We all know that driving a gas-guzzling SUV contributes to climate change, but did you know that what you put on your plate could too? Hereís how your food choices affect climate change and what you, as a consumer, can do about it. The United Nationís Food and Agriculture Organization recently estimated that animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than the emissions caused by cars and light trucks combined!
Here in the United States, 6 percent of our greenhouse gases come from livestock production, compared with 19 percent from transportation. While those statistics might not be as severe as the global numbers, they are still worth noting for the conscious consumer.
How Does Livestock Cause Climate Change?
First, there is the manure, which releases methane. That is particularly true when it is stored in anaerobic conditions such as the waste lagoons often found at U.S. factory farms for pigs and dairy cattle or the huge manure piles connected to American cattle feedlots.
But methane released from livestock and manure is not the only cause of climate change, according to the United Nations report. Deforestationóthe massive clearing of forestsóalso plays a big part. More than 70 percent of the Amazon rainforestís deforested land is used for pasture, and a substantial part of the remaining land is used to produce crops fed to animals. In the United States, 60 percent of the agricultural output of the Missouri-Mississippi basin is used to feed livestock because land once farmed for local human consumption is now used for industrialized feed production.
Twenty percent of all fossil fuel used in the United States goes toward food production including running slaughterhouses and meet processing plants, fertilizer production, water usage to raise cattle as well as the post-agricultural processes of transporting, packaging, and storing food.
Are All Animals Polluters?
Some studies estimate that feedlot beef (from cattle that are confined in pens and fed corn to fatten them up) require twice as much fossil fuel energy to produce as grass-fed beef (from cattle that spend their lives on pasture eating grass). Producing a single pound of feedlot beef results in the production of 8 pounds of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of a third of a gallon of gasoline.
It also matters where the animals are from. A rough estimate predicts that 120 million tons of C02 emissions are directly attributable to domestic food transport each year, and U.S. imports and exports likely account for an additional 120 million tons. International imports and exports are particularly ecologically damaging because air miles emit more C02 per ton-mile than any other form of transport.
Combat Climate Change with Your Fork!
1. Buy smart. Purchase food that is produced on small, local farms rather than large industrial operations, and choose organic grass-fed beef over conventional grain-fed beef.
2. Be in the know. Sign up at Food & Water Watch to stay plugged into food issues that affect your dinner and your planet.
Food & Water Watch is an organization dedicated to the belief that the public should be able to count on our government to oversee and protect the quality and safety of food and water. For more information, go to www.foodandwaterwatch.org.