Livestock is responsible for 15% of civilization’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Cattle is responsible for 2/3 of these emissions (10% of all GHGs). There are several reasons this is the case. Cows are ruminants which means that their digestive system is set up so that they emit large amounts of methane (a more potent GHG than CO2). Furthermore, as people around the world demand more meat, forests and other land is often converted to pasture land releasing large amounts of CO2. Manure emits even more GHGs and then fossil fuels are used getting the meat to market.
Beef is also one of the most CO2 intensive foods. 27 pounds of CO2 is emitted for every 1 pound of beef; chicken on the other hand emits 7 pounds CO2 per 1 pound of meat. Next time you eat a 1/2 pound all-beef burger, imagine a 15 pound barbell. That’s only a part of the waste you’ve generated.
One group looked at the impact of different diets in the US. They found that removing only beef from the average person’s diet resulted in 24% fewer food-related GHG emissions. Going vegetarian is a small step better with a 32% reduction.
Americans already eat more than 3 pounds of meat each week. A Harvard study suggests that there are health benefits to eliminating red meat from your diet. There would be further health benefits as fewer antibiotics are used on livestock reducing our susceptibility to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The bottom line is that making small changes to your diet can lead to environmental and health benefits for everyone. I hope you join me in eliminating beef from your diet. If you can commit to not eating other animals either, even more power to you!