58.6 million tons of beef are expected to be produced worldwide in 2014 by USDA with the United States producing 11 million of those tons and 1 million tons are exported which means Americans consume 10 million tons of beefThe United States is the largest consumer of beef worldwide The demand for beef outside the U.S. continues to grow and may soon outpace productionWorldwide production is expected to double by 2020 if our meat consumption isn’t reigned in
Frank: A major byproduct of the beef industryis methane. And here we are addressing the production of methane gas from cattle. Cows and beef cattle are “ruminants,” or animals with a specialized digestive system that allows them to process otherwise unusable plant material. Cows and other ruminants regurgitate their food (creating the cud) and digest it in multiple stomachs.Through this prolonged digestive process, known as “enteric fermentation,” dairy cows and beef cattle release methane, mostly from burping, but also from farting.
Frank: Nonetheless, there is general agreement that livestock farming worldwide is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, producing 80 million metric tons of methane a year, or about 28% of global methane emissions from human-related activities.If we look at a state level, there are about 2.2 million cows in confined animal feeding operations in California that emit the most greenhouse gasesfollowed by the 1.9 million cows in Wisconsin and the 947,000 cows in New York.
Frank:An international example is from Argentina where plastic tanks have been strapped to cows’ backs in order to capture the amount of methane each animal produces (a 1200-pound cow produced 800 to 1000 liters of emissions each day). There is about 55 million head of cattle grazing on grasslands in Argentina’s industry, so they have good reason to understandthis source of its greenhouse gases (which could be as high as 30 percent of its total emissions).
Frank: Meat consumption affects the environment According to the Environmental working group (EWG), the production, processing and distribution of meat requires huge outlays of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel, feed and water while releasing greenhouse gases, manure and a range of toxic chemicals into the air and water. Red meat is responsible for 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains.Unfortunately, worldwide, between 1971 and 2010, production of meat tripled to around 600 billion pounds while global population grew by 81 percent. And we can expect an increase in the future.
Manure: Furthermore, animal waste releases methane which pollutes our water and air, especially when it is concentrated. In 2007, U.S. livestock in confined feeding operations generated about 500 million tons of manure a year, three times the amount of human waste produced by the entire U.S. population. Manure is the fastest growing major source of methane, up 60 percent from 1990 to 2008.
As we’ve seen methane contributes to climate change which leads to warmer than average temperature. In short resulting in hotter days and more frequent and longer heat waves as well as increased concentrations of unhealthy air and water pollutants. Furthermore the changes in temperature lead to precipitation patters and extreme events which can increase the spread of some diseases. These increases in extreme weather events also have direct effects to people and property
As a result of climate change there are direct health effects that we will likely see. In Metropolitan areas like Los Angeles where extreme and long heat waves are more likely to happen, heat related deaths are expected to increase 2-7 fold by the end of the century. Vulnerable populations like the elderly, young and sick will be most affected by this. Foodborne pathogens like salmonella and e. coli thrive in warmer temperatures. In addition with flooding waters may come flooding sewage systems which can lead to contamination in crops further spreading harmful bacteriaJust like bacteria parasites and disease carrying insects thrive in warmer temperatures. For example ticks carrying lyme disease may be able to increase their geographical range increasing the number of those at risk for contracting lyme disease. Finally an increase in severe weather events can increase severe injury or deaths in vulnerable populations by reducing access to fresh water and food during storms, interrupting communications making access to health services scarce, and having mental health effects leading to depressive disorders.
While climate change can have many devastating health effects, respiratory illnesses are among the more immediate effects as a result of climate change. Warmer temperatures lead to an increased number of days with unhealthy levels of ground level ozone and fine particulate matter which can have a number of respiratory impacts like damage to lung tissue, inflamed airways, decreased lung function and changes in allergens meaning longer and earlier allergy seasons.These impacts trigger allergic respiratory disease and asthma
In the last three decades we’ve seen a significant increase in allergic respiratory disease and asthma. Specifically in urban areas were there are more significant decreases in air quality due to more air pollutants. This is directly related to climate change caused by multiple factors, specifically GHG emission.Studies have shown a positive correlation of air pollution and the risk of developing respiratory disease and asthma by damaging the mucous membrane which allows allergens to more easily pass into the immune system. This leads to a more severe allergic response which can have negative health repercussions like increase need for medications which can be costly, visits to the ER and even death. Currently it is estimated that 50% of the US population lives in areas where the air pollution exceeds national standards.
