Eating one kilogram of beef produces more greenhouse gas emissions than driving for three hours while leaving the lights on at home, according to a new study from Japan that examines the CO2 emissions resulting from bringing an average beef cow to market.
Researchers from the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, examined the “life-cycle” of a standard beef cow, including feed production and transport, animal management and the biological activity of the animal.
These life-cycle stages were then scrutinised for their climate change-related impacts: energy consumption, methane production, and water acidification and eutrophication – meaning the excessive nutrient enrichment of water bodies that can reduce both their oxygen content and CO2 absorption capacity.
In total, over 4,500 kilograms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are produced by one average beef cow throughout its life-cycle, according to the study, published in the August 2007 edition of the Animal Science Journal.
Methane produced by the digestive systems of the animals accounts for most of the GHG emissions, while more than two-thirds of the total energy needs are taken up in the production and transport of feed for the animals.
The study examined standard industrial meat production methods in Japan and did not examine the additional CO2 emissions from transporting the beef to market, thus the actual GHG emissions may vary depending on producer countries and distances to markets.
Better waste management and shorter intervals between calving cycles could reduce GHG emissions, the authors suggest. Organic farming methods have also been proven to reduce emissions and energy use considerably, according to a 2003 Swedish study.
In related news, Parliament’s temporary committee on climate change met on 17 July in Brussels to discuss the EU’s stated goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020. MEPs debated policy options with a Commission official present at the meeting, who emphasised the role that developing countries need to play in reducing CO2 emissions.
The Commission is hoping to advance international cooperation on climate change at the December 2007 UN Climate Change Conference in Bali.