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Meat Is Making Enemies July 30, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Animals, Environment, Nutrition and Health, Think About It.

Rich in iron and vitamin B12, a bit of meat can do the body good. When it comes to the environment, however, the two just don’t get along. Akifumi Ogino of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan led a study that looked at the effect of meat production on the environment. Ogino and his colleagues came to the conclusion that one kilogram of beef is responsible for the production of more greenhouse gases than driving for 3 hours with every light left on in your house.


The study examined how meat production affected global warming, energy consumption and water acidification and eutrophication. That last bit might be a new word for you. Water eutrophication happens when you get too many nutrients in the water. Aren’t nutrients good though? In this case, too many nutrients encourage algae and other vegetation to grow. This depletes oxygen in the water and can kill off other animals.

To figure it all out, Ogino and his fellow researchers looked at calf production, with most of their focus on how the animals were cared for and how their feed was produced and transported.

Calf Feeding

Check Out The Numbers

Most of the greenhouse gases are released from the animals’ digestive systems in the form of methane, while more than two thirds of the energy goes into creating and transporting their feed. The acid and fertilizing stuff is derived from the animals’ waste.

Just For Geeks

Wanna get technical? Here’s the real deal on the numbers: One kilogram of beef creates 36.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide and releases fertilizing compounds equivalent to 340 grams of sulphur dioxide and 59 grams of phosphate. Remember the blurb about acidification and eutrophication? Well, sulphur dioxide speeds up acidification and phosphate speeds up eutrophication. On top of all that, one kilogram of beef also consumes 169 megajoules of energy.

The Number Is Even Higher

Because the study didn’t look at the impact of actually managing the farm and transporting the meat, the detrimental effect on the environment is even higher. It’s really unsettling to bite into a piece of meat knowing what the cost is to our environment.

What Can Help?

According to Ogino and his colleagues, managing waste better would help to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. Another suggestion might be to raise the animals on grass instead of the usual concentrated feed. Animals reared this way can give off 40 percent less greenhouse gases and use up to 85 percent less energy. Now that’s a substantial difference! Some people may even choose to avoid meat completely and lead a vegetarian lifestyle. Hopefully, we can continue to find ways to reduce the cost that meat has on the environment. This means that people who do eat meat can continue to enjoy it while still minimizing the environmental impact.

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