It’s good for the world:
the food sector accounts for 18 percent of U.S. global warming emissions and most of that is due to meat. Why is meat such a problem? Let’s start with beef, a trifecta of bad news on the warming front.
First, the stomach design that allows cows to digest raw plant materials makes them belch out methane, a gas that has 21 times more heat-trapping potential than carbon dioxide.
Second, although capable of thriving on grass, cows are are often gathered into confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and fed corn to fatten them up quickly. It takes about 7 pounds of grain to produce one pound of grain-fed beef and the emissions generated in corn production are part of the global warming tally for cows.
Finally, cows in CAFOs produce huge amounts of manure stored on site in piles or lagoons. When manure breaks down, even more methane is produced—yes, by a process similar to what goes on in a cow’s stomach.
Add all that up and it’s no surprise that cows have an outsized impact on global warming. In fact, a pound of beef is responsible for some 18 times the climate emissions of a pound of pasta.
Other meats, chicken and pork, are better choices than beef. Poultry and swine consume grain or other plant food but convert it into meat more efficiently than can cows. Also, their digestive systems don’t produce methane, a big climate plus. Poultry and swine, like cows, are often raised in CAFO’s where stored manure can generate methane, but on balance they are probably “cooler” choices than beef.
We Americans eat a lot of meat…on average 270 pounds per year, nearly 4 times the global average. You don’t need to become a vegetarian or a vegan to make a difference to the climate, just cut down on the amount of meat you eat. Think about something like meatless Mondays. They’ll add up.