Eating less meat can cut your carbon footprint, but making livestock production more efficient will have a bigger effect, according to new research.
Improving farming efficiency, particularly in developing countries, may have greater effect on methane emissions than leaving it to individuals to change to more sustainable plant-based diets, a study published in AGU Advances shows.
Plant-based diets can be eating patterns that limit the amount of meat you eat, focussing on more plant foods, or cut meat or animal products out completely.
Globally, raising animals for milk, meat and egg production accounts for one-third of human methane emissions, with dairy and beef being the biggest contributors.
Efficient farming cuts emission intensity
The researchers say total emissions rose from the years 2000 to 2018 but the intensity of emissions from most livestock fell, due to more efficient production.
This means fewer emissions were produced per kilogram of protein.
“This drop resulted from advanced breeding practices and improvements in nutrition, which created animals that yielded more milk and meat,” they say.
Biggest gains to be made in developing countries
Looking at future emissions, the research found eating less meat will help with emission reduction, but the biggest gains can be made by increasing efficiency, especially in developing countries with low efficiency and high future production.
“Agricultural improvements in the top 10 countries with the greatest potential to reduce methane could account for 60-65 per cent of the decrease in global methane emissions by 2050 from increasing efficiency.”
Factory farming not an option
The authors emphasise that these improvements to farming efficiency should not come at the expense of the environment, as can occur in factory farming.
Eating less meat can help reduce methane emissions that contribute to human-made climate change but is not sufficient on its own. Improving farming practices, especially in large developing countries, is necessary to meaningfully cut emissions.
Article sources and references
- Chang, J, Peng, S, et al. The key role of production efficiency changes in livestock methane emission mitigation. AGU Advances, 2, e2021AV000391. https://doi.org/10.1029/2021AV000391https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2021AV000391
- Scimex, 27 May 2021. Making farming greener is more important than eating less meat and dairy, study finds. Accessed June 2021https://www.scimex.org/newsfeed/making-farming-greener-is-more-important-than-eating-less-meat-and-dairy,-study-finds