NEW REPORT: The Clean Cow

New report details how the cattle industry can significantly reduce CO2 emissions

Berkeley, Calif. — Today, the Breakthrough Institute’s Food & Agriculture program released a new report outlining how the US cattle industry can significantly reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 48% by 2030 through incorporating emerging and existing carbon-reducing technologies, The Clean Cow.

Click here to read the full report

“The US does not have to cut out beef to drastically reduce CO2 emissions,” said Dan Blaustein-Rejto, Food & Agriculture Director at the Breakthrough Institute. “It’s important to recognize that cows are technology — a human-made animal developed through selective breeding over centuries — and the clean cow is the next step in their technological evolution. Cows have been integral to humanity’s advancement, and while they aren’t going anywhere, their emissions don’t have to stay.”

Raising cattle for beef is responsible for over 3 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. If current projections are correct, cattle emissions could increase to 5 percent of the US’s total carbon emissions. While cutting emissions down to net-zero is simply not possible, current CO2 emission rates from cattle production can be cut up to 18% — or 42M metric tons of CO2 a year — with existing technologies and 48% with breakthrough technologies. Incorporating alternative meats and dietary shifts will help in reducing emissions, but deep decarbonization does not require eliminating beef.

The US cannot continue with current cattle-raising practices if they are to significantly cut CO2 emissions. Further reducing beef’s carbon footprint will require “breakthrough technologies” such as feed additives that can be given to grazing cattle, crops that sequester more carbon than conventional plants, and lower-methane cattle breeds. These advances are technologically plausible but still in the early stages of research. If these technologies were developed and fully adopted alongside existing practices by 2030, we estimate that the carbon footprint of beef production could be nearly 48 percent lower than it otherwise would be.

This projection for 2030 requires federal financial investment and guidance in the public and private sector. Government investment and incentives that expand research and development programs will help producers adopt sustainable practices and reform regulations that stymie the development and commercialization of feed additives and genetically modified crops. Such changes would have large climate benefits and, in some cases, reduce land use and improve water and air pollution, making “clean,” low-carbon beef possible.

BTI’s Food and Agriculture team will be hosting a Clean Cow webinar on November 11, 2021, with panelists Dr. Frank Mitloehner, Professor and Air Quality CE Specialist, UC Davis, Isha Datar, Executive Director, New Harvest, and BTI’s Director of Food and Agriculture Dan Blaustein-Rejto. Click here to register.

The following authors are available for comment.

Dan Blaustein-Rejto, Director of Food and Agriculture, @danrejto

Emma Kovak, Senior Food and Agriculture Analyst, @EmmaKovak

Alex Smith, Food and Agriculture Analyst, @alexjmssmith