This post was the contents of NoBeef.org.uk (now retired)
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
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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