Buying Meat Worse For Environment Than SUVs

July 19th, 2007 2:56 PM

Forget about carbon credits. SUV owners should just stop buying meat, and all their enviro-guilt will disappear faster than a Big Mac placed in front of former President Bill Clinton.

Such was the finding of a Japanese study published by Blackwell Synergy's Animal Science Journal, and reported at New Scientist Wednesday (emphasis added throughout):

A kilogram of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for 3 hours while leaving all the lights on back home.

For those reaching for their metric calculators, a kilogram is about 2.2 pounds, the amount of steak a relatively health conscious family of four might consume at dinner with a variety of yummy side dishes:

This is among the conclusions of a study by Akifumi Ogino of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, and colleagues, which has assessed the effects of beef production on global warming, water acidification and eutrophication, and energy consumption. The team looked at calf production, focusing on animal management and the effects of producing and transporting feed. By combining this information with data from their earlier studies on the impact of beef fattening systems, the researchers were able to calculate the total environmental load of a portion of beef.

Their analysis showed that producing a kilogram of beef leads to the emission of greenhouse gases with a warming potential equivalent to 36.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide. It also releases fertilising compounds equivalent to 340 grams of sulphur dioxide and 59 grams of phosphate, and consumes 169 megajoules of energy (Animal Science Journal, DOI: 10.1111/j.1740-0929.2007.00457.x). In other words, a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometres, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

For those metrically challenged, 250 kilometers is about 155 miles:

Most of the greenhouse gas emissions are in the form of methane released from the animals' digestive systems, while the acid and fertilising substances come primarily from their waste. Over two-thirds of the energy goes towards producing and transporting the animals' feed.

With this in mind, maybe Al Gore should do some concerts to save cattle, and get sycophants Laurie David and Sheryl Crow to tour college campuses extolling the benefits of vegetarianism.

Stay tuned.