Producing red meat affects the environment 10 times more compared to other livestock types, as it requires more land and irrigation water, while resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research.
Shortly after British entrepreneur Richard Branson revealed he stopped eating beef for environmental reasons, a new study suggests that giving up red meat would be more efficient in terms of helping the environment than stop using cars.
Researchers compared different types of animal proteins – such as poultry, pork and eggs – and found that while the environmental costs of these were similar, in terms of nitrogen, greenhouse gases, water and land use, the values were significantly higher for beef.
Beef cattle in fact needs 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water compared to other livestock and results in five times more greenhouse gas emissions and six times more nitrogen emissions.
When compared to plant-based food, beef requires 160 times more land and produces 11 times more greenhouse gases. Despite the study being based on US data, UK experts have said the findings can be applied to Europe as well.
Lead author Professor Gidon Eshel, from Bard College in New York, said, “The big story is just how dramatically impactful beef is compared to all the others.
“I would strongly hope that governments stay out of people’s diet, but at the same time there are many government policies that favour of the current diet in which animals feature too prominently. Remove the artificial support given to the livestock industry and rising prices will do the rest. In that way you are having less government intervention in people’s diet and not more.”
The study is the latest of a series suggesting that the consumption of animal products must be cut dramatically to avoid worsening climate change and draining the earth’s resources. Recent research found that high meat diets have more than double the amount of the greenhouse gas emissions than the average vegan diet, with previous separate research arguing that a tax on meat is needed to tackle climate change.
Photo: Bobby McKay via Flickr