Organic meat production just as bad for climate, study finds
Analysis also found the lowest impact meat was still far more damaging than the worst plant foods
Damian Carrington Environment editor
Wed 23 Dec 2020 10.42 GMT Last modified on Thu 24 Dec 2020 04.37 GMT
The cost of the climate damage caused by organic meat production is just as high as that of conventionally farmed meat, according to research.
The analysis estimated the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from different foods and calculated how much their prices would need to rise to cover the harm they cause by fuelling the climate emergency.
For beef and lamb, organic and conventional production resulted in similar climate costs, the study found. Organic chicken was slightly worse for the climate and organic pork slightly better than their conventional counterparts.
Conventional livestock’s emissions come from their manure and, for cows and sheep, by burping methane. The grain they are fed can also result in high emissions, especially if it is associated with deforestation, such as in South America.
Organic livestock are not fed imported fodder and are often grass-fed, but this means they produce less meat and grow more slowly, therefore spending longer emitting greenhouse gases before slaughter, the researchers said. Plants grown organically have half the climate costs of conventional produce as they do not rely on chemical fertilisers, but all plants have far lower emissions than animal products.
The researchers said the analysis showed an urgent need for policies, such as meat taxes, to ensure food prices reflect their true costs. This would be fairer, they said, as consumers eating climate-damaging diets would pay for their pollution, rather than the costs of increased storms, floods and droughts being spread across everyone in society as they are today. They said the revenues raised should be used to help poorer families manage price rises and to incentivise farmers to be more environmentally friendly.