Every human activity or production has caused a certain level of impact on our environment. Carbon Dioxide is also known as Co2. We currently have an overproduction of Carbon Dioxide, caused by overproduction over the years and the way we came to be a faced-paced world. One way of showing the impact on our environment is calculating the carbon footprint. The FAO, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation has calculated that 14.5% of the global carbon footprint comes from the production of meat and livestock farming. Therefore, it’s time to look at how that’s possible.
The carbon footprint
In order to understand why meat production has such a bad influence on our environment, it is necessary to understand what carbon footprint is. The carbon footprint shows the impact and contribution to the Greenhouse effect. That effect is caused by ‘the layer’ of gasses that has formed around our planet. That layer gets formed by different kind of gasses, but mostly by carbon dioxide, CO2. CO2 gets formed by the production and usage of fossil fuels, such as oil and gas. Those fuels are unsustainable and are hurting the planet because they will stop to exist at one point.
Other important gasses that cause the Greenhouse effect are Methane (CH4) and laughing gas (N2O). These two gasses get mostly produced by agriculture due to fertilization of the ground. The gasses can be found in the digestion of many livestock animals such as cows, pigs and chicken.
With the calculation of carbon footprint, above-mentioned gasses are calculated into kilos of CO2. For instance, if one cow produces one kilo of N2O it will be converted into CO2, which is 265 kilos of CO2 gas in this case. For the calculation of the footprint on meat, all the process of producing meat has to be taken into account. Meaning the:
- Farm where the animal was located.
- Number of animals on the farm.
- Way that the food for the animals has been processed.
- Transportation to the slaughterhouse.
- Meat processing.
- Transportation to the requested market.
The carbon footprint of livestock farming and meat production
The FAO had estimated in their ‘Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock report’ in 2014 that 14.5% of all Greenhouse gas emissions are caused by meat production and livestock farming. The biggest part of that comes from the production of beef (41%) and the production of milk (19%). Followed by the production of pork and chicken with 9% and 8% of the total carbon footprint in this industry. The rest comes from the production of sheep, goats and other animals like horses.
The biggest producer of carbon footprint in the production of meat is the United States. The United States produced 19.6% of the total meat production in the world, wherein the country itself mostly beef gets consumed. According to the New York Times, this causes 16.5% of the carbon footprint in the country, which is significantly higher than the worldwide percentage.
How Greenhouse gasses are produced in the meat and livestock farm industry
The cause of most gasses in the production of meat is firstly the cultivation of meadows and the production of food for the livestock. In total, this accounts for 45% of all gases that are formed. Secondly, the gasses that are formed during digestion such as methane with 39%. Surprisingly, this mostly gets formed by re-chewing the food, instead of the actual poop.
This might also explain why especially cows produce a high level of methane. Thirdly, with 10% the production of manure forms Greenhouse gasses. A final influential factor in the production of Greenhouse gasses in meat production and livestock farming is the processing and transport of animals with 6%.
Cows and the production CO2
The production of beef causes the biggest problem in the production of Greenhouse gases in the carbon footprint for the industry. Cows are kept for either meat, milk or leather. However, cows are often kept for dual-purpose meaning; they first produce a lot of milk and grow for meat production, before they are slaughtered. Approximately 22.5 grams of meat is produced for each liter of milk (45 grams of life weight of slaughtered animals). For example, a dairy cow that gives 32,000 liters of milk in her life equals 720 kg of meat (carcass weight). A lot of milk is needed in order to produce a ‘useful’ cow.
The International Dairy Federation (IDF) is an organization that uses scientific expertise to ensure safe and sustainable dairy products around the world. Therefore, they have calculated that 87% of carbon footprint in livestock farming and meat production is due to milk production and 13% to meat production.
Differences per country
Important to notify is that this calculation is a generalization and there can be big differences per country. The FAO has calculated the averages and sees big differences in countries. Therefore, they believe that a significant decrease in the carbon footprint of milk and meat production can be achieved easily. As well, you probably can imagine that an old-school meat farm in the countryside of Argentina can’t be compared to a modern and high-tech farm in The United States. The FAO tried to take into account the big differences in meat production and livestock farming when calculating the carbon footprint.
The food of livestock
The actual production and emission of Greenhouse gases are hard to be measured. It depends on many factors such as the amount of livestock, the location of the farm and the kind and size of the animal. Also, the composition of food plays a big part in the production of Greenhouse gases. Simple materials like grain create a lot of Methane in the digestion of animals and therefore leave a big footprint. The most sustainable way of the production of food by farmers is using residual food from the food industry. These are certain grasses, herbs or equivalent products that are thrown away if farmers do not use them. This will limit the carbon footprint in the meat production and livestock industry. Most livestock in The United States is eating a mixture of cattle food such as grass, pulses and silage.
The reduction of carbon footprint in livestock farming and meat production
As the FAO already has stated, the production of Greenhouse gasses in the livestock farming and meat production can be easily reduced. This is according to a couple of new developments and innovations in this industry. These include the following:
- Smarter usage of food production for the animals, such as accurate calculations.
- Reducing Methane by manure fermentation: In fermentation of manure, carbohydrates are converted by micro-organisms by means of an anaerobic dissimulation process. A lot of times, biomass gets add in manure fermentation. Biomass is adding other kinds of fertile products and plants from the actual farm or nutrition industry.
- Biological processing of meat; instead of producing as much as possible, choosing for quality and let the livestock grow naturally.
- Making the farm greener by using solar panels to get energy for the machines that are used during the processing of milk and food.