A lot of the meat we eat is produced in a
different country from the one we live in. A new study finds that
greenhouse gas emissions from the beef, pork and chicken traded
across borders have risen by 19 per cent in the past 20
Not only might this affect diets of the
climate-conscious, but a trend towards eating meat produced in a
different country could make monitoring countries' individual
emissions a far trickier task, say the researchers.
Carbon dioxide is the biggest contributor to
climate change, but other greenhouse gases such as
nitrous oxide play a role too. The methane
and nitrous oxide produced by livestock, such as cows, pigs and
chickens, account for around nine per cent of all greenhouse gases
When you include methane and nitrous oxide emissions from
transporting the animals and producing their feed, this proportion
rises to 18 per cent.
A new study, published in
Environmental Research Letters, finds that although the
majority of meat is eaten in the country where it's produced, more
and more meat is being exported.
So which country should be held responsible for
the greenhouse gas emissions? The one where the meat is produced or
the one where it's consumed?
The researchers say the growing demand for
internationally-traded meat makes it harder to regulate emissions
Emissions from trade slipping through the
All existing national or international policies to limit
greenhouse gases take account of emissions from within specific
countries only. So if the UK imports a tonne of beef, for example,
the greenhouse gas emissions from producing it are not counted in
You might think the emissions would be counted
by the country producing the beef, but that might not be the case.
The researchers say it's increasingly likely that meat is being
imported from developing and emerging nations, which often have
less stringent accounting of greenhouse emissions.
So the emissions from that tonne of beef may not
be counted by either country, and instead may just 'leak' between
the gaps in the system, say the researchers.
Beef the worst emitter, but others are
Of the meat traded from one country to another,
the study finds beef makes the biggest contribution to emissions,
responsible for around three-quarters of the GHGs
The research takes account of methane produced
as livestock digest food (yes, farting) and the methane and nitrous
oxide released as manure decomposes.
Emissions from traded pork (20 per cent) and chicken
(six per cent) production are much lower by comparison, but are
growing much more quickly. Between 1990 to 2010, the emissions from
traded beef grew by around four per cent, while those from pork and
chicken grew by 81 per cent and 360 per cent, respectively. You can
see this in the charts below.