Meat and cows, in particular, are getting a lot of bad press. Most of it related to cows is in regards to the methane they produce. I realise that this is a site focused around running, health and nutrition, but I believe that we shouldn’t ‘not eat cows’ because we’re afraid of the cow methane and the damage it does to the environment. Like many things, the facts are well overblown and many people are misinformed. Here’s why cow methane is not the evil many think it is.

Is Cow Methane Actually Bad?

Why People Think Cow Methane Is So Bad

It all started in 2006 when the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations published a report stating that livestock produce more greenhouse gases than the global transportation system. Obviously, such an alarming report coming from a well-respected organisation set alarm bells ringing all around the globe. Individuals and companies wanted to do what they could to reduce greenhouse gases – the obvious answer was to eat less meat.

And a big claim came with the report. It stated that livestock produced 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions which attracted a lot of attention. The report’s senior author, Henning Steinfield, has since corrected that claim, but not before all the figures and media managed to spread the word which is where we are at currently.

Problems With The Report

When you delve in deeper into the report and look at how they measured the environmental impact of livestock vs transport, we find that the approaches are actually different.

With livestock they measured the lifecycle assessment, looking the greenhouse gases released in processes involving animals eating plants to excreting manure to making the edible meat product to refrigerating it to keep it cool until the food ended up being consumed and how greenhouse gases from all these processed are released into the atmosphere.

However, with global transportation, they did not. They did not look at the lifecycle assessment and only looked at the tailpipe emissions produced by transport. That is, what is literally coming out of the engine or the direct emissions. To make the same comparison with livestock you would have to literally measure the number of different greenhouse gases they are released from the bodies.

Because of this one report, you’ll see numbers being waved around about how bad it is to eat meat. Well, if anything I imagine global transport would be much worse. Especially when you consider the greenhouse gases released in air transportation.

The Reality: Livestock Vs Transport

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) looked at human activities responsible for climate change and found that direct emissions from global transportation (road, rail, air and marine travel) account for about 14% of emissions from all human activity whereas direct emissions from livestock account for 5% of emissions from all human activity. They have also released a 2014 report on climate change which has a lot of information if you’re interested.

The Environmental Protection Agency has found that the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the USA (2017) are:

  • Transportation (28.9%)
  • Electricity production (27.5%)
  • Industry (22.2%)
  • Commercial and Residential use (11.6%)
  • Agriculture (9.0%)

This in no way suggests that livestock are to blame for climate change. And within this report, agriculture includes emissions from livestock, agricultural soils and rice production. In fact, all of animal agriculture accounts for 3.9% of greenhouse gas emissions in the USA. A full report of the inventory of US greenhouse gas emissions and sinks can also be read.

If you’re conscious about your carbon footprint when buying meat, perhaps the best thing you can do when buying meat is to buy it locally from a butcher. That way you know that your meat isn’t travelling for too long across the country or being imported and you can support the local farmers and make sure that the food you eat has a low carbon footprint.

In a follow-up post, I’ll delve into what actually happens to the greenhouse gases released from livestock into the atmosphere. Until then, feel free to read some of the other articles on my site!

Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this post I’d greatly appreciate it if you could spread the word and share the article! Cows are NOT killing the planet!