  say 1kg CO2e, or 2.2 pounds. If beef steak has a carbon footprint 37 times its own weight, a whole days food-carbon ration would be less than 28gm of beef steak.

That’s a whole day’s food-carbon ration spent on an ounce of beef.

Meat worse than transport

13th September, 2009

The Global Warming Survival Guide from Time.Com says

Which is responsible for more global warming: your BMW or your Big Mac? Believe it or not, it’s the burger. The international meat industry generates roughly 18% of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions—even more than transportation—according to a report last year from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Beef shock from Sweden

23rd September, 2009

A report from the Swedish Institute for Food and Technology, Greenhouse gas emissions from Swedish consumption of meat, milk and eggs 1990 and 2005, has more shocking facts about beef and climate change. It says

Per capita GHG emissions caused by the consumption of all meat, milk and egg products increased by more than 16% and reached ~1,100 kg CO2e per capita in 2005. This corresponds to an average increase of  approximately 1 % GHG emissions per year between 1990 and 2005. This growth occured despite the fact that the production of animal food in Sweden has became more efficient, delivering meat, milk and eggs with lower GHG emissions per produced unit in 2005 compared to 1990.

To stabilise the atmospheric GHG levels at 400 ppm CO2e, a yearly global average emission of 2 ton CO2e per capita in 2050 is suggested; hence, current per capita emission from animal food only, consumed in Sweden, is more than half of the required emission target from all consumption in 2050.

Beef was responsible for approximately 75% of total GHG emissions from meat consumption. But it’s more shocking because the report underestimates beef’s climate impact by using the 100 year estimate of the power of methane (25 times CO2) rather than the 20 year estimate (72 times CO2). (Wikipedia explains)

How long is livestock’s shadow?

28th October, 2009

The Times interviewed Lord Stern recently (Barack Obama must attend Copenhagen climate summit, says Lord Stern). He was a bit controversial saying we should give up meat to save the planet from climate change. In the supporting diagrams the Times gave livestock’s footprint was 9% of total greenhouse gasses.

Stern may have been influenced by a recent report by ex-colleagues at the World Bank. They have produced a report, Livestock and Climate Change, arguing that livestock is a much bigger impact on the climate than previously assumed. Previously the United Nation’s Food  and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) had highlighted livestock’s impact on the environment in Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. This estimates that livestock causes 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions.  But the World Bank people say:

Livestock are already well-known to contribute to GHG emissions. Livestock’s Long Shadow, the widely-cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimates that 7,516 million metric tons per year of CO2 equivalents (CO2e), or 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions, are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs, and poultry. That amount would easily qualify livestock for a hard look indeed in the search for ways to address climate change.

But they continue:

But our analysis shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.

So the Times says 9%, the UN FAO says 18% and the World Bank people say 51%.

Watch this space.

Game over? … Not yet.

1st November, 2009

Today,  The Independent on Sunday has a piece, Study claims meat creates half of all greenhouse gases, which reports the recent paper by World Bank environmental advisors:

Climate change emissions from meat production are far higher than currently estimated, according to a controversial new study that will fuel the debate on whether people should eat fewer animal products to help the environment.

In a paper published by a respected US think tank, the Worldwatch Institute, two World Bank environmental advisers claim that instead of 18 per cent of global emissions being caused by meat, the true figure is 51 per cent.

NoBeef reported this a few days ago and is following up the story to find out whether there are any problems with the paper.  But even if the authors are on the right track, the impact of the story may be limited. The Independent’s report is on page 4 and no other mainline UK news oranisations seem to have picked it up.  Not even the BBC.

Livestock and Climate Change is  available here.

Beef greenwash from the Times?

13th February, 2010

The Times Online has a piece dated, February 12,  with the headline Tofu can harm environment more than meat, finds WWF study:

Becoming a vegetarian can do more harm to the environment than continuing to eat red meat, according to a study of the impacts of meat substitutes such as tofu.

The findings undermine claims by vegetarians that giving up meat automatically results in lower emissions and that less land is needed to produce food.

The study by Cranfield University, commissioned by the environmental group WWF, found that many meat substitutes were produced from soy, chickpeas and lentils that were grown overseas and imported into Britain.

This study, “How low can you go?“, was conducted for the WWF- UK and the Food Climate Research Network. The press release from the Food Climate Research Network actually says:

The report concludes that no one solution can reduce emissions by 70%. Both technological improvements and changes in our eating habits – a reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy products – will be needed. FCRN and WWF-UK are urging Government and industry decision makers to recognise that a focus on technology is not enough – food consumption patterns need to change too.

