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Investigating the greenhouse gas emissions of grass-fed beef relative to other greenhouse gas abatement strategies

Gagelman, Lance, Norwood, Bailey
The Rangeland journal 2018 v.40 no.5 pp. 513-525
beef, carbon, carbon markets, chickens, cropland, grazing, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, land use, models, pastures, people, prices, purchasing, vegetarian diet, United States
Beef is often identified as one of the foods with the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, causing climate-conscious persons to seek changes in their diets. This study evaluated the ability of a household to reduce its GHG emissions by replacing conventional US beef with grass-fed beef and compared its effectiveness to three other strategies: replacing beef with chicken, becoming a vegetarian, and purchasing carbon offsets. These potential GHG-reducing strategies were considered within a model of a typical US household, using a framework that accounts for all household expenditures and carbon emissions. Replacing beef with chicken and adopting vegetarianism reduced the household’s GHG emissions by 1% and 3%, respectively. Grass-fed beef only reduced emissions if the GHG sequestration rate for pastureland and/or the price of grass-fed beef was high. It is shown that persons paying higher prices for grass-fed beef with the goal of smaller GHG emissions might want to consider buying conventional beef instead and using the savings to purchase carbon offsets. Also, although vegetarianism is often touted as a climate-friendly diet, the model shows that meat-eaters can achieve the same GHG reduction by spending only US$19 per year on carbon offsets. These results assume that additional land for grazing is acquired from recently abandoned cropland, which gives grass-fed beef its best chance at being climate-friendly. Alternative land-use assumptions would only reinforce the result that grass-fed beef does not emit less GHG emissions than conventional beef.