In news that will come as no surprise to the green-minded, a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shows that eating meat significantly contributes to global warming. Now, you may be thinking “duh, we’ve been saying that for years,” but do you know exactly how many carbon emissions come from a hamburger? Or how many extra miles you just drove because you ate some cheese? The report is part of EWG’s groundbreaking new guide, “The Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health” which breaks down every step of the process, from production to waste disposal, to allow experts and consumers easily understand the impact of their meat-eating decisions. That hamburger, by the way, is the equivalent of driving 10 extra miles.
The report shows that if every American went meat and cheese free for just one day a week for a year, the reduction of carbon emissions would be the same as taking 7.6 million cars off the road. Taking into consideration every stage of food production, processing, consumption and waste disposal, the EWG calculated the “cradle to grave” effect on the climate for 20 different types of proteins, including meat, cheese, seafood, beans, nuts and lentils. Using data from the Department of Agriculture, the EWG accounted for everything from the fertilizers, pesticides and water used to grow the crops that feed the livestock to how the product is processed, transported and cooked.
The top three with the highest emissions are lamb, beef, and cheese — in that order. Yes, cheese has the third highest amount of emissions, clocking in at 13.5kg of carbon per 1kg of consumed food. Lamb has a whopping 39.2kg of carbon and beef comes out to be about 27kg. Beef generates more than twice the emissions of pork, four times that of chicken, and more than 13 times that of vegetable proteins. Also, more than 90 percent of beef’s emissions come from its production.
The report highlights several ways to curb emissions from meat eating. It’s not reasonable to expect every American to become a vegetarian, much less vegan, and that’s not what the EWG is trying to say with this study. Instead, the EWG emphasizes small, individual actions. For example, you should buy only what you are going to eat. About 20 percent of emissions associated with meat and dairy comes from discarded food.
“That number represents complete waste, energy we’re pumping into food production which just ends up being thrown away,” Kari Hamerschlag, a senior analyst at the EWG and the author of the report, told the New York Times. “You can make a big impact by only buying what you’re actually going to eat.”
Along with forgoing meat and cheese one day a week, the report encourages choosing sustainable options like organic and pasture-raised. For the full report, as well as a slew of interactive features, visit the guide’s website. You’ll find interactive graphics, printable guides, shopping tips, food label guides, and a quiz to see just how much your meat eating impacts the environment.