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Published on July 22nd, 2014 | by Jill Ettinger

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Where’s the Beef? Causing Global Warming, Study Finds

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Beef is contributing more to global warming than poultry, pork, eggs or dairy, finds a study published in the current issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Beef produces five times more heat-trapping gases per calorie than other animal proteins.

And, according to the study, beef produces six times as much water-polluting nitrogen, requires 11 times the water and uses 28 times the amount of land.

Cows just aren’t the most efficient when it comes to converting feed into protein, lead author Gidon Eshel, an environmental physics professor at Bard College in New York told USA Today.

While blame is often put on cow flatulence, the issue is more accurately cow burps. The animals burp up methane in large doses—much more significantly than other farm animals. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. It’s significantly more damaging than carbon dioxide.

Another issue that puts cows at the forefront of the global warming issues is their massive size. Cows are large animals by nature and that means it takes more time, food and water to help them reach market size. This makes them a less efficient protein compared with smaller animals and plants.

As expected, the response from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, called the study “a gross oversimplification of the complex systems that make up the beef value chain.” A spokesperson for the group told USA Today that the beef industry has made improvements to its sustainability efforts and that the U.S. “produces beef with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any country.”

But according to the study, that just isn’t the case.

The study is the most comprehensive to date to look at the global warming impact from meat, eggs and dairy. “In the study, pork, poultry, dairy and eggs all had comparable environmental footprints, so close there were no statistically significant differences among them,” reports USA Today. “But cows were off-the-chart different,” Eshel noted.

Image: Lima Pix

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About the Author

Jill Ettinger is co-director of Eat Drink Better. She is the senior editor at EcoSalon.com and OrganicAuthority.com. A focus on food, herbs, wellness and world cultural expressions, Jill explores what our shifting food, healing systems and creative landscapes will look, sound and taste like in the future. Stay in touch on Twitter @jillettinger and .



  • Ay.

    I wonder how beneficial stopping or reducing the waste of food could be for global warming. I think that perhaps there may be a way to eat beef and still not pollute enormously.

    It seems to me that way to enjoy food without necessarily having weight gain remorse could be to have some kind of plan or habits that may take care of the extra calories.

    With that being said, the ability to lose weight without having to always say no to delicious food seems to be beneficial. I shared some of my thoughts on this page where I also linked to a video about a collection of recipes that may help you see what I mean: http://9nl.us/mrbj

    I think that lawful food is here to be eaten. Thus, I do not believe in having to completely stop eating delicious, healthy and lawful food to lose weight.

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