Bad, Better, Best: The Climate Impact of Meat

Bad, Better, Best: The Climate Impact of Meat

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The common American eats roughly 220 pounds of meat per 12 months. Food accounts for 10% to 30% of our household carbon footprint, and meat accounts for greater than half of that.

A vegan weight-reduction plan will be the single most effective method for people to attenuate their environmental impression. But giving up meat stays a problem for many individuals. If meat remains to be a part of the package deal for now, there are loads of methods to cut carbon out of your weight-reduction plan. One of the best is selecting your meats rigorously — simply switching from beef to rooster might scale back the local weather impression of your meals by half.

We normally present good, higher, and greatest choices for making private adjustments however within the case of meat, we begin by stating the worst habits that add to your carbon footprint. Here are our strategies to begin a CO2 emissions marketing campaign of your individual by switching to extra carbon-efficient meats and starting to wean your self off animal protein.

(Note: Climate change impacts on this article are measured in carbon dioxide equivalents, or CO2-eq. This metric converts the global warming potential of greenhouse gases like methane, which is very related in relation to meat manufacturing, into an equal quantity of carbon dioxide.)

Different Data

Scientists use life cycle evaluation (LCA) to find out the environmental impression of varied actions. Unfortunately, LCAs of the local weather impacts of meals — even rigorous ones by revered establishments — produce completely different outcomes.

Agricultural practices account for a lot of the variation — the place you get your meat is a crucial think about lowering your footprint. The emissions from a concentrated animal feeding operation, often known as a CAFO (“Kay-foe”), is not going to be the identical as a household farm. Regional practices additionally end in radically completely different CO2 emissions. For instance, a household farm within the U.S. typically makes use of very completely different practices from one in Iceland, the place lamb produces less than half the U.S. common CO2-eq.

Even inside a area, emissions can range dramatically. One research discovered that lamb manufacturing in Patagonia may emit from 10.64 to 41.32 kilograms of CO2 equal per kilogram of meat.

The alternative of measurement methodology additionally introduces extra variations. For instance, the Environmental Working Group’s LCA of meats averages emissions from three American farming programs to position lamb at 39.2 kg CO2-eq. On the opposite hand, the Visual Capitalist estimates the emissions from lamb and mutton at 24 kg CO2-eq primarily based on Poore & Nemecek’s global study of 1000’s of farms. This doesn’t imply that LCAs are ineffective — they symbolize averages that may be utilized to your state of affairs.

Here’s the important thing reality about meat carbon footprints: Beef and lamb might commerce locations, however they prime each record. Rather than specializing in actual scores, savvy shoppers will group meats in classes from dangerous to greatest — and scale back or remove consumption of those meats accordingly.

Bad – Beef

The common American will eat around 58 pounds of beef this 12 months. At between 27 and 60 kg CO2-eq per kilogram greenhouse fuel emissions, greater than 6 kg CO2-eq per serving, beef tops most lists as probably the most carbon-intensive of all meals.

OurWorldinData checked out each short-lived (methane) and long-lived (carbon) fuel emissions and positioned beef merchandise close to the highest of each lists. Sadly for nonvegan vegetarians, emissions from cheese are much like these of beef and lamb, routinely rating above most meats (shopping for local cheese may help). No matter the way you have a look at it, the local weather price of cattle is shockingly excessive.

Graph comparing CO2 equivalent emission per kilogram of various foods
Source: Environmental Working Group

Bad – Mutton and Lamb

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) estimates that producing 1 pound of lamb produces extra emissions than the identical serving of beef. However, Americans don’t eat a lot lamb and mutton.

Per capita lamb consumption within the United States is about 1 pound per 12 months. But at 39.2 kg CO2-eq per kilogram, changing beef with lamb isn’t going to enhance your foodprint.

In brief, keep away from each beef and lamb to attenuate your foodprint. Swap these proteins for the choices beneath to chop your emissions by as much as one-half in your subsequent meal.

Better – Pork

U.S. per capita pork consumption was 52 pounds in 2020. The “different chicken” is a greater possibility than beef.

Unlike cows and sheep, pigs are usually not ruminants, which implies they produce quite a bit much less methane, however because of intensive farming operations, pork has the third-highest environmental impression amongst meats.

Overall emissions from pork manufacturing are within the vary of 7-12 kg CO2-eq per kilogram of meat, lower than a 3rd of the emissions from beef.

Best – Poultry

Poultry has a smaller foodprint than different meats.

Poore & Nemecek’s worldwide research discovered that poultry averages 6.0 kg C02-eq per kilogram of meat. And outdoors the U.S., manufacturing strategies are sometimes much less carbon-intensive. The EWG divides American poultry into rooster (at 6.9 kg CO2-eq) and turkey (at 10.9 kg CO2-eq). Note that turkey is in a tie with pork.

Eggs have much less impression than meat and could also be produced much more sustainably at home.

In an indication that many Americans are lowering their foodprint, beef and pork consumption have dropped whereas poultry consumption is on the rise. Americans ate a median of 97.6 pounds of rooster per particular person in 2020, and simply 15.8 kilos of turkey.

(Provisional) Best – Fish

Fish is a big and extensively assorted class. Farmed prawns and salmon produce comparable emissions to pork, whereas wild-caught fish can have a decrease impression than eggs.

With some consumer research at, fish may be your final, least impactful animal protein supply.

Bottom Line

In basic, pink meat is worse for the local weather than pork, which is worse than poultry.

But the place and the way an animal was grown and the way far the meat traveled to succeed in your plate can all make a giant distinction. When you additionally contemplate the food safety and ethical concerns, the trouble of rigorously researching each little bit of animal protein you eat might outweigh the trouble of an excellent greener alternative — eating less animal protein.

This article was initially printed on August 21, 2020. Some information on this article have been up to date in January 2022.