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posted by janrinok on Wednesday July 23 2014, @04:25PM   Printer-friendly
from the order-another-burger dept.

Research into the environmental impact of animal-based foods has concluded that beef has the greatest impact by a large margin (Full text [pdf]).

When the numbers were in, including those for the environmental costs of different kinds of feed (pasture, roughage such as hay, and concentrates such as corn), the team developed equations that yielded values for the environmental cost per calorie and then per unit of protein, for each food.

The calculations showed that the biggest culprit, by far, is beef. That was no surprise, say Milo and Shepon. The surprise was in the size of the gap: In total, eating beef is more costly to the environment by an order of magnitude about ten times on average than other animal-derived foods, including pork and poultry. Cattle require on average 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water, are responsible for releasing 5 times more greenhouse gases, and consume 6 times as much nitrogen, as eggs or poultry. Poultry, pork, eggs and dairy all came out fairly similar. That was also surprising, because dairy production is often thought to be relatively environmentally benign. But the research shows that the price of irrigating and fertilizing the crops fed to milk cows as well as the relative inefficiency of cows in comparison to other livestock jacks up the cost significantly.

 
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  • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 23 2014, @05:53PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 23 2014, @05:53PM (#72874)

    First, as was observed above, agronomy matters. Just because ruminants can convert arid grassland growth into digestible protein doesn't mean that we can usefully or easily grow food crops there. And when we can, the environmental implications are often vast (or are huge dams and expensive, power-hungry irrigation systems our friends this week? I can never keep up ...) for marginal returns.

    Second, I don't see any real mention in this analysis of what animal agriculture permits. Quite aside from human nutritional arguments (and no, agronomy also means you can't feed all the humans on earth a vegan diet even if you could magically secure their cooperation), animal byproducts are often synergistically valuable to other agricultural purposes. If you want productive soil, and you don't want to use petrochemicals to supplement soil nutrients, and you don't want to use manure, you had better find some way of turning wishful thinking into soybeans. While you're busy doing that, I'll be over here reaping the rewards of good, old-fashioned manure in my soil.

    Third, never mind soil fertility (hah!) but let's consider just the brute work behind getting a crop in. Today, we use tractors. If oil prices keep going the way they're going, tomorrow we may well be using horses and oxen. Doing so means that we are keeping animals - a hell of a lot of them. What do you do when they're too old to work, or die? A retirement home for every shire or percheron too weak to pull a harrow? Burial plots? On my farm, they'll be eaten. And their bones ground up and turned into the earth, along with their manure.

    And as for the lunatics who think that we should farm in a vegan way, here's a heads-up: all your crunchy-granola animal friendly crops? Were sown and harvested at a staggering cost in animal life, simply because a combine harvester or even a simple scythe's blade can't see through the dense growth and figure out where a vole is hiding. The first hint a worker gets that he just sliced a mouse in half can easily be a red smear on his blade. A subsoiler can tear a mole up without anyone being any the wiser. If you eat anything that came off a commercial farm, even if the Amish run that farm, it's stained in blood. Get over it. Get therapy, get drugs, get over it and stop trying to tell the rest of us what we shouldn't be doing when you don't even grasp the implications. And this isn't even touching on the topic of the kind of pest control required to actually have that crop in the first place...

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  • (Score: 1) by camaro on Wednesday July 23 2014, @07:01PM

    by camaro (584) on Wednesday July 23 2014, @07:01PM (#72913)

    Thank you for that insightful post. I couldn't have said it better myself. I'm a cattle producer. For me to turn all my pasture and hay land into grain or pulse production would be an environmental disaster. This sandy soil I farm on is doing far better growing grass for the cattle than it could ever do producing anything else.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by carguy on Wednesday July 23 2014, @08:51PM

    by carguy (568) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday July 23 2014, @08:51PM (#72976)

    Third, never mind soil fertility (hah!) but let's consider just the brute work behind getting a crop in. Today, we use tractors. If oil prices keep going the way they're going, tomorrow we may well be using horses and oxen.

    Visiting relatives in central Wisconsin this week. Lots of big dairy operations here and many of them also grow soy beans for cow feed. But, the soy oil isn't really good for the cows, so they press the beans and use the soy oil in the tractors. The soy oil can be converted to biodiesel, but it is even easier to simply mix with 50% diesel (when it is warm enough--the soy oil congeals in cold weather).

    Bonus is the pressed beans are better for the cows. On a big operation, at current fuel prices, I understand the payback for the press (runs off tractor pto) can be a couple of years, but don't quote me on that.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 23 2014, @09:53PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 23 2014, @09:53PM (#72993)

      I believe it. As a way of stretching your diesel dollar on what would otherwise probably be a waste product (unless you wanted to jump through FDA hoops to sell it as cooking oil) it's not a bad idea, just like power generation from methane off cow manure.

      However, that doesn't make it a viable, net positive fuel source without the addition of petrochemical sources. It's more like energy recycling than energy generation.

  • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Wednesday July 23 2014, @10:17PM

    by c0lo (156) on Wednesday July 23 2014, @10:17PM (#73006) Journal

    you don't want to use manure, you had better find some way of turning wishful thinking into soybeans.

    Wishful thinking is kinda crap anyway.
    Just sayin'

    --
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0