Understanding the carbon footprint of meat is important for anyone who wants to reduce their diet related emissions.
Meat consumption, and the related agriculture, is responsible for part of the global emissions problem, so knowing which meats have the highest footprint can help you lower them.
Protein replacements like eggs and other veggie based substitutes can help.
Use this meat carbon footprint calculator to measure the emissions generated by store bought meat.
With this meat carbon footprint, you can then decide on your dietary choices.
This complete guide explains how these emissions are measured, and what you can do to reduce them.
Carbon Footprint of Different Meats: Meat Carbon Footprint
Carbon Footprint of Chicken: Chicken Carbon Footprint Per Kg
Chicken’s carbon footprint is 6.9 kg of CO2 per kilogram, equivalent to driving for 16 miles. Suppose you are a meat lover but are eco-conscious?
In that case, poultry meat is your safest bet since it produces fewer emissions throughout the various phases, from production and processing to cooking.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Beef?
Beef has almost four times the carbon footprint of chicken since it produces up to 27 kg of CO2 per kilogram.
Cows also need a lot of land, water, and inputs and are heavy methane (greenhouse gas) emitters.
Is the Carbon Footprint Chicken the Lowest Produced By Meat?
How Much CO2 Does a Chicken Produce in Its Lifetime?
Poultry has a massive role to play in global warming.8 The carbon produced by chickens is from the food they eat and the manure they produce, whose byproduct is methane. The fossil fuels used to run chicken farms also contribute to the high footprint.
Luckily, poultry is more environmentally friendly than cows and larger domestic animals. Generally, they are responsible for about 0.6 gigatons of CO2, approximately 8% of emissions from livestock.
Representation of Carbon Footprint Examples From Various Foods: What Food Has the Highest Carbon Footprint?
The carbon footprint of meat is one of the highest of all other foods, and the following is a list of the top ten highest carbon producers and their counts.
Is the Carbon Footprint of Imported Food Higher Than Local Food?
If you buy imported animal products, you should know that they have a higher carbon footprint than local products.
You can get a beef and dairy carbon offset to help reduce the emissions from imported food.
Besides the methane produced during rearing and CO2 from machinery and fertilizers in the country you are importing from, you must also factor in the effect of shipping to you as the final consumer.
Eating local is an effective way to reduce the footprint since the food miles are less, and buying from farmers in the country improves the economy.
About 11% of the GHG emissions related to food come from transportation, and you will be making a difference by avoiding foreign animal products.
Carbon Footprint of Vegan Diet vs Meat Diet
While animal-based foods account for 57% of food emissions, plant foods are only responsible for 29%.
Beef, pork, and cow milk are the most significant contributors to the tally, but rice is the highest emitter out of other plant-based foods, which all have relatively low counts.7
There is a massive difference between the carbon footprint of meat and emissions from vegan diets; for instance, 2.5kg of carbon emanates from producing wheat, while you will release 70kg of CO2 when producing one kilo of beef.5
Therefore, people on vegan and vegetarian diets encourage climate justice. A global switch in the diet9 to plant-based foods or at least a flexitarian diet will cause one of the most massive emission turnarounds, estimated at around eight billion tons by 2050.1
Meat Industry CO2 Emissions Percentage Compared to Other Sources
The carbon footprint of meat is the highest compared to plants (29%) and other foods. Animals require a lot of food for meat production, and heavy machinery is involved in their care, leading to a high carbon footprint.7
Based on this staggering difference, one suggested way to combat global warming is to adopt a dietary change. Given the gradual increase in food demand worldwide, the overreliance on meat will only worsen the situation.
How Is Carbon Footprint Calculated? How Do You Know Your Carbon Footprint?
Manufacturing companies are responsible for most GHG emissions globally, but people also have a role to play in the total carbon footprint. Everyday activities, however insignificant, can negatively affect the environment, and it is best to know your count, which helps you make necessary adjustments.
One start is using carbon ecological footprint calculators that measure your emissions from various lifestyle choices, from the food you eat and how you travel to the clothes you wear. You can start by calculating the energy you use at home, including gas and electricity.
Your travel mode also determines your total footprint because cars, motorbikes, and planes emit various carbon levels.
Your shopping habits will also contribute to your count based on the electronics and clothing you buy and where you buy them.2
Carbon Footprint Calculator: How To Use a Food Carbon Footprint Calculator
You can easily calculate your footprint from your diet, considering where you buy (import or export) and the types you often consume. Generally, the footprint for a vegetarian and a person on a meat diet vary since plants are not heavy carbon emitters.3
The footprint calculator software is straightforward and only requires you to enter essential data about your food for it to calculate the emissions. You will receive your count in a few seconds, and it helps that sites also have offset tips.
When calculating your food footprint, you will enter your diet, the scale of your appetite, how often you eat takeout, and your weekly alcohol intake.
How To Reduce Carbon Footprint: How To Reduce Carbon Emissions From Food
Here are some tips on how you can reduce carbon footprint of your diet.
