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Brief: Meat accounts for more than half of food production’s greenhouse gas emissions, says study

September 15, 2021

  • Food production is responsible for 35% of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions, with meat in particular causing twice the emissions of other types of food, according to a new study published in Nature.
  • Raising livestock for human and animal consumption causes 57% of food production emissions, with beef alone making up a quarter of all food production-related emissions, the researchers found. Cultivation of fruits, vegetables, grains, and other food plants is responsible for 29% of food production emissions.
  • The two regions responsible for the largest food production-related emissions are South America, and South and Southeast Asia, the study says.

Why it matters:

The paper’s authors calculated that most of the world’s cropland is being used to produce feed for livestock, which in turn is used to produce meat and dairy for human consumption. New croplands — as well as new pasture to graze animals — is often created by destroying forest and other natural ecosystems, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions. The livestock themselves also emit methane.

“All of these things combined means that the emissions are very high,” lead author Xiaoming Xu told 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.”

The findings appear to support key arguments in favor of wider adoption of plant-based diets and alt-protein products in order to reduce the environmental footprint of animal agriculture.

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