KATIEIt is important to recognize that –in moderation --beef can still play a nutritious role within our diets. Furthermore most of us enjoy the flavor and are accustomed to frequent beef consumption. So while there are negative environmental and health consequences to beef production, it would be silly to suggest eliminating it.However, it’s clear that we need to reduce our methane emissions and meat consumption. In fact, studies have shown that to meet targets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) globally we need to reduce our meat consumption by 50%.
Our group reviewed the hierarchy of controls to brainstorm ways we can work to reduce global beef and meat production, thereby reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.Elimination – Unrealistic, drastic (and would remove important source of protein for many across the world, not to mention the economic consequences)Substitution – Viable option: Substitute beef, meat and dairy products with more plants and plant protein, which does not create the same level of GHG emissionsEngineering Controls – Researchers looking into improving animal genetics to reduce gas; researching different types of feed. Another interesting option is Methane Gas Recovery where farmers capture the methane emitted from manure pits/tanks and use it for electricity & heating through anaerobic digestion Administrative Controls – Important: Some suggest taxing meat or implementing an emission trading scheme to force reduction in consumption. (Unpopular but would likely be effective in changing behavior). As some pointed out in the LinkedIn Discussion, we also have to consider that meat is often cheaper than vegetables, so we also need to end the subsidies that promote commodity crops like corn which are fed to meat animals for cheap, thereby making meat, corn and soy less expensive than more healthful foods.PPE? (Other than preventing farmers from falling into manure pits and suffocating, which has unfortunately happened, we couldn’t think of PPE since methane has a more indirect effect)Education – Inform people about the negative environmental (and therefore health) impacts of the beef and meat industries, and also teach people how to prepare foods without meat (First step in Knowledge Attitudes Practice model)
While reducing your intake by 50% may seem ambitious at first it is obtainable. If you are someone who consumes meat at every meal then you are consuming meat at least 21 times a week. If you eat that much, reducing your consumption by half means you still can eat some meat at least once a day. Still a quick reduction isn’t always easy. Something we all can do—Meatless Mondays:We recommend that you start slowly by joining the Meatless Mondays campaign. This has become a global campaign and many brands, institutions, restaurants and campuses have jumped on board. In fact, the American Public Health Association is promoting Meatless Monday as part of National Public Health Week, which begins April 7th. You’ll learn more about Meatless Mondays in our group’s PSA.
There are many other important implications of the way we produce meat in this country that haven’t been touched on during this presentation. We encourage you to research this on your own and consider how our diet affects the planet and therefore population health.
The Consequences of Beef Consumption: Why You Should Care
Cow Farts Are No
Problems About Methane
Methane Production and Climate
Climate Change and Health
Respiratory Health Impacts
What Can Be Done?
58.6 million tons of beef are expected to be produced
worldwide in 2014
The United States is the largest consumer of beef
The demand for beef outside the U.S. continues to grow
and may soon outpace production
Worldwide production is expected to double by 2020
A major by product of the beef industry is methane gas:
Cows and beef cattle are “ruminants.” Cows and other
ruminants regurgitate their food (creating the cud) and
digest it in multiple stomachs.
Through this prolonged digestive process, known as
“enteric fermentation,” dairy cows and beef cattle
release methane, mostly from burping, but also from
Methane by the Numbers
There is general agreement that livestock farming
worldwide is a significant source of greenhouse gas
emissions, producing 80 million metric tons of methane a
year, or about 28% of global methane emissions from
At a state level, the roughly 2.2 million cows in confined
animal feeding operations in California emit the most
greenhouse gas emissions in a state-by-state comparison
of U.S. dairy cows, followed by the 1.9 million cows in
Wisconsin and the 947,000 cows in New York at #3.
Researchers in Argentina have
strapped plastic tanks to cows’
backs in order to trap and
measure the amount of
methane each animal produces
• A 1200-pound cow produced
800 to 1000 liters of
emissions each day
• With about 55 million head
of cattle grazing on
grasslands in its beef
Meat consumption affects the environment
• According to the Environmental working group (EWG),
the production, processing and distribution of meat
requires huge outlays of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel,
feed and water while releasing greenhouse gases,
manure and toxic chemicals into the air and water.
• Red meat is responsible for 10 to 40 times as many
greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and
Worldwide, between 1971 and 2010, production of meat
tripled to around 600 billion pounds while global
population grew by 81 percent. The production of meat
will increase even more.
Animal waste releases methane which pollutes our water
and air, especially when it is concentrated.
