Grilling the Planet
The beef with burgers and false solutions to the climate crisis
Burger King claims to have found the Holy Grail of food-related climate solutions: the reduced methane emissions burger. The company claims that by introducing 100 grams of lemongrass into their beef cow’s daily diets they’ve reduced by 33% emissions tied to their burgers.
Let’s be clear. Cows are key drivers of climate change and tossing a little lemongrass into their diets won’t change that.
Burgers are a cornerstone of the sustainable food conversation among foodies and families alike. But changing what cows eat simply won’t make the difference we need to meet global emission-reduction targets. Studies show to fight climate change we need to cut 90% of our beef consumption.
Burgers make a whopper of an impact on our planet. Livestock are responsible for at least 16% of global greenhouse gases, and beef cows make up about 41% of that impact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Every year cows in the United States alone produce the GHG equivalent of more than 22 million cars.
Searching for ways to eat the same amount of meat — instead of reducing how much meat we eat — is missing the mark.
The company’s methane reductions claim has a number of limitations. The reductions they studied come only during the last few months of the cow’s life, not the entire life cycle of gaseous bodily emissions. The number doesn’t take into account climate pollutants like carbon and nitrogen which feed into the climate cost of a burger. And it’s unclear how many cows in the supply chain could follow this fad diet as the company sources meat globally.
But the biggest problem with embracing the lemongrass diet as a sustainable solution is that it doesn’t reduce the impact of feed crops on soil and water or the massive amount of land use and pesticides required for every Whopper.
What beef advocates, and even some environmental advocates, often choose to overlook is that grass-fed beef comes with biodiversity loss and harms to wildlife, even with low stocking rates, non-arid habitats and an attempt to promote biodiversity, in the best system. And we can’t meet current demand.