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Methane-Belching Cows Account for 3.7% of Greenhouse Gas. Eat Less Beef, Or Buy Lower Carbon Beef?

Wired April 2022 pp20-21 |Science|”Meat Marketing” “US beef producers can get certified to label their cuts ‘low carbon’. Some critics think it’s a bunch of bull” By Matt Reynolds

Read Wired for all the details

Summary by 2244

Cow in Georgetown, Texas

Many of us are unaware of the role that food plays in the production of greenhouse gas.

First, and not mentioned in the article but presented on a sidebar, 40% of “food grown worldwide…goes to waste…[to the tune of]... about 2.5 billion tons a year.” The production of food, of course takes energy, creates greenhouse gas-beef alone accounts for 3.7% of greenhouse gas in America, and even landfills generate methane-a potent greenhouse gas.

Second, “beef has…the heaviest carbon footprint of any food. Per gram of protein, it produces about two times more emissions than lamb, six and a half times more than pork, nine times more than poultry, and 25 times more than soybeans, according to a 2018 analysis.”

We’ll get to how and what lower carbon beef is but first let’s understand our beef consumption. “The average US resident consumes about 82 pounds of beef per year-more than twice the UK figure and almost seven times that of China.” According to “the EAT-Lancet report, a wide-ranging 2019 study on sustainable and healthy diets, …people… [should]... eat no more than 98 grams of red meat per week-less than a single McDonald’s Quarter Pounder.”

So the argument goes, if you’re going to produce beef or if you’re going to eat beef then you should strive to lower the environmental impact. Enter the push to produce low carbon beef. In fact, there are a number of ways, as many as 20 “data inputs”, to lower methane produced by belching cows including feed additives, raising cattle that are more efficient in converting feed to weight, managing manure, sequestering more carbon in fields, and managing fertilizer.

The USDA, as of November, has for the first time authorized beef producers to “market their meat as ‘low carbon’ if they can show that their cattle are raised in a way that emits 10 percent less greenhouse gases than an industry baseline.

Critics argue that 10% is too low and that calculating the baseline is fraught as well. Colin Beal (Low Carbon Beef) is leading “the certification initiative that has calculated a benchmark of 26.3 kg of carbon dioxide per kg of carcass weight. It’s possible, according to Beal, to “add tiers to the program to recognize producers that achieve greater reductions than 10%.”


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