At Baird’s CMC, we like to keep abreast of interesting climate change related developments and studies since environmental issues are a big part of the work we do in our Global Development sector. We came across an intriguing study called “The Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health”.
The study, which was conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and CleanMetrics Corp (an environmental analysis and consulting firm based in Oregon), provides “cradle to grave” life cycle assessments of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 20 popular types of meat (including fish), dairy, and vegetable proteins consumed in the U.S, “before and after the food leaves the farm — from the pesticides and fertilizer used to grow animal feed all the way through the grazing, animal raising, processing, transportation, cooking and, finally, disposal of unused food. The analysis also includes the emissions from producing food that never gets eaten, either because it’s left on the plate or because of spoilage or fat and moisture loss during cooking.” According to the study, about 20 percent of edible meat just gets thrown out.
In particular, the Meat Eater’s Guide looked at the following GHGs and calculated their carbon dioxide equivalents based on each one’s global warming potential (GWP) – the warming effect relative to carbon dioxide over a 100-year time frame:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) (GWP of 1)
- Nitrous oxide (N20) (GWP of 25)
- Methane (CH4) (GWP of 298)
- Hydrofluorocarbons (specifically the refrigerant HFC-134a, with a GWP of 1,430)
What the study found is that all meat is not created equal. “Different meats and different production systems have varying health, climate, and other environmental impacts,” according to the study. For instance, lamb, beef, cheese, pork, and farmed salmon generate the most GHGs. “With the exception of salmon, they also tend to have the worst environmental impacts, because producing them requires the most resources – mainly chemical fertilizer, feed, fuel, pesticides and water – and pound for pound, they generate more polluting manure.
On the health front, the scientific evidence is increasingly clear that eating too much of these greenhouse gas-intensive meats boosts exposure to toxins and increases the risk of a wide variety of serious health problems, including heart disease, certain cancers, obesity and, in some studies, diabetes.”
At the other end of the spectrum, meat, eggs, and dairy products that are certified organic and/or grass-fed are generally the least environmentally damaging (though the study does point out that there are a few other studies that show mixed results for grass-fed versus confined feedlot meat). “Overall, these products are the least harmful, most ethical choices,” according to the Meat Eater’s Guide. So, as the popular ad campaign goes, “Got Milk?”… it’s not only good for your bones, but also the environment!
Learn more about the Baird’s CMC Global Development: Environmental Issues sector here and some of our work in climate change here. You can also read about trends observed by our associates on “The Changing Terrain of ‘Green’ in Emerging Markets”.