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Living Green

Less beef in diet more environment-friendly – group

Ethanol reduced gas prices by $1 per gallon in 2011 – research
Grazing cattle produces methane.

If people shift to diets with less beef and more poultry or pork, there’s a chance they might just protect not only their health better but the forests and the planet as a whole, a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests.

Producing beef requires substantial resources compared with how it benefits the human body, they said, calling the meat an “inefficient” protein. Its production uses about 60 percent of the world’s agricultural land but produces less than 5 percent of the protein, and less than 2 percent of the calories that feed the global population.

“We have a big beef with beef,” said Doug Boucher, director of the group’s Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative and a co-author of the report. “Because of the way it is produced, the more beef we eat, the worse global warming gets.”

The well-known health problems were cited as well, such as coronary heart disease and breast, colon and prostate cancer, but the group said many are unaware of the environmental impact.

The group linked widespread deforestation to beef production, an activity which needs large tracts of land – much more than pork and poultry production. The largest net exporter of meat globally, Brazil, has ranchers clear-cutting tropical forests to provide pasture land for their herds.

“When ranchers cut down trees, much of the carbon they store goes into the atmosphere,” the report said. “Second, grazing cattle produces methane – a powerful gas that has 23 times the warming effect of carbon – which is released from their stomachs and manure.”

The report adds that tropical deforestation contributes about 15 percent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions – more carbon pollution than the emissions from every car, truck, plane, ship and train on earth. “As demand for beef goes up, so too does deforestation,” the group said.

If the demand for beef is reduced, its price will decline and incentives to deforest for beef production will also be reduced, they add.

“There are many tasty alternatives to the beef hamburger,” said Mr. Boucher. “Why not try spare ribs, a pulled pork sandwich, a turkey burger, chicken kebabs, or a veggie burger? If you want fewer cancers, less heart disease, more forests and less global warming, eat less beef.”

The study is a follow-up on their first, “Recipes for Success,” which analyzed the connection between vegetable oils and deforestation. A third report on the wood industry is expected to be out this year. – N.P. Arboleda

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