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Life-cycle analysis study suggests eating less meat

July 9, 2012
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LCA Analysis
The study shows that 1 kg of Brazillian beef exacts 335 kg of carbon dioxide emissions compared to Dutch beef (22 kg). Adding to the problem is that grazing land can not be counted as vegetated or forrested land that converts carbon dioxide to oxygen. Source: Data derived from Schmidinger/Stehfest study.

A recent Austrian and Dutch study shows the production of one kilogram of beef in Brazil produces 335kg of CO2, which corresponds approximately to the emissions of driving an average European car for more than 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles), according to the study by Kurt Schmidinger and Elke Stehfest entitled Including CO2 implications of land in LCAs—method and example for livestock products. Even Dutch beef amounts to 22 kg CO2 or 111 kilometers in a car.

Schmidinger (University of Vienna) and Stehfest (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) developed a fundamental enhancement of the commonly used life cycle assessment (LCA) method for foods, which now appears online in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment.

A key issue of relevance for the study is the integration into the calculations of the area used for production in addition to the emissions resulting from the production of foods. Despite playing a central role for the climate, area use effects have been ignored in climate balances until now. Occupation of huge areas prevents natural vegetation from replenishing itself. This vegetation would absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and stabilize the world climate.

With the now-published enhancement for LCAs, the area demand of a product is added as a missed potential carbon sink to the emissions of the food production in the balance, according to the authors.

With 6.2 kg of CO2, 1kg of Dutch chicken meat has the lowest CO2-balance among animal products. Schmidinger, a geophysicist and food scientist, warns of false conclusions. “Industrial livestock systems are not simply viable options, even if their climate balances sometimes out-compete pasture systems. Industrial livestock systems require enormous amounts of cropland, which is less available than pastures; this, in turn, threatens global food security,” says Schmidinger.

“Global pandemics, antibiotic resistance, animal welfare problems, water pollution, soil erosion and many more issues are associated with industrial livestock farming,” warns Schmidinger. “Plant-based foods, on the other hand, perform significantly better when considering all ethical aspects of nutrition.”

Protein-rich, plant-based foods show by far the lowest CO2 scores in the study, with tofu producing 3.8kg of CO2 and tempeh producing 2.4kg of CO2.

When asked about the significance of CO2 levels of beef as they compare from Brazil vs. Holland or the US, Schmidinger says, “It was not our goal to give an overall overview of beef produced in different countries in different forms of livestock.” However, Schmidinger says the ethanol issue could also be quantified in terms of CO2, based on his enriched LCA methods.

For more information on the study, visit Springerlink. Contact: Kurt Schmidinger, FEWD University Vienna, Mobile: +43-676-3322107, mailto:kurt.schmidinger@futurefood.org or mailto:kurt.schmidinger@univie.ac.at

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