Eating Less Beef Seen Way for Farming to Cut Emissions

Carbon emissions from farming can be cut by as much as 90 percent by 2030, equivalent to removing all cars in the world, by steps including eating less beef and better use of fertilizer, according to a report by Climate Focus and California Environmental Associates.

Emissions could be lowered by as many as 5 million gigatons per year, the two groups wrote in an e-mailed statement. Changing diets and reducing food waste could cut more than three gigatons of carbon dioxide output, they said.

Food production will have to rise 60 percent from now until 2050 as the world population grows to more than 9 billion, the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization estimates. Global greenhouse-gas emissions will have to be lowered 40 percent to 70 percent by mid-century from 2010 levels, and to “near zero” by the end of the century, to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the UN.

“By making the way we produce more efficient, farmers can reap the benefits of increased production while decreasing the environmental impacts of farming,” Charlotte Streck, a director of Climate Focus and co-author of the study, was cited as saying in the statement.

Livestock, particularly cows, sheep and other grazing livestock, account for 70 percent of direct greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture, according to the report.

Production of livestock consumes 8 percent of the global water supply, with most of the water used for intensive, feed-based production, according to a 2010 report by the FAO and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Beef Emissions

Beef accounts for an “immense share” of carbon emissions, six times higher on a per-unit basis than poultry, according to the report by Climate Focus and California Environmental Associates. Encouraging a U.S. trend of falling beef consumption and steering China away from a projected increase in beef eating would reduce emissions, they said.

Eliminating food waste cold put a “major dent” in agricultural emissions, according to the report, which said 30 percent to 40 percent of food globally is lost in the supply chain from farmer to consumer.

Changes to production could cut close to 2 million gigatons of emissions, according to the report. Improved cattle grazing management in Brazil and better cow diets in India could lower carbon output, while many farmers in China could cut fertilizer use by as much as 60 percent without hurting yields, according to the report.

“Policy makers can help farmers boost productivity while mitigating climate change,” Streck said. “We need to dispel the notion once and for all that productivity and sustainability can’t work hand in hand.”

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