Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Why we need to eat less meat

The Chatham House report that just came out [1] says that most people underestimate greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, particularly livestock agriculture. So here is a chart comparing emissions from a serving of beef, pork, chicken or eggs with a litre of diesel, running a freezer or a dishwasher. You may be surprised.
Greenhouse gas emission from meat in comparison with other everyday energy use
Meat emissions from [2], Protein content and fuel emissions from [3]
Freezer is typical class A, Dishwasher is typical 1.7 kWh/run

Beef produced in Latin America and the Caribbean is particularly bad because of the emissions from converting land to grazing. However, beef produced in Western Europe is much better, producing less than half the world average emissions. For other meats there is much less difference between regions and European production is typical [2].

In general, less intensive farming practices produce more emissions than efficient industrial farming systems. In the case of cattle, this is because grass is less digestible than cattle feed, and the extra methane the cattle emit more than offsets the emissions from growing the feed. For chickens, backyard chickens are more active so grow less slowly and produce more manure. More of them die before they are grown, for example killed by foxes.

The FAO have developed a fine grained model of livestock emissions that takes into account land use, herd structure, feed type, manure handling, farm energy use and post farm emissions e.g. for transport. It doesn't take into account the fact that grazing land slowly accumulates carbon - this may offset up to 18% of emissions from cattle and other ruminants.

[1] Livestock: climate changes forgotten sector (Chatham House) Dec 2014
[2] Tackling climate change through livestock (FAO) 2013
[3] Energy and Carbon Emissions: the way we live today (Nicola Terry) 2011

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