A scientific article published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US claims that raising beef cattle is much worse for the environment and global climate than production of other livestock such as poultry, pork or dairy.  Their study was based on a detailed accounting of greenhouse gas emissions and production costs which included the amount of land needed, water for irrigation, efficiency in the digestion of grass and grain, and energy and fertilizer costs.  The beef industry, however, pointed out that the study relies on gross over-simplifications of how cattle are fed and managed and noted that beef production in the US results in lower greenhouse gas emissions than in other countries.  You can read a story on the controversy here or the original article at PNAS.

While animal production does contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in emission of methane and nitrous oxides, there are many other sources of greenhouse gas emissions, including energy production and transportation such as cars and trucks.  Other studies have shown that consumers’ direct energy use for power, heating and cooling provides about 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, while indirect energy use from things consumers buy accounts for 60 percent of emissions.  Food and beverages amount for about 8 percent of the total.  So while eating beef does contribute to the overall greenhouse gas increase, other factors also need to be considering when determining the overall mix of ways to cut CO2 growth.