Through deforestation of the Amazon rainforest to create pastureland for grazing, every 1kg of meat produced is equivalent to a staggering 1 tonne of carbon dioxide generated or unsequestered.
That is the conclusion of a new report into livestock farming in Brazil, the world’s second largest beef producer.
Researchers from the Swedish Institute of Food and Biotechnology (SIFB) have recalculated the carbon cost of meat from “rainforest ranches”, arguing that land-use changes should be factored in.
Lead researcher Christel Cederberg has called previous carbon estimates of just 28kg of carbon dioxide per kilogram of meat “misleading”, as they take account of emissions from the animals’ digestion and manure, and fuel alone.
Seventy per cent of cleared forest in the Brazilian Amazon has been felled to create rainforest ranches – 20 million hectares from 1986 to 2006. Although only 6 per cent of Brazil’s beef comes from the Amazon, it generates 60 per cent of the industry’s carbon footprint.
As a result Cederberg and her colleagues estimate that each kilogram of beef produced is responsible for the creation of more than 700kg of carbon dioxide.
That figure rises to almost a tonne because only 72 per cent of the animal is edible – the highest carbon footprint of any beef in the world.
As a result of the research experts expect to see many EU companies that currently trade in Brazilian beef switch suppliers.
“Since global demand for meat is rising rapidly, it’s a big concern,” said Tara Garnett of the University of Surrey’s Food Climate Research Network.