You may have seen stories in the media or online about how cattle are a major contributor to climate change.
Many of these articles cite an outdated World Health Organization report that estimates the global cattle industry’s carbon footprint, says Dan Loy with the Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University in Ames.
In reality, U.S. cattle farming has a much smaller environmental impact compared to those in other countries.
“If you look at some of the statistics, they include methane emissions from cattle produced worldwide. Many of these (cattle farms) aren’t as efficient as they are in the United States,” Loy says.
“In countries like India (home of the world’s largest cattle population), many of the cattle aren’t utilized for food production period (because of religious beliefs),” Loy says. “So cows there emit more methane over their lifetime.”
Beef cattle account for only about 2% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency.
In comparison, our transportation system – including cars, planes and more - accounts for more than 29% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
“In the big picture, (cattle) aren’t as significant as other sources (of greenhouse gas),” Loy says. “When you see headlines that cattle produce more greenhouse gases than automobiles, for example, that’s totally misguided.”
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