The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers update: Is it even worse than they said?  »

Can’t see the video? Watch it on!

Hello! Remember the above video we posted last week (which is now full of commercials)? Well it may not be telling the whole story. An anonymous source has alerted me to these points: 

The following comments were sent to the producers—who’ve apparently seen fit to take no action. 

The video says: “Livestock are a major contributor to greenhouse gas pollution. Right up there with cars, trains, and planes.” But the authors of that livestock-transport comparison have retracted it.

The video says: “Livestock use 30 percent of the earth’s entire land area.” But the true figure is 45 percent, according to the International Livestock Research Institute.  

The video says: “Methane has 21 times more climate-changing power than CO2.” But the true figure is apparently higher—as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses a figure of 25 in a 100-year timeframe and 72 in a 20-year timeframe, while others use figures even higher than 72. 

The video says: “Grass-fed beef does less damage to the environment.”  But the lead author and a co-author of Livestock’s Long Shadow, a key source for the video, specify that grass-fed beef does more damage than corn-fed beef—as grass-fed cows emit up to 400% more methane, according to Gidon Eshel, another source for the video. 

In fact, after the FAO tried for years to correct the misperception that Livestock’s Long Shadow prescribed less factory farming (when it actually prescribed more), it announced last month that it will lead a new partnership with the meat industry, to be chaired by Frank Mitloehner, perhaps best known for his criticism of Livestock’s Long Shadow

Yet Livestock’s Long Shadow was written by livestock specialists employed by just one of 19 UN specialized agencies. 

Conversely, environmental specialists employed by two other UN specialized agencies, the World Bank and IFC, have authored analysis that better supports the video’s general direction. Not even all of the FAO supports Livestock’s Long Shadow, apparently, as the FAO invited those environmental specialists to deliver presentations at their headquarters in Rome and later in Berlin. Those presentations are on the Chomping Climate Change website along with links to numerous citations of those environmental specialists’ analysis.   

The New York Times recently published an assessment of the FAO’s new partnership.

Sometimes it seems impossible to get the figures right with the environmental damage of meat. At this point I’m generally just like, “I don’t know which figure is right but they’re all super-terrible enough.” But when you have something like that methane figure, jeez louise! That’s crazy! People are happily chomping down on their “happy beef” all piously while those “happy cows” are farting the planet to hell. Sorry, bros, factory-farmed or free-range, beef spells disaster for the environment. 


Livestock may account for 51% of annual worldwide GHG emissions! Dang.  »

A new 2009* report from Robert Goodland, former lead environmental advisor at the World Bank Group, and Jeff Anhang, research officer and environmental specialist at the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation, revisits the question of the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industries. Previously, Livestock’s Long Shadow made the claim that livestock contributed 18 percent of the annual worldwide green house gas emissions. This new report, Livestock and Climate Change, estimates that it’s more like 51 percent, at least. Which is, to put it clinically, a shit ton. And because of issues with data that’s available, they kept the figure as conservative as they could. Fifty-one percent is conservative! 

Goodland and Anhang say this discrepancy with the older study comes from overlooked sources of GHGs and underestimating recognized sources. Apparently Livestock’s Long Shadow saw fit not to include breathing in their calculations. The newer report says that livestock is a human-creation and “a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe.” And because of the growing masses of livestock combined with deforestation, there is no equilibrium such as the older study puts forth. Land use is another issue this report feels is an underestimated source of GHGs. They say that if we reclaim some of the land currently used for grazing or feed production and allow the forest to regenerate, this would significantly reduce GHG emissions. So “free-range” meat isn’t the environmentally sound alternative to factory farming people like to think it is. They also say that choosing a meat that accounts for less GHGs is not going to do much, it’s more important to focus on alternative food sources.  

Goodland and Anhang propose that alternative food sources would reduce GHGs faster than replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. Word, fellas! I mean it seems to me that individuals having a veggie burger instead of beef is easier and faster than redesigning our power infrastructure. But these guys know it’s not going to be that easy (relying on people to accept personal responsibility never is!). The second half of the study goes deep into marketing and business strategy. 

Basically, if this report stands up, it’s a major boost to our movement! We knew that the meat and dairy industries were bad for the environment but we didn’t know how bad. So give the report a read, it’s not that long. Here’s my abstract for it: LIVESTOCK IS DESTROYING THE ENVIRONMENT SO PUT DOWN THE CHEESEBURGER, JERKS! And that’s why I’m the Super Genius.

*OMG the report is not new, it’s from 2009! Can I do anything right today?! WTF? Don’t be mad at me, my dog is sick, I’m distracted. There is a more recent commentary discussing which number is right, the 18 percent or the 51 percent or something totally different! But if you haven’t read the 2009 report, it’s still worth a read. 

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