Science and TechClimate Change


How Does U.S. Meat Production Contribute To Climate Change?

A new discussion for 2020 presidential candidates: Should we regulate meat production as the climate changes? And how?
Posted at 3:50 PM, Sep 05, 2019

Democratic candidates talking about climate change have faced a particular question about the carbon footprint of food.

"Should Americans change their eating habits and eat less beef?"

"Reduce red meat, specifically."

"Can they have their steak and eat it, too?"

Why this focus? U.S. meat production doesn't pollute on the scale of energy or transportation. The EPA estimates livestock represented about 3% of U.S. emissions in 2017.

But meat production requires more resources and emits more CO2 than staple foods like rice or potatoes. And beef is the worst offender of the livestock bunch by a long shot. 

So changing our hamburger habits could be a significant way to cut down agricultural emissions — and that's something experts say we'll need to do if we want to minimize the risks of climate change.

Especially because food system emissions overall are expected to increase by midcentury, if business continues as usual. Curbing beef demand now could do a lot to help keep its future climate impacts in check.