Meat on kitchen chopping board

Action: Eat a bit less beef

If you are not a vegetarian, here is an action that could have a massive impact on carbon emissions. It can also help with our health, food waste, packaging, food security, food equality, wildlife protection, and much more. It’s very simple – make a promise to eat a bit less meat.

We aren’t saying you have to turn vegetarian or vegan; those are significant lifestyle choices for you to make separately, each with their advantages and disadvantages. Rather, we want you to think initially about two things. Firstly, you could reduce (or even eliminate) your intake of beef and other red meat, a great action to take because beef is the meat that generates the most carbon dioxide and methane (our two main global warming greenhouse gases).

Secondly, you could consider totally meat-free periods in your life? You could do this a number of ways, here are a few suggestions:

  • make dinner your only meat meal; keep breakfast, lunch and snacks meat free
  • make the same day each week “veggie day”; avoid meat altogether for 24 hours
  • make your weekends meat-free; no meat on Saturdays and Sundays
  • create a group of like minded friends; motivate each other to have a meat free week or month
  • join initiatives such as Veganuary and experiment with your diet

Why this matters

Cow face close up

Livestock agriculture is one of our largest emitters of CO2 and methane across the globe. tell us that food production accounts for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and takes up half of the planet’s habitable surface. Did you know that globally, the mass of animals raised for slaughter now outweighs wildlife by a factor of 15.

Meat and dairy accounts for around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization. It follows that if we are to limit global warming to a manageable level, changes in our diets are an imperative. Going into great detail is beyond the scope of this short article, but take a look at this chart for a little bit of insight. You can click on it for a larger version too.

So amongst other things we can see from this that:

  • producing 1kg of beef emits over twice as much greenhouse gas as 1kg of lamb
  • of the top 10 greenhouse gas producing foods, 7 are meat and dairy
  • chicken per kilo is about 1/10th as damaging to our climate as beef

Why is beef and sheep farming particularly damaging?

There are a few reasons:

  • they burp and fart! Millions of large animals feeding on grass produce methane and CO2 in huge amounts *
  • it’s land-demanding; food calorie production per hectare is less from livestock than from other foods
  • making space for livestock results in the destruction of forests and other important ecosystems
  • livestock places demands on our water systems and stresses the natural water cycle

* Some farmers are trying to address the gas problem with “low methane” breeds, and feed that reduces burping and farting; see this article for example.

Take action

We could write a lot more about this important topic topic, but let’s keep it simple. The call to action is to reduce your intake of meat – especially beef.

(NB: If you have any medical conditions, significant dietary changes should first be discussed with your healthcare professional)

If you haven’t done so already, please sign up to our bulletin “Take Action” using the form below, and thank you for your support.

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