“cleverly written but very misleading”

14th February, 2010

NoBeef has received this from Dr Donal Murphy-Bokern one of the authors of How Low Can We Go

Dedicated meat-eaters who might have got the impression from The Times on 12 February that recent research is an environmental green light for meat eating will be disappointed. Anyone who studies the research report will see that the Times article was cleverly written but very misleading.

The research showed that the carbon footprint of UK food accounts directly for one fifth of the total footprint. This rises to nearly a third if account is taken of indirect connections to deforestation. It is dominated by emissions from the livestock sector. Livestock products directly account for nearly two-thirds of food greenhouse gas emissions while providing less than a third of food energy. Contrary to the impression in The Times, the research results and the authors’ conclusions clearly show that reducing livestock consumption offers the single most effective way of reducing the carbon footprint of our food consumption. Removing meat from the diet and replacing it with plant foods with similar protein contents reduces the carbon footprint of diet by one fifth. Removing all animal products remove nearly a third. For consumers, the desired direction of travel for helping the environment is clear – eat less meat and dairy products. Combining this with other measures, including using science and technology to improve farming, adds to the benefits.

The Times article ignored the report’s main results and conclusions and focused on a minor part of the study that looked at some potential but  unlikely consequences of reducing meat consumption for land use. A low impact diet is a balanced diet – lower in livestock products than the average UK diet today, with more of a wide range of plant based foods – cereals, fruit and vegetables.

The report is available at, and

Dr Murphy-Bokern has also told NoBeef that the Global Warming Potential used for How Low Can We Go was the GWP100 value, i.e. 25. Some argue that a much higher figure should be used for the GWP of methane, even as high as 105 – see Soot makes methane even worse.  This would make the impact of livestock on climate significantly larger.

India offers no-beef climate solution

17th February, 2010

Several vegetarian websites quote this:

If you look at the beef cycle today, you first clear forests, which increases emissions, then you feed cattle all kinds of food grain, which is energy intensive, and then you kill and refrigerate these animals, and then they are transported long distances. Then you buy it and refrigerate it. If you count all the emissions associated with this entire cycle, it is huge.

Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Dr Pachauri’s message is strong and he does not even mention, the methane emmitted by cattle – or the more contentious CO2 from breathing highlighted in Livestock and Climate Change from the Worlwatch Institute.  Livestock and Climate Change finds that livestock and their byproducts account  51 percent of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

The quote can be found on the website of the Christian Vegetarian Association. It’s good to see Christians joining Hindus in this campaign. But will they buy into the “Christians that fly are Christians that kill” message from the NoMilesHighClub? They say the tee-shirts will soon be available.

Beef and climate targets

24th October, 2010

A new paper discusses the effect of food on climate: Food and Climate change:
A review of the effects of climate change on food within the remit of the Food Standards Agency
by Lake et. al. It says

Modelling of the climate effects of a transition to eating less meat suggests that it may have a very important role to play in our overall climate mitigation strategies. A scenario where ruminant meat (including beef, buffalo, sheep and goat) is no longer produced or eaten would reduce the total European mitigation costs to achieve a 450 ppm CO2 eq stabilisation target by 2050 to 30% of the cost of mitigation required if we continue our current meat-eating status (Stehfest et al., 2009).

Most of the climate effect of ruminant meat comes from their emissions of methane. Later the paper says “methane which is 23 times more potent a GHG than CO2″.  This measure of methane may not have considered the work of Schindell et. al uprating the power of methane. It also uses a measure of methane appropriate to a time frame of 100 years. It is only 40 years until 2050. The shorter the time frame the higher the power of methane. See for example Soot makes methane even worse

The paper by Shindell et al., “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions“, (Science 30 October 2009) argues that methane is more potent than previously realised. This is due to the interaction with black carbon. The paper gives a revised Global Warming Potential for methane measured over 100 years as 33. This is an increase of over 30% compared to the value of 21 given in the IPCC Second Assessment Report used for the Kyoto Protocol.

Some commentators feel the impact of methane is better assessed by a GWP measured over 20 years. (See Livestock and Climate Change,  Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang) Shindell et al. calculate this GWP to be 105. If this measure were used the climate impact of methane would be 5 times the value agreed at Kyoto.

Nobeef will try to contact the authors to find out if there should be any adjustment to their paper.

DEFRA nervous of it’s own research?

3rd January, 2011

The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) commissioned some good work on the carbon footprints of beef, lamb and other animal products from Dr Adrian Williams at Cranfield University. This work is hard to find on the DEFRA website unless the key code “IS0205” is first obtained from Dr William’s site.

