This week produced another round of anti-meat talk with the release of the "Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health" by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
The research by EWG examined every stage of food production, processing, consumption and waste disposal, and determined that if everyone in the United States eliminated meat and cheese from their diet just one day a week for a year, "…the effect on greenhouse gas emissions would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road."
The report found that traditionally raised lamb has the worst carbon footprint, followed by beef, cheese, pork and fish.
Washington State University animal scientist Jude Capper posted a comment that accurately describes some problems with the study.
"Their assumptions with regards to beef and lamb production appear to be lacking both detail and understanding," Capper wrote. "There is no information as to growth rates, diet composition, dry matter intake or days from birth to slaughter, all of which are key parameters affecting the carbon footprint per unit of beef.
"The data regarding lamb production has the same lack of production and flock dynamics data and does not account for the multiple lambs born per ewe per year (national average of 1.65 lambs per ewe) and the fact that ewes are physiologically mature earlier than heifers. Given the differences in reproductive efficiency, lamb would be expected to have a carbon footprint one-half to two-thirds that of beef, not 44 percent higher as shown in the report.
"Until a whole scale analysis is conducted that accounts for the environmental effects of all human activities (e.g. driving to the store vs. drinking French wine vs. having three children vs. eating a tofu burger), reports that are founded on erroneous data and do not provide context are entirely meaningless except as a reminder that all food production has an environmental impact."
"The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) has tracked this issue with other livestock species and with the International Meat Secretariat," commented Peter Orwick, ASI's executive director. "The report seems backward given lamb's position as the most naturally produced meat in the United States being fed grass and natural forage for most, if not all, of its growth to slaughter," concluded Orwick.