We constantly hear the call to eat less meat, but that's a hard commitment for many of us Americans to make. After all, our country has a large appetite. We produce 60% more meat (per person) than Europe, and nearly four times as much as developing nations, according to Environmental Working Group's new Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health. With a growing population, meat production is predicted to rise. So lets compromise. Instead of completely cutting meat out of our diets, perhaps we should just be selective about the meats we eat.
Not all meat is created equal. Chicken, according to the new report, is the most climate-friendly meat, far better than beef, lamb or pork, and slightly better than turkey. Though others have tried to define which foods are better and worse for the environment before, this report, according to Environmental Working Group, is the first of its kind to consider greenhouse gas emissions associated with the full lifecycle of common foods, from production to consumption, of meat and high-protein alternatives.
Researchers concluded that meat production takes a toll on our health, the environment, the climate, and of course, the animals we consume. It generates greenhouse gas emissions, employs harsh pesticides and antibiotics that spawn drug-resistant bacteria, and creates so much manure that it leaches into our groundwater and streams.
To assess climate impacts, Environmental Working Group collaborated with CleanMetrics, an environmental analysis and consulting firm to investigate popular types of meat, fish, dairy and vegetables. The assessment calculated the full cradle-to-grave carbon footprint of each food item based on greenhouse gas emissionsbefore, and after the food leaves the farm. Environmental Working Group's report found that different meats and different production systems have varying health, climate and other environmental impacts, says Kari Hamershlag, Environmental Working Group's lead analyst.
Lamb, beef and cheese have the highest emissions, in part because they are derived from animals that release a consistent amount of methane gas, which is a potent green house gas pollutant. Chickens aren't gassy creatures. They produce no methane and cause far fewer emissions during production. Also, pound for pound, they require less feed than hogs, beef or dairy cattle. Chicken is a good alternative to red meat, which is linked to a variety of health issues like obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even mortality. Of course, protein alternatives like rice and eggs are considerably better for the environment; beans and lentils are better still.
Hamershlag told The Daily Green that the simplest way for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental harm by livestock is to eat, waste and produce less meat and dairy. When you buy less meat overall, you can afford healthier, greener options. For those who aren't going to give up meat completely, here's how make a personal impact: think chicken.
Eat greener meat. When shopping, look for:
Pasture-raised chicken is raised with fewer antibiotics and hormones, and in some cases had more nutrients and less fat. Chickens live in more humane, open and sanitary conditions.
USDA organic chicken keeps pesticides and chemical fertilizers out of our land, our water, our food and our bodies.
Certified humane chicken means that animals were raised with enough space without cages or crates.
Waste less meat
Consumers throw out about 12% of their chicken products because it spoils before we eat it, or because we put more of it on our plate than we can eat. Environmental Working Group's analysis found that discarded food amounts to, on average, 20% of the emissions associated with producing, processing, transporting and consuming meat and dairy products. Leftovers can be great for soups, stews or stocks. Buy right-sized portions and eat what you buy to reduce your impact.
If everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles or taking 7.6 million cars off the road. Consider having meatless Mondays in your household.
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