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Study: Feedlot Beef ‘Greener’ than Grass-Fed

According to a University of New South Wales study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, Beef produced in feedlots has a smaller carbon footprint than meat raised exclusively on pastures. The study also found that the greenhouse gas impact of Australian beef and sheep meat production is equal to or lower than that of livestock raised in many countries.

 

The life cycle analysis of Australian meat production, by the Sustainability Assessment Program at the University’s Water Research Center, found that feedlot beef production generated slightly less greenhouse gas per kilogram of meat than grass-fed beef.  Results from one of the New South Wales supply chains studied showed feedlot production had a carbon footprint of 9.9 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram of “hot standard carcass weight”–the unit of measure used in the industry. Grass-finished beef produced 12 kg carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of hot standard carcass weight.

 

grass-fed-beef-featured.jpgCommissioned by Meat and Livestock Australia, this study looked at three operations, including a beef producer in New South Wales, a sheep meat producer in Western Australia, and a Victorian organic beef producer.  It found sheep meat had a carbon footprint ranging from 7kg to 8kg carbon dioxide equivalent per kg hot standard carcass weight.

 

Feedlot beef production, in which cattle are “finished” by being fed a diet of grain for the few months preceding slaughter, is often criticized for the resources and energy it consumes. However, study co-author Matthias Schulz said the feedlot had been found to produce meat more efficiently, effectively offsetting the greenhouse impact of the additional transport and feed production needed.

 

“Grain-finished cattle have a more efficient weight gain which completely offsets their higher individual carbon footprint,” he said.

 

“The other main reason for the better greenhouse performance of grain-fed beef is the superior digestibility of the feed and the associated reduction in methane emissions, and these digestion-related methane emissions are the main source of greenhouse gas from the livestock industry.”

 

The study also found Australian operations compared favorably when comparing data from Australian beef and sheep meat operations to studies conducted in Europe, the UK, the U.S., Africa, and Japan.

© Food Safety News
  • “The other main reason for the better greenhouse performance of grain-fed beef is the superior digestibility of the feed and the associated reduction in methane emissions, and these digestion-related methane emissions are the main source of greenhouse gas from the livestock industry.”
    Superior digestibility of the feed? Grains more digestible for cattle then grass? I’m curious, and a bit suspicious about that claim.
    In any case, I’m pretty sure the corn based feed at US feedlot operations would fail that criteria.

  • Jeremy

    Like a lot of studies out there, this one does sound a bit bias (the words and quotes used in this article doesn’t sound too objective), is there corporate interests funding this study? How about peer review from other international institutions?

  • John

    Acknowledgments
    This research was funded by Meat and Livestock Australia.
    Jeremy, you’d seem to be right.
    The other thing is total carbon footprint per head is ~250kg CO2 equiv. higher for feedlot cattle, but since they assume the grain-finished steer are 83kg heavier, per kilo hot carcass weight the carbon footprint is lower.

  • MIke

    The report neglects to factor in the positive carbon-impact of the grass itself.

  • I agree with Bill “Superior digestibility of the feed? Grains more digestible for cattle then grass”? Have these people ever seen the movie Food Inc. I learned just how bad corn fed meat is for the animals themselves, for us to eat, and bad for the enviornment. A MUST movie for all to see. My eyes were opened and I was horrified about what I learned and what is allowed in the food industry!
    I’m Also curious, and a bit suspicious about that claim.

  • Sorry about the brief comment. I was on vacation. If you bring your attention to similar studies done by the UN’s FAO and the Queensland Government, you find that these institutions found that pasture-raised beef is carbon-neutral and potentially carbon-negative. However, the majority of cattle raised by the industry that commissioned the study mentioned above is done so on CAFOs. Any research, no matter how limited in scope, that promotes their business is big news to them, hence their ability to schmear it all over the net. I was surprised that it made it onto this and other responsible blogs.

  • david fitzgerald

    wow great fantasy and sci fi,why don’t you city U.N. folk stay the fuck out of my bussiness.Hmmm I’v done a study myself on big cities effect on human health,New York,L.A.,Detroit,Chicago,Philly Homelessnes,Aids,prostitution,general filth,Heroin,Crack,Meth,Murders ,Rapes why don’t you fix your own backyard?? Fn do gooders

  • debbe

    If you are looking for more information about environmental impact of CAFO, and even cattle in general, read Mad Cowboy by Lyman.
    The study in this article does nothing to talk about the comparative health of corn raised beef vs grass fed for human consumption. Therefore not addressing rising health costs, health concerns etc.

  • Alan

    So it seems a bit of methane is more important than peoples health, not to mention the animals health. Grain fed meat is absolute crap compared to grass fed meat, and that’s ignoring all the antibiotics fed to keep the animals alive till slaughter. Corn is not a natural food for cattle, or humans for that matter.