Study ignores nutritional factor when evaluating climate impact

Another study fails to consider nutrition in evaluating greenhouse gas emissions.

Amanda Radke

April 9, 2018

3 Min Read
Study ignores nutritional factor when evaluating climate impact
Amanda Radke

New research from the University of Michigan and Tulane University blames beef consumption for the highest greenhouse gas emissions in Americans’ diets.

The study looked at the diets of 16,000 American adults and created a database of 300 different types of foods, evaluating the various dietary choices with the correlating greenhouse gas emissions.

Sounds credible, right? But they forgot one important factor — nutrition. The study evaluated emissions based on food production only. It did not calculate processing, packaging, distribution, refrigeration or cooking, which U-M researcher Martin Heller says would have increased total emissions by 30% or more.

The study suggests that beef consumption accounts for 72% of the emissions and is associated with overeating daily calorie needs, as well.

READ: A world without beef is just not sustainable

"Reducing the impact of our diets—by eating fewer calories and less animal-based foods—could achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. It's climate action that is accessible to everyone, because we all decide on a daily basis what we eat," said Heller, in an interview with Doe Science News Source.

Again, Heller fails to make the link between nutrition and emissions.

If it is indeed true that broccoli or lettuce produce fewer emissions than beef, how many cups of broccoli or lettuce would we need to consume to get our daily protein needs?

READ: McDonald's to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

In a previous blog post titled, “Are vegetable proteins equal to the protein in beef?” I debunk a vegan activist’s assertion that we can derive plenty of protein simply by eating more vegetables. Here is an excerpt:

“Activist group recently posted, ‘Beef has 6.4 grams of protein per 100 calories’ and ‘Broccoli has 11.1 grams of protein per 100 calories,’ but is that the whole story?

“Let’s look at it this way: one cup of broccoli contains 31 calories, which means you would have to eat more than 3 cups of broccoli to get 11.1 grams of protein. Moreover, underestimates the grams of protein in a serving of beef. A 3-oz. serving of beef provides 25 grams of protein.

“Active individuals, pregnant women and growing teens are encouraged to get 75-80 grams of protein per day, which would mean you would have to eat 24 cups of broccoli to reach that 80 grams of recommended protein vs. 9-10 ounces of protein (the size of a decent steak) to reach those protein recommendations.”

READ: New documentary to explore kale vs. cows

While I haven’t made the leap to calculating the grams of protein derived per individual cow burp or fart, I do believe it’s fair to conclude that per calorie, we are getting more bang for our nutritional buck when consuming animal fats and proteins compared to a cup of salad or bowl of pasta.

It seems even the most well-funded studies sometimes lack common sense. If our society were to truly go meatless, we would not only be hurting the environment (by converting grasslands used for cattle grazing to rows and rows of fruits and vegetables) but our overall health and well-being would suffer as well as we would be overfed but undernourished, desperately trying to consume enough calories to obtain the appropriate grams of protein each day to thrive.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

Subscribe to Our Newsletters
BEEF Magazine is the source for beef production, management and market news.

You May Also Like