Quantcast
Popular
Kyle Spradley / MU College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources / Flickr

Grass-Fed Beef Will Not Help Tackle Climate Change, Report Finds

By Daisy Dunne

Billed as a more environmentally friendly way to rear cattle, grass-fed beef has been the red meat of choice for many a climate-conscious carnivore.

Indeed, research has suggested that grazing cattle can help offset global warming by stimulating soil to take up more carbon from the atmosphere. This process, known as soil carbon sequestration, is one way of reducing the amount of human-induced greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.


However, a report released Tuesday by the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford found that cattle fed on grass release more greenhouse gas emissions than they are able to offset through soil carbon sequestration.

This means that grass-fed beef is "in no way a climate solution," said the lead author of the report.

Carbon from cattle

Livestock contribute to human-induced climate change by producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Cattle release methane through belching and passing wind, as well as in manure. Livestock also contribute to global warming indirectly through deforestation.

Overall, the livestock industry is responsible for around 15 percent of global human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 80 percent of these emissions come directly from ruminant animals, such as cattle.

The majority of the world's cattle are "grain-fed." In most cases, this means that the animals begin life grazing in the field, before being transferred indoors to be fed on grains, such as corn and soy.

However, a growing number of livestock producers are choosing to feed their cattle on a diet purely of grass. These "grass-fed" animals spend the majority of their days grazing outside.

Though both types of cattle contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions, it has previously been suggested that grass-fed cows could have a lower carbon footprint.

This could be because grazing cattle can stimulate plant growth, which in turn leads to higher levels of soil carbon sequestration, said Dr. Tara Garnett, lead author of the new report. She told a press conference this week:

"Animals help with [carbon sequestration] by nibbling away and chomping away, which stimulates the plants to grow. That can cause the plants to put down deep roots."

This process means that more organic carbon could become fixed in the soil, Garnett said.

Chewing the fat

To understand the impact of grazed cattle, researchers from the Food Climate Research Network spent two years analyzing the available scientific research on grass-fed livestock sector emissions, as well as its potential impacts on carbon sequestration.

The researchers reported that grass-fed beef contributes very little to the global protein supply, accounting for just one gram of protein, per person, per day. In comparison, ruminants as a whole contribute 13g of protein to the global average protein intake, per person, per day.

The chart below shows how different animals and crop contribute to the average daily protein intake.

The average global protein intake derived from different animals and plants per person, per day, in grams. Garnett et al. (2017) Data Source: FAO

Despite making only a marginal contribution to global protein intake, grazed beef accounts for between a quarter and a third of all greenhouse emissions from ruminant livestock, said Garnett:

"It's worth comparing [emissions to protein intake] because grazed beef have reasonably significant emissions when compared to the amount of protein that they provide."

The researchers also analyzed the total carbon sequestration potential of the world's grasslands. They reported that, if all of this grassland were grazed on by ruminants, 20 to 60 percent of the annual emissions of grass-feed could be offset by carbon sequestration.

However, this estimate assumes that the environmental conditions are right for soil carbon sequestration to take place, Garnett added:

"It's an optimistic estimate. The climate and the rainfall conditions needs to be right [for soil carbon sequestration to take place]. If you overgraze the grassland, then you will get an annual loss of carbon from the soil."

Climate solution?

Despite the potential impacts of soil carbon sequestration, grass-fed beef is, overall, a net contributor to carbon emissions and, therefore, a driver of human-caused global warming. Garnett said:

"This report concludes that grass-fed livestock are not a climate solution. Grazing livestock are net contributors to the climate problem, as are all livestock. Rising animal production and consumption, whatever the farming system and animal type, is causing damaging greenhouse gas release and contributing to changes in land use."

The research suggests that the best way to tackle livestock emissions is to cut global levels of meat consumption, said Garnett.

"Ultimately, if high-consuming individuals and countries want to do something positive for the climate, maintaining their current consumption levels but simply switching to grass-fed beef is not a solution. Eating less meat, of all types, is."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Rice University marine biologist Adrienne Correa takes samples at a reef in Flower Garden Banks. Jesse Cancelmo / Rice University

Hurricane Harvey Runoff Threatens Coral Reefs

Hurricane Harvey's record rains didn't just unleash a torrent of floodwaters into the Gulf of Mexico—this freshwater could be harming coral reefs which require saltwater to live, according to new research.