Switch Your Diet
Compared to vegetarians, meat consumers emit twice the carbon footprint from their diet, and you can alter your choices to feature more plant-based proteins.
It will be kinder to the planet, and the best part is that vegans and vegetarians lead healthier lifestyles. They are usually in better shape and have less risk of illnesses like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
You can reduce your footprint by limiting your oven use and eating raw food. You can also use the microwave for heating since it uses less energy and boils cooking and drinking water in electric kettles. Environmental impact of meat production
Organic farming doesn’t negatively affect the environment like standard methods since farmers use natural fertilizers and pesticides. Therefore, animals don’t feed on GMOs, making it the safest route; besides, organic foods are more nutritious for you.4
Impulse buying is also detrimental to the environment because you may purchase things you don’t need. It always helps to have a shopping list, buy bulk items, and avoid heavily processed foods or those with a lot of packaging.
Grow Your Food
If your home has a spacious backyard or kitchen garden, you can reduce your carbon footprint by growing your food.
You will always have chemical-free, cheap, and easily accessible food since you don’t have to travel far to restock.
Livestock Greenhouse Gas Emissions Percentage Compared to Other Sources
The agricultural sector is the third highest emitter at 14.5%.
Pigs, cows, chickens, and other livestock significantly contribute to global warming; therefore, you have a crucial part to play as the consumer to ensure that the levels drop.
Environmental Impact of Meat Production: How Does Meat Production Affect Climate Change?
Meat comes from livestock like cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and pigs, and studies show that this sector produces one of the highest carbon levels after industries and energy.
Beef alone is responsible for 4-8 times the emissions from chicken and pork (and in some cases, even higher).
Check out the beef carbon footprint calculator.
Other ruminants like sheep and goats also feed on grass, whose byproduct is methane, one of the most lethal greenhouse gasses. Animals also require large parcels of land for grazing, meaning forests are sometimes cleared for more room.
The land that could otherwise go to planting trees and crops converts to housing and caring for the animals. Besides, livestock feed on a lot of food that requires machinery to manufacture, meaning more carbon emissions.
Additionally, processed meat goes through factories to create the final product, and the industries are the second highest carbon emitters worldwide. Packaging the end products and shipping them to the consumer also means more pollution.
How To Reduce Environmental Impact of Meat Consumption
Meat forms a vital part of people’s diets, implying more carbon emissions to the atmosphere. These levels would drastically reduce if consumers switched their diets, eating less animal-based proteins and embracing vegetables in their food.
A flexitarian, vegan, or vegetarian diet involves less beef, chicken, pork, and other livestock consumption, directly impacting the environment.11 The meat demand reduces, lowering land use and purchasing of animal feeds.
Individuals and companies promote such lifestyle changes, and any small effort goes a long way. For instance, some industries are recreating popular meat products into plant-based options, and you can find vegan burgers in stores. The taste and nutritional content may vary, but it is an excellent offset.
Animal Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Emissions: How Does It Affect the Environment?
Scientific studies show that livestock keeping accounts for 14.5- 16% of the world’s GHG emissions, making it one of the top three environmental pollutants. The manure alone translates to about 32% of methane emissions caused by humans.
Animal agriculture has caused significant adverse effects on the ecosystem and has largely contributed to climate change and global warming. People have fallen trees for more room for livestock to graze and the demand for their food accounts for more carbon released into the air.
If there were a stop to the consumption of all animal products and all consumers switched to plant-based diets for the next 10-15 years, the impact would be enough to offset emissions from other sources for up to 50 years.6
Therefore, stakeholders should also shift focus to the industry and develop ways to manage the environmental impact.
Representation of Food CO2 Emissions by Source
The emissions are carbon, nitrous oxide, and methane, and meat emissions are almost double that of plants.
Also note that ruminants produced 175 tons of carbon in the United States in 2020; therefore, adopting a vegan diet can significantly reduce the carbon footprint. Below is a representation of the carbon footprint of various foods.
Meat Industry Environmental Impact Statistics: What Are the Numbers on the Carbon Footprint of Meat?
Livestock, including cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and pork produce 14% of the global GHG. The largest emission source is methane production, one of the greenhouse gases. Others include manure, feeding, inputs, slaughter, and transport.
Of this percentage, cows comprise 9.4% of the emissions, while pigs and chickens form 1.3% and 1.2%, respectively.
The rest of the value is attributed to small ruminants and other non-edible and poultry products.
Carbon Footprint of Meat: Why Does Meat Have a High Carbon Footprint, Unlike Other Foods?
Meat is one of the highest GHG gas emitters than other foods by nature. Animals require feeding and several other inputs daily, costly processes that usually lead to harmful gas emissions. For one, they need grazing land, meaning deforestation or land usage that would have otherwise been for other purposes.
Secondly, livestock food comes from industries that release gasses into the atmosphere. Farmers must also use inputs like pesticides and other chemicals to care for and maintain the animals.
Slaughtering, meat processing, and packaging are also significant emitters besides transportation. Eventually, adding all these aspects before meat reaches the final consumer generates a high carbon footprint.
