Beef: The Most Environmentally Harmful Animal Product in the American Diet

Researchers from Bard College and Yale University recently published findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the sustainability of animal products in our diet. The paper examined eggs, dairy, poultry, beef, and pork to determine which has the most significant environmental impact. In the past, similar studies have concluded that beef is the most environmentally harmful animal product. This survey to no surprise found the same conclusion.


How does beef harm the environment?


Beef is meat product typically from cow, ox, or bull. Beef was concluded as the most harmful to the environment because it uses the most water, land, and nitrogen fertilizer. On top of that, the process creates more greenhouse gases than pork, poultry, or eggs in a per-calorie comparison.


beef research study harmful environment sustainability


The authors of the study concluded that producing one calorie of beef uses 11 times more water and six times more nitrogen fertilizer than pork, poultry, eggs, and dairy.


How does animal-product production impact America?

40% of the total land area in the United States is dedicated to the creation of animal-based products. This includes pasture land as well as feed crops like corn. The authors recommended that we start moving away from as much animal-product production to more efficiently producing calories from plants.


However, the authors did note that much of the ranching where animal-products are produced is done in the western states where fewer plants can grow.


The study did not analyze fish because of lack of comprehensive data and because seafood only accounts for 0.5% of the total calories consumed by the average American. The authors hope that their findings can help steer policy when it comes to farming and food security decisions.


“Because our results reflect current US farm policies and agrotechnology, the picture can change markedly in response to changes in agricultural technology and practice, national policies, and personal choice…”


It will be interesting to see how people make smarter purchasing decisions on animal-products and understand how much worse beef is for the environment compared to pork, poultry, and dairy.


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