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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Washington (AFP) – Beef is by far the most costly protein when it comes to the environmental damage wreaked by feeding and raising cattle, according to a study out Monday.

Beef requires 28 times more land than the average total needed to produce either dairy, eggs, poultry or pork, said the research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Raising beef also requires 11 times more irrigation water than other proteins, according to researchers at Bard College in New York, Yale University in Connecticut and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

Beef spews far more pollution into the environment, producing five times as many greenhouse gas emissions and six times the reactive nitrogen from fertilizer compared to the other proteins, the study found.

“Beef is consistently the least resource-efficient of the five animal categories,” said the study, which said on average beef was about 10 times as costly as other proteins.

Beef also makes up about seven percent of all consumed calories in the U.S. diet, it said.

To “most effectively” cut back on these environmental costs, the authors recommended “minimizing beef consumption.”

Raising livestock for food is a practice that contributes to one fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and also pollutes water and interferes with biodiversity, according to the study authors.

The study was based on a decade’s worth of data on land, irrigation water, and fertilizer from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Energy.

Researchers used the 2000-2010 data to calculate the amount of resources needed to produce animal feed for each edible livestock.

About every ten calories fed to poultry or pork accounted for one calorie consumed by humans. This ratio was nearly four times higher for beef.

Poultry, pork, eggs and dairy all added up to similar costs across the board, while beef was consistently the outlier.

They did not include fish in their study due to lack of data on feed use and the relatively small portion of calories (0.5 percent) it makes up in the average American diet.

Representatives of the U.S. beef industry questioned the methodology of the study, and said environmental improvements have been made in recent years.

“The PNAS study represents a gross over-simplification of the complex systems that make up the beef value chain,” said Kim Stackhouse, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association director of sustainability research.

“The fact is the U.S. beef industry produces beef with lower greenhouse gas emissions than any other country.”

According to Amy Dickie, who led a study in April on agricultural strategies for cutting back on global warming, the findings are in line with recent research that has shown the high greehhouse gases involved in beef production.

“I am glad to see that the authors also considered water, nutrient, and land use which are all important resources and are intensively used by beef and dairy cattle,” said Dickie, who works for the consulting firm California Environmental Associates.

“This information needs to get into the public domain so that people understand the consequences of their diet choices.”

AFP Photo/Justin Sullivan

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  • Jambi

    Beef consumption will be one of those dietary oddities that future generations will question….”I wonder why they used all that arable acreage to feed cows, instead of growing food?”

    • ralphkr

      Actually, Jambi, I think that future generations will question, “I wonder why they used all that arable acreage to feed cows and growing food instead of building houses?” I base this on my observations on the west coast of the US. From the Mexican to the Canadian border the universal complaint seems to be citizens complaining about the shortage of water and builders complaining about how extremely difficult it is to get permits to build. The most interesting thing is that the areas most short of water are also the areas where I drive for mile after mile observing new housing being built (while the developers complain about severe restrictions on their building). It all boils down to the greed of county and city commissioners for additional property taxes and their expectation that the feds shall miraculously come up with more water.Southern California hopes for a water pipeline from Alaska plus federal backing for private tugs to bring icebergs to their shores.

      • Allan Richardson

        If future generations quit growing food, there will be no more future generations. How about building houses underground and growing food on their “roofs?” Save on heating and A/C energy bills also. For that matter, in places like NYC which are ALREADY covered with high rises, grow food on THOSE roofs! More solar energy would be reflected by grass or food crops than by gravel and tar, reducing A/C costs there also.

        • ralphkr

          But, Allan, you are forgetting that food just magically appears in super markets and farms are just a waste of valuable housing space.

  • Allan Richardson

    One factor in the efficiency of pork and poultry is the highly crowded and unsanitary condition in which the animals are raised. If pigs and chickens were raised outdoors with the same proportional amount of land as cattle (with the exception of veal calves) occupy, how much more ecologically efficient would they be then? And most ecological activists of whom I am aware condemn factory farming of pork and poultry, even though it seems to be more ecologically efficient.

    Perhaps someday we will “factory farm” muscle cell cultures descended from the stem cells of today’s cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry and let them form strands of muscle fibers on biodegradable scaffolding, thus eliminating the land requirement for free range, the need for growth hormones and antibiotics, and the methane emissions, to grow, in essence, the best “cuts” of meat without growing an animal around it to slaughter.