In 2007, U.S. livestock in confined feeding operations
generated about 500 million tons of manure a year, three
times the amount of human waste produced by the entire
Manure is the fastest growing major source of methane,
up 60 percent from 1990 to 2008.
Methane (CH4) is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas
emitted in the United States from human activities.
Methane is also emitted by natural sources such as wetlands,
leakage from natural gas systems, and the raising of livestock.
Methane's lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than
carbon dioxide (CO2), but CH4 is more efficient at trapping
radiation than CO2.
Emissions and Trends
Methane (CH4) emissions in the United States decreased
by 8% between 1990 and 2011, but increased from
sources associated with agricultural activities.
Climate Change and Health Impacts
Warmer than average temperatures can lead to:
-more frequent and longer heat waves
-increase in concentrations of unhealthy air and water pollutants
Changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, and extreme events
could enhance the spread of some diseases.
Increases in the frequency or severity of extreme weather events
could increase the risk of dangerous flooding, high winds, and other
direct threats to people and property.
Heat stroke and dehydration
Foodborne pathogens like Salmonella
The spread of parasites, bacteria and vector diseases
The number of severe injuries or deaths in vulnerable
populations through indirect means.
Damaged lung tissue
Decreased lung function
There will be changes in allergens meaning, longer and
earlier allergy seasons
Allergic Respiratory Disease
The incidence of allergic respiratory disease and asthma
are increasing worldwide
Damage to mucous membrane facilitates access of inhaled
allergens into the immune system
Leads to more severe immunoglobulin (IgE) response
leading to more allergic respiratory diseases
What can we do?
There are many negative consequences of the beef
industry but that doesn’t change the fact that as a society
we love our meat
Beef provides a good source of protein and other
important nutrients like iron and B12
Studies have shown that to meet targets set by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
globally we need to reduce our consumption by 50%
Elimination: No more hamburgers?
Substitution: Substitute beef/meat with more
Engineering Controls: Researchers looking
into improving animal genetics/feed to
reduce gas / Capturing methane
Administrative Controls: Tax meat
/ cap & trade / end subsidies for
commodity crops like corn
Avoiding meat one day a week on Mondays is a good way
to start reducing your overall meat consumption
Increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables in place
of meats will also help reduce calorie intake, reduce your
risk of some cancers and cardiovascular disease and
ensure you’re getting plant-based nutrients
Beef consumption is high (and growing) worldwide
While the industry produces tasty hamburgers for our
consumption there are several negative consequences
associated with its production
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes
to climate change which in turn contributes to myriad
health effects in humans
Consider reducing your meat consumption and start
by going meatless one day a week. When you do eat
meat consider the source.
"Cutting the number of ruminant livestock
could have additional benefits for food
security, human health and environmental
conservation involving water quality,
wildlife habitat and biodiversity.”
-Pete Smith, University of Aberdeen
Silverman, Jacob. "Do cows pollute as much as cars?" 16 July 2007.
HowStuffWorks.com. http://animals.howstuffworks.com/mammals/methane-cow.htm 20 March 2014.
Hayden, Lisa. “No Fooling: Cow Burps and Farts Contribute to Climate Change” 10 April 2011. Nature.org.
“Human Health” 09 September 2013. EPA.gov.<http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-
adaptation/health.html. 20 March 2014.
“Causes of Climate Change” 18 March 2014. EPA.gov. http://epa.gov/climatechange/science/causes.html
20 March 2014
D'Amato G, Cecchi L, D' Amato M, G Liccardi. Urban Air Pollution and Climate Change as Environmental Risk
Factors of Respiratory Allergy: An Update. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol 2010; Vol. 20(2): 95-102.
Scott-Thomas, Caroline. “Meat Consumption needs 50% reduction to meet climate change target, says
researcher” 16 April 2012. foodnavigator-usa.com. <http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/R-D/Meat-
“Livestock and Poultry: World Markets and Trade”. United States Department of Agriculture. November
“Meatless Monday” 2014. http://www.meatlessmonday.com/about-us/why-meatless/
“Greater emphasis needed on livestock flatulence if we are to save planet,” Wired UK 20 December
“Tax Meat to Reduce Methane Emissions and Global Warming, Say Scientists,” Eco Watch 26 December
Methane Gas Recovery, Wisonsin Public
“U.S. touts fruit and vegetables while subsidizing animals that become meat,” Washington Post. 3
October 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/us-touts-fruit-and-vegetables-