The GHG and Land Demand Consequences of the US Animal-Based Food Consumption

Cattle, Chemicals, Climate, and Oxygen in Gulf of Mexico

American Geophysical Union 2008 Fall Meeting

The GHG and Land Demand Consequences of the US Animal-Based Food

Martin, P A Dept. of Geophysics, 5734 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago,
IL 60637, United States.

Eshel, G  Bard College, PO Box 5000, Annandale, NY 12504-5000,
United States.

Abstract: While the environmental burdens exerted by food production
are addressed by several recent publications, the contributions
of animal-based food production, and in particular red meat-by
far the most environmentally exacting of all large-scale animal-based
foods-are less well quantified. We present several simple calculations
that quantify some environmental costs of animal-and cattle-based
food production. First, we show that American red meat
is, on average, 350% more GHG (greenhouse gas)-intensive per
edible calorie than the national food system’s mean. Second,
we show that the per calorie land-use efficiencies of fruit and
beans are 5 and 3 times that of animal-based foods. That is,
an animal-based edible calorie requires the same amounts of land
as 5 fruit calories or 3 bean calories. We conclude with highlighting
the importance of these results to policy makers by calculating
the mass flux into the environment of fertilizer and herbicide
that will be averted by reducing or eliminating animal-based
foods from the mean US diet. This also enables us to make preliminary
quantitative statements about expected changes to the size and probability
of Gulf of Mexico anoxic events of a certain O2 depletion levels that are
likely to accompany specific dietary shifts.


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