Carbon Footprint of Chicken vs Beef: Which Is Safer for the Environment?
Switching from beef to chicken can cause a drastic decrease in your emissions, and stakeholders strongly advocate for it.
Cows are enormous compared to chickens and, as expected, have more carbon footprints. They produce more methane gas, eat more food, and require more inputs and heavy processing. Therefore, keeping and consuming chicken is safer for the environment.
There is a wave where users eat more chicken than meat since it is a healthier option. Cutting red meat from the diet can reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Ultimately, you will also care for your body while fighting for climate justice.
What Are the Options for the Lowest Carbon Footprint Foods?
When choosing low emissions products, opt for organic strawberries, beans, homemade bread, organic tofu, potatoes, rolled oats, nuts, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and other plant-based foods if you want to make wise environmentally-friendly choices.
Vegetables, fruits, and cereals have the lowest carbon footprints, especially the locally-sourced types.
You want to avoid imported foods or those planted in heated greenhouses, and if going for meat, you can opt for chicken, fish, or pork, which have lower emissions than beef.
Meat and Dairy Industry Environmental Impact: Carbon Footprint of Meat and Dairy
Dairy and meat, especially from cows, cause the heaviest impact on the environment since livestock are responsible for about 14.5% of the global GHG annually. In perspective, that is roughly the same emissions from all the vehicles, ships, and planes worldwide.
Beef and lamb cause the highest level of gasses per gram, while plants emit relatively less pollution.
Chicken and pork also account for emissions but only a fraction of the impact of lamb and beef. Cutting back on dairy and meat is an effective way to offset your carbon footprint.
Food Production: Greenhouse Gas Emissions From the Industry
The world population keeps increasing, and so does the demand for food. The industry is a top earner for governments and companies, but the challenge is that its growth is detrimental to the environment.
Food processing plants and farms emit significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and the rate keeps escalating due to high demand. Methane, CO2, nitrous oxide, and other harmful gasses seep into the air, causing global warming.
Other activities like deforestation for livestock grazing and agriculture and using fertilizers and other lethal chemicals also lead to a high carbon footprint. Unless the industry is checked, the chances of achieving climate goals will be slim.
Animal agriculture is a heavy contributor to carbon emissions, and if you are particular about climate action, one way is to check your diet’s carbon footprint. While vegans and vegetarians don’t have massive environmental impacts, meat lovers contribute to more than 10% of the total emissions.
Beef and lamb are responsible for the more significant chunk since cows and sheep are ruminants, requiring grazing land and a lot of inputs. Pork follows closely, then chicken, the healthier and eco-friendlier option.
You can confirm where your favorite food lies regarding emissions and make necessary changes where possible. If unsure, you can always turn to calculators for accurate data on the carbon footprint of meat in your diet.
Frequently Asked Questions About Carbon Footprint of Meat
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Meat and What Is Beef Carbon Footprint Per Kg?
The carbon footprint of beef is 27 kg per kilogram and is one of the highest levels of other animal and plant-based foods.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Beef and What Is the Carbon Footprint of a Beef Burger?
The carbon footprint of a beef burger weighing a quarter of a pound is about 3 kilograms.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Grass Fed Beef?
The carbon footprint of grass-fed beef is about 43 percent higher than grain-fed beef.14
What Is the Carbon Footprint of One Pound of Beef?
The carbon footprint of one-pound beef is approximately 2.43 kg.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Chicken Per Kg?
Chicken is relatively safer for the environment, unlike beef, lamb, and other animal proteins. Its carbon footprint is 6.9, making it the ideal substitute for beef if you are a meat lover.
What Is Fish Carbon Footprint?
If you buy reared fish from ponds, the carbon footprint of the meat is approximately 6.1 but depending on the farming method and the fish species.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of a Steak?
A steak or beef has a carbon footprint of 27 kg, which is in the top three highest carbon emitters from animal products. It is also not the healthiest food option compared to white meat like chicken and fish.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Tofu?
Tofu is one of the ideal foods you can find since it is plant-based (made of soya beans) and has a low carbon footprint. Half a cup of tofu accounts for only 0.7 grams of carbon which is more than ten times the emissions from beef.
What Is Avocado Carbon Footprint Per Kg?
Producing one kilogram of avocado takes around 0.9 kg of carbon emissions, which is relatively low and cuts across most fruit types. However, the footprint increases if the avocados are imported or the farmer grows them in heated greenhouses.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Eggs?
Eggs are low emitters as animal proteins since they produce 0.2 kg of carbon for one kilogram, a small fraction of emission from chicken or red and white meat. Some studies also show that a dozen eggs account for 2.7 kg of GHG.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Pork?
Pork can also be a heavy emitter, next to beef and lamb, at 12.1kg per kilogram produced. Its count is higher than fish and chicken, given that they come from pigs that need a lot of inputs during production.
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9National Library of Medicine. (2014, June 11). Dietary Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Meat-Eaters, Fish-Eaters, Vegetarians and Vegans in the UK. NCBI. Retrieved November 17, 2022, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4372775/>
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