Grass-Fed Cows Won't Help You Minimize Your Carbon Footprint

Fagjun | Published 2017-10-10 18:21

Eating grass-fed beef isn't the best way to reduce your carbon footprint, researchers have found. Reducing global livestock consumption is likely to be the better alternative.


While putting animals out to pasture is better for the animals, it's not that much better for the environment.



We all want to do our part for the environment. With the livestock industry being responsible for 14.5% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, a lot of people are opting to eat grass-fed cows put out to pasture instead of grain-fed cows living in feedlots. Thus, these people prefer ordering grass-fed burgers instead of burgers whose meat has a dubious provenance. While the intention is certainly commendable, a recent study has found that opting for meat from grass-fed cows isn't really doing much to reduce carbon emissions.


Switching to grass-fed beef and dairy does not solve the climate problem,” says Pete Smith, one of the researchers. “[O]nly a reduction in consumption of livestock products will do that.”


The question, of course, is why consuming grass-fed cows isn't able to help reduce harmful emissions.



The Carbon Footprint of Livestock


Cows in a feedlot



Livestock animals emit carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane in significant amounts—so significant, in fact, that they have changed our atmosphere. The issue nowadays is that as people around the world overcome poverty, they are now able to afford to consume more meat. As of now, we consume 14 grams of meat per person per day. This amount, according to researchers, is expected to more than double in just 23 years.


For the most part, cattle are raised on feedlots, where they're kept in small spaces, they don't have room to pasture, and they have a grain instead of grass diet. The reality of feedlots is enough to turn many people off the idea of supporting an industry that treat doesn't treat animals well. However, some environmentalists and “pro-pasturalists” also say that buying grass-fed instead of grain-fed meat is not only ethical, but can also help reduce your carbon footprint.


According to pro-pasturalists, letting animals graze on grass can help restore grasslands, which in turn, can turn the soil into a huge carbon sink. Fertilization from manure can also help fertilize more plants, which in turn can sequester more carbon from the atmosphere. This can also enable more crops to grow without the need for ploughing, which can also release carbon into the air.


If that's the case, then what, therefore, is the problem?



Possible Dietary Changes?


It may be time to cut down on meat.



After analyzing over 100 papers on the topic, researchers concluded that while grass-fed animals can indeed contribute to reducing carbon in the atmosphere, they can only do so in ideal conditions. Also, even in ideal conditions, the carbon that cattle can help sequester from the atmosphere won't off set the cattle's own emissions.


Proponents of grazing, however, say that the study is too quick to dismiss the positive effects grazing has at least in some areas. They also say that sustainable farming works best when it mimics natural systems.


Either way, however, it seems that the best solution is to reduce the consumption of meat. While it may be difficult for a lot of us to cut back on burgers, steaks, and other admittedly delicious meat dishes, it may be worth it if it means minimizing our carbon footprint.

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