Beef-Eaters Produce Half of US Greenhouse Gases

A new study shows that 20 percent of Americans—those who eat the most beef—are responsible for a disproportionate amount of environmental damage.


A new study published this month in Environmental Research Letters found that individuals who consume the highest amount of beef are responsible for 46 percent of the total greenhouse gases emitted by the food industry in the United States. Researchers compiled a database of the environmental impact of 332 foods and connected it to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a collection of self-reported dietary habits of 16,800 Americans. The data showed that individuals in the high-impact group (which was characterized by those who consumed the largest amount of meat, particularly beef, and comprised 20 percent of study participants) were responsible for 7.9 times more greenhouse gas emissions than the low-impact group. Additionally, researchers found that the high-impact group consumed an average of 3,000 calories per day, with the low-impact group consuming approximately 1,300 calories daily. “Agriculture is a key contributor to many environmental problems, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and land and freshwater degradation,” the study researchers stated. “Thus, diet composition has been identified as an important leverage point in reducing the environmental impact of food systems and in freeing up production capacity to feed future population growth.” The researchers recommended that if the US is to meet emissions reduction goals (as set forth during The Paris Agreement), individuals in the high-impact group would need to shift their diets to align more closely to those of the low-impact group. On a global scale, the United Nations reported that animal agriculture emits more greenhouse gases than all of the transportation sector combined.

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