Meat and Global Warming

 | February 17, 2009 2:24 PM

packaged grass fed beefRecently I wrote about grass fed beef.  I ended up buying a split-quarter from Chileno Beef which is shown on the left all frozen and packaged.  The cost ended up being higher than I expected because the harvesting fee was higher and the amount of beef I ended up with was less.  The average cost per pound turned out to be $5.36 and that cost does not include driving three and a half hours in total to get the beef.  Below is the receipt from the butcher, Ibleto Meats, aka the Pasta King, whom we also bought some pesto from but were not too impressed.
grass fed beef receipt

The beef is good and it is nice to have a variety in the freezer.  But since the purchase I have read about how beef contributes to global warming, much more than pork and chicken.  And today I read that grass-fed beef is 50% worse in terms of amount of greenhouse gas emissions!

Tally the GHG emissions associated with all of those activities, Sonesson says, and you’ll find it’s the global-warming equivalent to spewing 19 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every kg of beef served. Swine are more environmentally friendly. It only takes about 4.25 kg of CO2 to produce and fry each kg of pork. At the other end of the spectrum are veggies. The climate costs associated with growing, marketing, peeling and boiling up a kg of potatoes, by contrast, is just 280 grams, Sonesson reported.

Many environmentalists have argued that finishing up the fattening of beef cattle on corn is worse for the environment than cattle that are raised solely on pasture grass. Pelletier says his team’s analysis finds that at least from a climate perspective, the opposite is true. “We do see significant differences in the GHG intensities [of grass vs grain finishing]. It’s roughly on the order of 50 percent higher in grass-finished systems.”

Currently, although beef accounts for only about 30 percent of the world’s meat consumption, it contributes 78 percent of meat’s GHG emissions. Pork, at 38 percent of consumption, contributes only 14 percent of meat’s GHGs. Another 32 percent of the meat consumed worldwide comes from chicken, but getting these birds from farm to fork contributes only 8 percent of meat’s global carbon footprint.


Now what do we do?  Beef emits too many greenhouse gases so I could switch to grass fed pork or chicken but those are harder to find.  Fish isn’t an easy choice either as the follow up article shows.

The difference in the warming potential largely traces to what the finned populations have been fed, Tyedmers explains. Scottish farmers feed their salmon the highest proportion of fish meal — almost 70 percent, on average. Those fishy diets account for 85 percent of the greenhouse-gas emissions associated producing Scottish salmon, his team calculated. Elsewhere, fish farming operations tend to substitute plant-based meals and oil or meat byproducts for a share of that fish meal.

Not surprisingly, the higher the proportion of plant sources in a farmed fish’s diet, the lower the climate impacts associated with its rearing.

Data from another assessment, this one in wild fish, showed that fuel use associated with harvesting gear could greatly impact GHG emissions associated with salmon.  Purse seining contributed 180 kilograms of CO2 equivalent to the carbon footprint associated with a ton of salmon, gillnetting about 380 kg, and trolling a whopping 1,700 kg. So, do you know how your fish was caught?


2 Responses to “Meat and Global Warming”

essny wrote a comment on February 19, 2009

I look for wild salmon, not farmed. it’s definitely much more expensive but the whole farming thing with the fish meal grosses me out. and then there’s the disease issue, and on and on.

I have heard that tilapia which is farmed isn’t so bad for the environment.

eyeman wrote a comment on February 20, 2009

Frank LOVES tilapia!

Care to comment?