Meat Farming Responsible for 57 Percent of Food-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions

|Updated Jul 12, 2022
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The animal agriculture sector is in the hot seat after a new report links the industry to the rapidly worsening climate crisis. A new study from the scientific journal Nature Food concludes that meat production is responsible for 57 percent of all food-related greenhouse gas emissions, more than twice the level that plant-based food production generates. The report explained that plant-based food production is only responsible for 29 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, emphasizing the low environmental impact of farming plant foods in contrast to how the animal agriculture sector is damaging the environment.

“The emissions are at the higher end of what we expected, it was a little bit of a surprise,” Climate Scientist at the University of Illinois and co-author Atul Jain wrote in the report published in Nature Food. “This study shows the entire cycle of the food production system, and policymakers may want to use the results to think about how to control greenhouse gas emissions.”

The research uncovered that the production of beef, pork, poultry, and other animal categories alongside the food used to upkeep production is responsible for most of the planet’s harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The report highlights the large volume of food that is needed to feed animals involved in animal agriculture, adding the overall toll to the environment.

“All of these things combined means that the emissions are very high,” University of Illinois researcher and the study’s lead author Xiaoming Xu told media outlet The Guardian. “To produce more meat, you need to feed the animals more, which then generates more emissions. You need more biomass to feed animals in order to get the same amount of calories. It isn’t very efficient.”

To conduct the study, the researchers used a consistent unified model-data integration framework to record the greenhouse gas emissions from the animal- and plant-based food consumption and production. By using a grid-scale, the research initiative could analyze the relative impact on the planet. The database consisted of a profile containing 171 crops and 16 animal products across more than 200 countries. Beyond the overall percentages, the report found that South America is the region with the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions link to animal agriculture. The region is followed closely behind by south and southeast Asia and then China.

Alongside greenhouse gas emissions, the study reports the dangerous level of land use that animal agriculture requires. The study highlights how to acquire enough land to raise livestock as well as grow the feed often leads to deforestation and waste.

A documentary film entitled #ForNature released in partnership with Mercy For Animals found that removing animal agriculture could save 76 percent of the world’s landmass from unnecessary use. Hosted by Greta Thunberg, the documentary details how nearly 33 percent of all cropland is used for animal feed rather than food for humans. Thunberg mirrors Nature Food’s call for plant-based eating, claiming that the dietary change alone could significantly cut down dangerous emissions.

“I’m a strict vegetarian and part of the motivation for this study was to find out my own carbon footprint, but it’s not our intention to force people to change their diets,” said Jain. “A lot of this comes down to personal choice. You can’t just impose your views on others. But if people are concerned about climate change, they should seriously consider changing their dietary habits.”

Last month, the UN released its annual IPCC climate report, issuing a “code red” that warned of an accelerating climate crisis. The report claimed that human activity is inextricably tied to the climate crisis, specifically from the food production sector. The report found that human beings are responsible for the sporadic fluctuation in global temperature that’s linked to the rising frequency of floods, droughts, fires, and heatwaves, as well as the rising sea levels caused by melting ice caps.

An Oxford University study from 2018 examined approximately 40,000 farms across 119 counties to determine the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. The study found a similar 60 percent figure regarding animal production’s greenhouse gas emissions. Alongside the figure, the report claimed that removing meat and dairy production and replacing it with plant-based food production would reduce global farmland by nearly 75 percent, curbing the dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and reducing deforestation.

Fast-food restaurants have finally got the memo that their customer base isn’t just coming through for a burger, fried chicken, or a beef taco. Many now have plant-based foods and are coming up with creative, delicious ways to get more greens on the menu. Here are the 6 best fast-food chains with plant-based options on the menu.

1. Burger King

Turns out there’s a lot more to rely on than a salad if you’re eating plant-based. Burger King has the Impossible Whopper featuring a meatless patty as well as a few secretly vegan options such as the French Toast Sticks and Hashbrowns.

2. White Castle

Known for its mini square-shaped sliders, this hamburger chain jumped on the plant-based bandwagon at some participating locations. You can find an Impossible Slider on some White Castle menus.

3. Del Taco

This was the first national Mexican fast-food chain to offer Beyond Meat at the company’s 580 restaurants across the country. Del Taco has the Beyond Avocado Taco on the menu along with the Epic Beyond Original Mex Burrito and Avocado Veggie Bowl.

4. Carl's Jr.

Another brand synonymous with beef burgers, Carl’s Jr. offers several plant-based options for veggie and plant lover such as Beyond Famous Star Burger and Guacamole Thickburger.

5. Taco Bell

This fast-food restaurant may have been one of the first you frequented while transitioning to plant-based eating. That’s because Taco Bell has eight million vegetarian combinations and sells 350 million vegetarian items a year through menu substitutions or ordering off their vegetarian menu. In fact, they were the first quick-service restaurant to offer American Vegetarian Association (AVA) certified food options.

6. Starbucks

From the time it started offering breakfast sandwiches in 2006, the coffee conglomerate became a competitor in the fast-food space. You can get your favorite hot and cold beverages made with almond, coconut or oat milk but there are also plant-based food options available such as the Baja Black Bean Veggie Wrap, bagel with vegan cream cheese and Impossible Breakfast Sandwich.