Planet Days
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Planet Days

Organic meat is just more greenwashing

When it comes to eating meat, there’s no cutting carbon corners. Grass-fed, organic meat has the same carbon footprint as conventionally produced meat, according to a study published this month.

In the study, researchers looked at the external costs of farming and food, like the associated emissions and pollution, and tried to quantify that number. They found organic and conventional beef and lamb had about the same climate costs, while organic chicken was actually a little worse for the climate, and organic pork was slightly better.

The recent findings don’t necessarily mean eating organic isn’t better for you or the animal you’re eating. It might be. But it does mean that if you’re buying organic meat to reduce your carbon footprint, you should reconsider.

Grass-fed cows take longer to grow, so they produce more methane over their lifetimes than conventionally grown cows. And like conventional cows, they need a place to graze, which can lead to deforestation, a huge source of emissions.

The recent study also points to the shitty conversion ratio of cows, which can be as high as 43:1, meaning you need 43 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of beef (I know, it’s icky to talk about live animals in terms of “efficiency,” but alas).

All things considered, the researchers concluded that the true price of meat does not reflect its planetary impact. To better reflect the price of meat’s actual footprint, they suggested that governments tax meat and use the revenues to incentives farmers to reduce their carbon footprint and practice more sustainable agriculture.

In this scenario, “[C]onsumers demanding environmentally detrimental foodstuff would directly pay for its damages, whereas environmentally conscious consumers not wishing to support unsustainable farming practices are not financially burdened with its implications.”

This part of the study echoes findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which published a special report last year on climate change and land use.

“We don’t want to tell people what to eat,” Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the IPCC’s working group on impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, said in a statement. “But it would indeed be beneficial, for both climate and human health, if people in many rich countries consumed less meat, and if politics would create appropriate incentives to that effect.”

No matter how you cut it, meat’s bad for the Planet. Arguing otherwise is just another form of greenwashing. That sounds harsh — mostly because organic cattle ranchers feel more well-intentioned than plastic manufacturers that push recycling or oil refineries that push carbon capture— but when it comes to climate, any sort of animal agriculture is rotten.

The easiest way to reduce your diet’s climate impact, therefore, is to skip meat altogether. Fortunately, with the rise of plant-based alternatives, people have more options than ever before. The New Year also offers a chance for resolutions, and Veganuary is right around the corner.

So, as you gather around family (hopefully virtually) this holiday season, consider busting out a new cookbook and putting a plant-based twist on traditional staples. This list I put together for last year’s Super Bowl (RIP Super Bowl parties) is a good place to start.

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