Dr William’s research fonds that 1 kg Beef (dead-weight) has a carbon footprint equal to14 kg CO2e (or 25 kg CO2e if greenhouse gasses are measured over 20 years). Some details can be found in the resources section of the Green Ration Book. The Green Ration Book compares carbon footprints with governemnt targets and estimates a 12oz beef steak to be 5 days of your ration for consumables!

Using the “IS0205” code it is also possible to find a later publication “The Environmental Impact of Livestock Production, a review of research and literature”. This waters down the impact of Dr William’s findings. The Executive summary starts.

“The main domestic livestock sectors produce a wide range of products (food, leather, wool &etc) and public services, such as employment, landscape and cultural heritage. However, livestock production impacts on the environment in a variety of ways, both positive and negative, but there are some systems where there is greater potential for the environment to be compromised in order to achieve efficient production. The key is to minimise negative impacts in the most cost-effective way.”

DEFRA’s downgrading of climate change with employment, landscape and cultural heritage is enhanced by their choice of conversion factor for the methane generated by livestock. DEFRA chooses 21 times CO2, others argue for 105 times CO2, meaning that beef and sheep meat are much worse for the environment than DEFRA argues.

There are easier ways, which are more climate friendly, to create employment– see Hansen’s Carbon Fee on

Stop press 4th July 2011:

Deforestation Means Larger Carbon Footprint For Brazilian Beef says

Cederberg argues that Brazil’s carbon footprint for beef should take deforestation into account. By most estimates, beef exported from Brazil carries a footprint of 28 kg of CO2 per kilogram of beef, which accounts for greenhouse emissions from cow digestion and manure, and from the fuel used to raise the animals. Cederberg calls those estimates “misleading” because adding in deforestation’s effects makes the the country’s beef footprint shoot up to 72 kg, more than double the world average for beef.

“I would expect that a good fraction of the companies that buy Brazilian beef in the European Union would buy less after seeing the higher footprints,” says co-author Roland Clift, an emeritus professor of environmental technology at the University of Surrey, in the U.K.

This study is the first to quantify how much deforestation adds to Brazilian beef’s carbon footprint, says Tara Garnett, who runs the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Surrey, and who was not involved with the study. “Since global demand for meat is rising rapidly, it’s a big concern.”

Tara may be concerned but is Defra?

Beef and land

21st May, 2011

“If each of us would simply reduce our beef consumption to about half … Our food problem may be manageable with minimum pain”…

Why is the beef footprint so large? Using DOC figures on numbers of beef cattle and acres of pasture in some of the biggest beef-producing counties in Nebraska, Texas and Colorado, the average beef cow requires about 10 acres of pastureland. Before most of these cows go to the slaughterhouse, they spend 120 to 150 days being fattened in a feedlot where the average cow consumes about 2600 pounds of grain. This grain on average represents 0.4 acre of arable land. Thus each beef cow has a footprint of about 10.4 acres. At slaughter, the average cow weighs an estimated 1,200 pounds. Only half of that shows up as meat in the supermarket. Each pound of meat that we buy therefore represents 1/600 of the beef cow’s footprint, or about 0.017 acres. That doesn’t seem like much, but the average U. S. citizen consumed 63 pounds of beef in 1994 (DOA), so that our per-capita beef footprint was about 1.07 acres. Much of that acreage is arable land that could be used to raise foods with smaller footprints. If each of us would simply reduce our beef consumption to about half of our present consumption on a yearly basis (about 30 pounds – slightly more than 1/2 pound per week), and substitute chicken or pork, for example, which are the meats with the next largest footprints (both about 0.0009 acres/pound), we would go a long way toward permitting a world population of 10 billion to have a potentially sustainable diet comparable to ours. Our food problem may be manageable with minimum pain

Evaluating Ecological Footprints, Electronic Green Journal

The above gives the yield of beef as 66 kgs per hectare.

Another source gives yield of soya beans (in North America) as 2170 kgs per hectare.

So it’s … 30 times more soya than beef per hectare.

1 Comment

See Food: Scientists vs amateurs.

[…] is that the rich (i.e. us) turn lots of food growing capacity into not much food at all. Foods like beef and lamb require many more times the land area (and other resources) than fruit, vegetables and […]

Information. Every little helps?

18th December, 2011

From the Wall Street Journal:

Ms. Symonds adds that Tesco carefully picked for its initial labels products whose carbon footprints likely wouldn’t shock consumers. The retailer purposely avoided labeling the carbon footprint of beef, for instance, because beef’s carbon footprint is significantly higher than that of many other foods.

If Tesco had presented consumers “with a message that was so counterintuitive and difficult,” Ms. Symonds says, “we might have found it difficult to take carbon labeling forward.”


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