Eat Less Meat and Know Your Rancher

iStock_000043206676Small.jpgAfter over a year of salmonella cases linked to Foster Farms, a large poultry producer in the U.S. west, the company has recalled over 1 million pounds of one of its latest contaminated lot. Americans who trust factory-farmed meat can all breath a collective sigh of relief. Or can they? A new study suggests that these breaths would contain up to 50% more carbon than if they chose the vegetarian alternative.

Research from Oxford University, published this month in the journal Climate Change, shows that a vegan diet has a daily C02 equivalent carbon footprint of 6.4, while a meat eater diet comes in roughly two-and-a-half times higher at 15.2. The study looked at the diets of over 45,000 people; vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians and meat eaters in the U.K. and used standardized food commodity greenhouse gas emission measures to calculate the results. For meat lovers who are also planet lovers out there, there is still hope. A takeaway of the study was that making small dietary changes can still have a big impact. Brad Plumer of Vox explains:  

The difference between a heavy meat eater and a light meat eater was actually bigger than the difference between a light meat eater and a vegetarian. That underscores the idea that eating less meat can have a significant impact — even if a person doesn't give it up altogether.”

Corroborating this study, Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Scott Faber appeared on the Diane Rehm show recently to delve more deeply into the issue. EWG’s Emily Cassidy explains that not all factory-farmed animals are created equal when it comes to GHGs:

... cattle, sheep and goats, which are ruminants with four stomachs, emit far more methane than single-stomach animals like chickens and pigs. Overall, beef and lamb production generates 37 percent of global emissions of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”

So, it seems pretty clear that if you want to cut down on your carbon footprint, eating chicken or fish (or eating no meat at all) is the way to go. However, if you just can’t give up that ruminant steak or chop, then there there still may be hope for your GHG output. Research from UC Berkeley, led by Dr. Whendee Silver and initiated by the Marin Carbon Project, shows that ranchers who spread composted manure on their grasslands were able to sequester a encouraging amount of carbon in the soil as well as provide other economic and environmental benefits. Grist’s Sasha Harris-Lovett explains:

The areas where compost had been applied sequestered about 900 pounds of extra carbon per acre of land each year over comparable plots where none had been put. If this practice were scaled-up, Silver calculates that spreading half an inch of compost on half the grasslands in California would remove enough carbon from the atmosphere to balance out the greenhouse gas emissions from all the electricity use in California homes and businesses each year.”

So, while beef and other ruminants are clearly big climate change contributors, there are some management practices that may really help mitigate these effects. The bottom line:  if you are concerned about how big of a carbon footprint your diet is producing, eat less meat and only choose ranchers who are practicing conservation and carbon sequestering techniques.

Sources:

Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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