‘Low-Carbon Diets’ will have Little Effect on Environment

William Henning
Emeritus Professor of Animal and Food Science
Penn State University

Dr. Henning had a letter posted in USA Today combating myths about beef and global warming.

Here is Dr. Henning’s letter.

Why the shift in scrutiny from our use of fossil fuels to the carbon footprint of our food? USA TODAY’s article, Eating can be Energy Efficient, too, repeated the fashionable claim that switching to a “low-carbon diet” would make a meaningful reduction in a person’s carbon footprint (Life, April 22).

Yet the Environmental Protection Agency reports that all U.S. agriculture, including livestock and crops, accounts for only 6% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  I find the article seriously in conflict with this report.

The experts cited in USA TODAY’s article claim to understand the impact of animal agriculture on carbon emissions, yet they ignore how tightly intertwined our animal and crop production systems are.

For example, how will we replace livestock manure used to fertilize our crops without resorting to fossil fuel-derived fertilizers? What happens to feeds that are unsuitable for humans and the use of byproduct feeds? And, knowing that 85% of U.S. grazing land isn’t suitable for crop production, do we know if we can support ourselves on the cropland that remains? What gasses are produced in the decomposition of the unused plants and in crops such as rice?

Advocating the seemingly easy and convenient solution of low-carbon diets to solve the environment dilemma might be tempting, but have we assessed the nutritional impact for reducing our major sources of balanced proteins in children?

Environmentally conscious consumers should continue to enjoy lean meat with confidence, knowing they are doing the right thing for their bodies and for the environment.

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