RELEASE: New Study Reveals Important Insights on the Carbon Footprint of Beef Production

Berkeley, CA, December 13 – A research paper published in PLOS ONE, conducted by Daniel Blaustein-Rejto, the Breakthrough Institute’s Director of Food and Agriculture, and Linus Blomqvist, a PhD student in Environmental Economics and Science at UC Santa Barbara and former director of the Breakthrough Institute’s Conservation and Food & Agriculture programs, unveils key findings about the environmental impact of beef production and challenges long held assumptions about the carbon footprint of grass-fed and grain-fed beef.

Beef production is a significant contributor to global livestock greenhouse gas emissions and a target for climate mitigation efforts. Many companies claim to sell carbon-neutral beef or reduce their carbon footprint by offering grass-fed alternatives. However, this comprehensive analysis challenges these claims.

The study examined 100 beef production operations across 16 countries and considered emissions from production like manure and cow burps, as well as potential carbon sequestration from grazing and the full climate impact of land use, known as the carbon opportunity cost.

Lead author Daniel Blaustein-Rejto addressed their findings by saying, “our research reveals a stark reality: claims of low-carbon beef glaringly omit the most significant factor - the carbon opportunity cost of land use.” Additionally, he pointed out that, “this study makes clear that any claim about beef’s carbon footprint that disregards land use is fundamentally flawed, neglecting what is arguably beef production’s most significant climate impact.”

Even when accounting for potential soil carbon sequestration from grazing, the research reveals that grass-fed beef is more carbon-intensive than grain-fed, more intensively raised beef. Specifically, the study found that grass-fed beef operations had 20% higher emissions from production than grain-finished systems and a 42% higher carbon footprint overall when considering carbon sequestration and land use.

Furthermore, the research finds that operations that produce more beef per acre have a significantly lower carbon footprint than less productive operations. A 10% increase in beef production per acre was associated with a 4.8% decrease in emissions from production and a 9.0% decrease in carbon footprint, encompassing production emissions, soil carbon sequestration, and carbon opportunity cost.

According to co-author Linus Blomqvist “studies looking at the carbon footprint of beef have long been incomplete, often just including the production side and sometimes also accounting for carbon sequestration on grazing land. Our study is the first to provide a complete picture that also includes the carbon opportunity cost of using land for grazing.”

As the world faces the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change, this research sheds light on the complexities of the beef industry and underscores the necessity of holistic approaches to address its environmental impact.

Click here to see the full results of the research, including methodology.


Media Contact:

Daniel Blaustein-Rejto

Director of Food and Agriculture, The Breakthrough Institute

(845) 594-4603