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Greenhouse Gas Emissions

 

 

Red meat production is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 14.5% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to livestock farming. 


Greenhouse gases lead to global warming, which occurs when these gases collect in the atmosphere and absorb sunlight and solar radiation that have bounced off the earth’s surface. Typically, this radiation would escape into space, but these gases, which can last for years to centuries in the atmosphere, trap the heat and cause the planet to get hotter. The impact of these gases is known as the greenhouse effect. 

 

Global warming leads to drastic changes in the climate, contributing to extreme weather events, rising sea levels, destruction of habitats, and more frequent infectious disease outbreaks, among others.

 

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The greenhouse gases associated with red meat production include:

 

Carbon dioxide (CO2):

  • The expansion of agricultural land for livestock feed production and pastureland often involves deforestation and habitat loss, which releases carbon dioxide stored in trees and soil into the atmosphere. Beef, for instance, uses a significant amount of land, requiring 20 times more than common plant proteins, such as beans. Additionally, the energy used in red meat production results in carbon dioxide emissions. Energy uses include the operation of farm machinery and the transportation of meat and fertilizer.

  • Beef production emits 60 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) per kg of beef produced, accounting for nearly 25% of greenhouse gas emissions from food production. This is over two times higher than lamb, pork, or chicken. One serving of beef (100g) is equivalent to 15.5kg CO2e.

 

Methane (CH4):

  • Ruminant animals such as cattle and sheep produce methane through enteric fermentation—a digestive process where microbes decompose and ferment food in the animal's stomach, releasing methane into the atmosphere primarily via belching and, to a lesser extent, through flatulence. Methane is also emitted from manure as it decomposes, especially when stored or managed in systems that promote anaerobic conditions.

  • Methane traps heat over 80 times more effectively than carbon dioxide over a 20 period. A single cow can produce between 154 to 264 pounds of methane gas per year. Considering the 1.5 billion cows raised global for meat production, cows emit at least 231 billion pounds of methane into the atmosphere each year.

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Source: ICBF

 

 

Nitrous oxide (N2O):

  • When manure decomposes, it releases nitrous oxide. This greenhouse gas is also a breakdown product of the synthetic nitrogen fertilizers used on crops grown for cattle feed. 

  • Nitrous oxide has a global warming potential approximately 300 times higher than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period, making it a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The animal agriculture sector is the largest human-caused source of nitrous oxide, accounting for 60–70% of emissions.

A global shift toward a more plant-based diet could significantly reduce emissions. For example, if each country adopted a sustainable diet, global greenhouse gas emissions would decline by approximately 30%. As such, reducing red meat consumption can play a significant role in mitigating climate change.

 

The sources for the information on this page can be found here.

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