Different Take on Meat’s Environmental Impact

Lettuce is Bad for You


The lead at Scientific American was “Bacon lovers of the world, rejoice!” The article’s headline proclaimed lettuce as a bigger greenhouse gas emitter than bacon, citing a new study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers.

The news didn’t set well with vegans and vegetarians. The publisher at Vegan.com wrote, “I don’t see anything in the study’s notes that acknowledges meat industry funding, but it’s hard to imagine that using the calories of lettuce vs. meat is a good-faith and honestly-intentioned way to analyze the issue.”

An article at HuffingtonPost.com pointed out the researchers did not find that vegetarianism is bad for the environment. They found that not every plant product is more environmentally friendly than every meat product. One of the study’s authors said, “You can’t lump all vegetables together and say they’re good. You can’t lump all meat together and say it’s bad.”

No doubt the study was welcome relief for meat producers, especially beef producers, seemingly under constant attack these days in the climate change discussion The Most Retweeted Tweets category in the Signals social media monitoring system is well-populated daily with messages pointing to livestock’s environmental impact.

Animal Ag is Climate Culprit

Booth Tweet

Just last week, actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger garnered global headlines when he added his name to a growing list of celebrities urging people to reduce meat consumption for the sake of the planet.

ThinkProgress.org reports that while food security is mentioned in the preamble to the final agreement that emerged from the Paris climate talks, it’s curious that agriculture is never mentioned in the main text. Still, GlobalMeatNews.com issued a warning to the meat industry to be prepared to protect its interests in the aftermath of the Paris talks, with a spokesperson for the International Meat Secretariat saying, “Our industry is not doing enough to tell its own story. By not talking about what we do to combat climate change we make an easy target for articulate groups.”

While meat is indeed a significant greenhouse gas producer, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that agriculture, including livestock, account for only around eight percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States — lower than in other parts of the world (14 percent globally) due to improved breeding and feed practices and the adoption of modern technology. The data also shows animal agriculture’s contribution to emissions in the U.S. have remained basically unchanged since 1990 as meat production increased 50 percent.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and other groups around the world urge broader conversations on the issue with a goal of making livestock farmers around the world as efficient as those in the U.S. and other developed countries.

Being concerned about protecting the environment is a good thing. Some concerned about climate change are looking to take action to reduce their individual impact on the environment and see reduced meat consumption as a way to get involved. Agriculture has a bigger impact on the planet than any other human activity and people have a right to expect their food is grown responsibly.

To meet the growing global demand for food, the focus of all food producers must continue to be on producing more and using fewer natural resources through innovation and the responsible use of technology, which farmers have been doing for decades.