After Harvey dumped more than 13 trillion gallons of rain over southeast Texas, researchers detected a 10 percent drop in salinity at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, located 100 miles off the coast of Galveston, Texas.

Keep reading... Show less

Pruitt Wants to Make the EPA Less Accountable to the Public

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) breaks the law by missing deadlines, allowing polluters to violate regulations that protect our health and environment, one way the public holds it accountable is by taking the agency to court. Scott Pruitt and his corporate polluter allies see this as a problem, so Monday, the administrator moved to curtail the agency's practice of settling lawsuits with outside groups, making it easier to skirt the law.

"Pruitt's doing nothing more than posturing about a nonexistent problem and political fiction," John Walke, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate and Clean Air program said in reaction. "His targeting of legal settlements, especially where EPA has no defense to breaking the law, will just allow violations to persist, along with harms to Americans."

Keep reading... Show less
Oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Julie Dermansky

Nearly 400,000 Gallons of Oil Spews Into Gulf of Mexico, Could Be Largest Spill Since Deepwater Horizon

Last week, a pipe owned by offshore oil and gas operator LLOG Exploration Company, LLC spilled up to 393,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, reminding many observers of the Deepwater Horizon explosion seven years ago that spewed approximately 210 million gallons of crude into familiar territory.

Now, a report from Bloomberg suggests that the LLOG spill could be the largest in the U.S. since the 2010 BP blowout, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

Keep reading... Show less
Shutterstock

Big Food Is Worried About Millennials Avoiding Animal Products

By Nathan Runkle

Hundreds of leaders from fast-food chains, marketing agencies and poultry production companies recently gathered in North Carolina for the 2017 Chicken Marketing Summit to play golf and figure out how to make you eat more animals.

One session focused on marketing chicken to millennials. Richard Kottmeyer, a senior managing partner at Fork to Farm Advisory Services, explained to the crowd that millennials are "lost" and need to be "inspired and coached." His reasoning? Because there are now "58 ways to gender identify on Facebook." Also, because most millennial women take nude selfies, the chicken industry needs to be just as "naked" and transparent.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Strange Days: Ex-Hurricane Ophelia Batters Ireland Under Orange Skies

By Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson

Ex-Hurricane Ophelia hit Ireland hard with full hurricane-like fury on Monday, bringing powerful winds that caused widespread damage and power outages. At least two deaths have been reported from trees falling on cars, and The Irish Times said at least 360,000 ESB Networks customers lost power in Ireland because of the storm.

Keep reading... Show less
GMO
PBouman / Shutterstock

EPA Limits Use of Problematic Herbicide Dicamba—But Is That Enough?

By Dan Nosowitz

Dicamba has been in use as a local pesticide for decades, but it's only recently that Monsanto has taken to using it in big, new ways. The past two years have seen the rollout of dicamba-resistant seed for soybean and cotton, as well as a new way to apply it: broad spraying.

But dicamba, it turns out, has a tendency to vaporize and drift with the wind, and it if lands on a farm that hasn't planted Monsanto's dicamba-resistant seed, the pesticide will stunt and kill crops in a very distinctive way, with a telltale cupping and curling of leaves, as seen above. Drift from dicamba has affected millions of acres of crops, prompting multiple states to issue temporary bans on the pesticide. Farmers have been taking sides, either pro-dicamba or anti, and at least one farmer has been killed in a dispute over its use.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Runoff from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Lynn Betts / U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service

Drinking Water for Millions in Rural America Contaminated With Suspected Carcinogen

Drinking water supplies for millions of Americans in farm country are contaminated with a suspected cancer-causing chemical from fertilizer, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group.

The contaminant is nitrate, which gets into drinking water sources when chemical fertilizer or manure runs off poorly protected farm fields. Nitrate contaminates drinking water for more than 15 million people in 49 states, but the highest levels are found in small towns surrounded by row-crop agriculture. Major farm states where the most people are at risk include California, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kansas.

Keep reading... Show less
www.youtube.com

Trump's Approval Rating on Hurricane Response Sinks 20 Points After Puerto Rico

President Trump's approval rating for overseeing the federal government's response to hurricanes fell by 20 points after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, a CNN poll conducted by SSRS revealed.

Trump's approval rating for responding to hurricanes Harvey and Irma stood at 64 percent in mid-September. Just a month later, the rating dropped to 44 percent.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox