20 Percent of Americans Cause Almost Half of Food-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions

It’s hard to believe, but 20 percent of beef-eating Americans are responsible for a whole lot of greenhouse gas emissions.

A new study conducted by University of Michigan and Tulane University researchers reveals that the Americans who eat the most beef — and have the highest carbon footprint — cause 46 percent of U.S. food-related greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a staggering statistic — and it demonstrates how important every individual’s dietary choices are in today’s world.

How Did the Study Work?

To estimate the impact of diet on these emissions, the researchers examined 300 types of foods and assessed their environmental impact in terms of production. Then, they compared these findings with a survey of more than 16,000 Americans.

This survey sample was selected to represent the U.S. civilian non-institutional population. Each participant was asked to recall their food choices for a single day, with reference to 6,492 specific foods and dishes. Those 6.492 “as-consumed” foods were ultimately reduced to the 300 or so foods studied.

The researchers ranked the food choices by their relative greenhouse gas emissions, and divided them into five equal groups. The group with the highest carbon footprint — that is, those who consumed the most meat — were shown to be responsible for 46 percent of food-related emissions.

Interestingly, beef consumption accounted for 70 percent of the food-associated greenhouse gas emissions in the highest-impact group. It account for only 27 percent in the lowest-impact group. When you understand why beef production is so harmful to the environment, you’ll see why this result is not a surprise.

Why Is Beef So Bad for the Environment?

It turns out that raising beef and dairy cows causes particularly high greenhouse gas emissions. The more we demand beef and dairy, the more cows go into production to meet this need. And all that production involves numerous activities that worsen the problem:

  • Cows require a lot of food to grow large or to make milk. Growing their feed consumes energy through the use of manufacturing fertilizers and other feed-enhancers
  • Farm equipment used on beef and dairy farms uses a lot of fuel and emits pollutants
  • Infamously, cows pass gas in enormous amounts. Their burps and toots emit huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere

group of cow in cowshed with beautiful sunset scene

All of these factors pour greenhouse gases into the air. Rather than reducing them, our ever increasing demand for beef and dairy is pushing those levels ever higher.

It’s hard to argue with facts. These days, eating animals cause more greenhouse gas emissions per pound than a plant-based diet does. This is one area in which an individual’s choices can actually make a difference. Think carefully about your diet and, if necessary, make some wise changes.

Leave meat off your plate. It’s kinder to the animals and better for our world. A plant-based diet is a healthier, nearly guilt-free way of eating.

Photo Credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash


La'neSa'an M

Tyfs. It would be nice to know footprint of chicken, fish, etc.

Marie W
Marie W7 months ago


JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Paris9 months ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

Chrissie R
Chrissie R9 months ago

How about reducing the population by at least 20%?

Peggy B
Peggy B9 months ago


Danuta W
Danuta Watola9 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Past Member 11 months ago


Janis K
Janis K11 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Chad A
Chad Anderson11 months ago

Thank you. I am always appalled as the amounts of meat people eat whenever I go back to the US to visit my family.

Shailja Mukhtyar
Shailja Mukhtyar11 months ago

Been born & raised vegie- so glad for the vegie movement giveing us options in restaurants-- tired o pizza as the only option-- the vegan movememt allows salads/ vegies options !!