`Study: 9.7 Billion Tons of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Come from Meat Production Each Year - Olive Oil Times

Study: 9.7 Billion Tons of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Come from Meat Production Each Year

By Paolo DeAndreis
Oct. 6, 2021 11:24 UTC

Researchers have devised a tool to inves­ti­gate and mea­sure the ori­gin of green­house gas (GHG) emis­sions with an unprece­dented level of detail.

Among the first results, they esti­mated that ani­mal-based food pro­duc­tion brings global GHG emis­sions, which are at least twice those related to veg­etable pro­duc­tion for human con­sump­tion.

With ongo­ing demo­graphic and eco­nomic growth, we expect global food demand to increase in the future that will expand food sub-sec­tors, includ­ing crop cul­ti­va­tion and live­stock pro­duc­tion.- Atul K Jain, cli­mate researcher, University of Illinois

The study car­ried out by a team of sci­en­tists at the University of Illinois inves­ti­gated the dynam­ics of emis­sions by break­ing down the farm­land into tens of thou­sands of grid squares.

See Also:Most Agricultural Spending Does More Harm Than Good, UN Report Claims

Each grid has been ana­lyzed for the crops that were in it, what per­cent­age of the area they occu­pied and what else was present. The researchers added a huge num­ber of vari­ables to the retrieved data, includ­ing stor­age avail­abil­ity, trans­porta­tion and pro­duc­tion vol­umes, among oth­ers.

The cal­cu­la­tions are done in this study using a model-data inte­gra­tion frame­work that accounts for all GHG emis­sions from all sources,” Atul K Jain, one of the authors of the report, told Olive Oil Times.

So, the frame­work has two com­po­nents – data and model,” he added. Several kinds of data sets are used as model input and model cal­cu­la­tions are done by a process-based model.”

The data included a wide range of farm­ing prac­tices and agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, with 171 crops and 16 ani­mal prod­ucts iden­ti­fied. Jain added that envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors such as tem­per­a­ture and pre­cip­i­ta­tion, car­bon diox­ide atmos­pheric con­cen­tra­tions, man­age­ment fac­tors, irri­ga­tion and fer­til­iz­ers” were used as well.

As a whole, sci­en­tists worked with data from 200 coun­tries in the period 2007 to 2013. They were then able to deter­mine that GHG emis­sions due to global food pro­duc­tion exceeded 17 bil­lion tons per year. According to United States Environmental Protection Agency data, the world pro­duced just under 50 bil­lion tons in 2015.

Of those 17 bil­lion, 57 per­cent comes from the pro­duc­tion of ani­mal-based food, includ­ing live­stock feed. Meanwhile, 29 per­cent come from plant-based food and 14 per­cent are asso­ci­ated with other land uses.


Farmland man­age­ment and land-use change rep­re­sented major shares of total emis­sions (38 per­cent and 29 per­cent, respec­tively), whereas rice and beef were the largest con­tribut­ing plant- and ani­mal-based com­modi­ties (12 per­cent and 25 per­cent, respec­tively),” the researchers wrote.

Given the pop­u­lar­ity of beef con­sump­tion in South America and rice con­sump­tion in Southeast Asia, those two areas were iden­ti­fied by the researchers as the largest emit­ters of pro­duc­tion-based GHGs.

Rice’s rel­a­tively high rank­ing comes from the methane-pro­duc­ing bac­te­ria that thrive in the anaer­o­bic con­di­tions of flooded pad­dies. After rice, the high­est emis­sions asso­ci­ated with plant pro­duc­tion came from wheat, sug­ar­cane and maize,” noted a Scientific American arti­cle on the sub­ject.

More specif­i­cally, said Jain, ani­mal-based emis­sions mainly come from pro­duc­ing crops for ani­mal feed and from pro­duc­ing and main­tain­ing graz­ing pas­tures. So, feed demand for some ani­mals is more than oth­ers.”

At the same time, the aver­age con­ver­sion effi­ciency from feed to live­stock prod­ucts is very low. On aver­age, it is 5.17 per­cent,” Jain added. Therefore, ani­mal-based GHG emis­sions are, in gen­eral, higher than plant-based food. For exam­ple, GHG emis­sions for chicken are much less than beef because feed demand for chicken is much less than for beef.”

See Also:Editors from 200 Health Journals Warn Climate Change Is Creating Global Health Crises

Furthermore, beef pro­duc­tion accounted for 25 per­cent of the total ani­mal-based pro­duc­tion GHG, fol­lowed by cow milk, pork and chicken meat.

The 29 per­cent attrib­uted to plant-based food pro­duc­tion includes emis­sions com­ing from farm­ing activ­i­ties, such as plow­ing soil, plant­ing and fer­til­iz­ing crops, har­vest­ing crop grains and recov­er­ing crop residues for live­stock feed. Emissions from fuel and energy used for farm machin­ery were also included in the farm­land emis­sions pro­jec­tions.


Jain also empha­sized how researchers expect fur­ther expan­sion of global green­house gas emis­sions from food pro­duc­tion.

With ongo­ing demo­graphic and eco­nomic growth, we expect global food demand to increase in the future that will expand food sub-sec­tors, includ­ing crop cul­ti­va­tion and live­stock pro­duc­tion, land uses changes for agri­cul­tural land, as well as trans­porta­tion and pro­cess­ing of goods, more fer­til­izer and pes­ti­cide use and irri­ga­tion,” he added.

Along with increas­ing GHG emis­sions, Jain also believes that this is only part of the prob­lem. He said fur­ther GHG emis­sions would also lead to lower rates of car­bon diox­ide seques­tra­tion by plants and soil.

All these fac­tors will result in increased GHG emis­sions,” he said. At the same time, we expect the absorp­tion of car­bon diox­ide from the atmos­phere by soil and plants will reduce. All these fac­tors will be help­ing to accel­er­ate cli­mate change.”

Jain added that the new tool will allow researchers to keep track of the chang­ing sit­u­a­tion.

Based on the data pro­vided in the paper, we will be able to model the effect of human food pro­duc­tion at any time,” he said.

The next step for the research team is to break down data within new mod­els and try to under­stand what changes could be intro­duced in food pro­duc­tion to cur­tail GHG emis­sions.

Then, new mod­els to let world cit­i­zens grasp how each human con­tributes to global emis­sions will allow the user to cal­cu­late her or his own car­bon foot­print by fac­tor­iz­ing indi­vid­ual food habits, national char­ac­ter­is­tics and loca­tion-gen­er­ated vari­ables.


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