Researchers calculate 'hidden' emissions in traded meat

November 13, 2014, Institute of Physics
An uncooked rib roast. Credit: Michael C. Berch/Wikipedia

An international team of researchers has, for the first time, estimated the amount of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) that countries release into the atmosphere when producing meat from livestock, and assigned the emissions to the countries where the meat is ultimately consumed.

They found that embodied, or "hidden", emissions in beef, chicken and pork have increased by 19% over the past 20 years, and that there is currently a global instability caused by a large number of contributing to the production of emissions in another country.

Russia was singled out as the biggest importer of embodied emissions in meat over that period, consuming more emissions than it produced, and receiving the majority of its emissions from Brazil and Argentina. The researchers also revealed substantial internal trade flows of emissions between European countries.

The results, which have been published today, 14 November, in IOP Publishing's journal Environmental Research Letters, add further weight to the idea of 'consumption-based accounting', where countries account for the emissions from the products they consume as well as the products they produce.

Lead author of the research, Dr Dario Caro, from the Carnegie Institution for Science (Stanford) and the University of Siena, said: "Our analysis of emissions embodied in the international trade of meat highlights the regional variation in emissions intensities and quantifies a significant barrier to effective regional and national policies regulating livestock emissions.

"A developing country, for example, may lack specific infrastructure and therefore emit large amounts of GHGs when producing meat from livestock. These emissions can be increased when demand from more developed countries is placed on this country to produce more meat.

"At the moment, all existing policies neglect any emissions embodied in trade, so countries are not accounting for the emissions they may be causing in other countries."

Previous studies have quantified the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions embodied in products traded internationally, but there has been limited attention paid to other greenhouse gases such as CH4 and N2O.

Global emissions of CH4 and N2O account for approximately 27.7% of total radiative forcing since the pre-industrial era, and, in 2001, livestock accounted for 25% of this. Thus, direct emissions of CH4 and N2O from livestock worldwide represent approximately 9% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions.

CH4 is emitted into the as a by-product of the normal digestive system of ruminant livestock, and is also produced alongside N2O when the components of manure are broken down by bacteria.

In their study, the researchers, from the Carnegie Institution for Science, the University of Siena and University of California (Irvine), analysed data from 237 countries and found that between 1990 and 2010, 36.1 Mt of CO2-equivalent (CO2-eq) emissions were related to meat produced in one country and consumed in a different country.

The largest amount of embodied emissions were from beef (26.7 Mt of CO2-eq), (7.3 Mt of CO2-eq) and chicken (2.1 Mt of CO2-eq) respectively.

In Europe, meat exported from France to Italy and Greece embodied 1.4 Mt and 1.2 Mt of CO2-eq emissions respectively, and Italian imports of meat from Poland, Germany and Netherlands embodied 0.7, 0.6, and 0.7 Mt of CO2-eq emissions, respectively.

Dr Caro continued: "While our study exclusively focused on the direct non-CO2 emissions released from live breeding animals, other indirect CO2 emissions embedded in the life cycle of products occur and were not included.

"Future advancements should therefore take into account the total production process and transportation, including CO2 as well as land, water and energy use occurring in the supply chain."

Explore further: Climate: Meat turns up the heat

More information: CH4 and N2O emissions embodied in international trade of meat, Dario Caro et al 2014 Environ. Res. Lett. 9 114005. iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/9/11/114005/article

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MR166
2.7 / 5 (7) Nov 13, 2014
Why stop with the elimination all of the cattle. C02 and methane are proven killers. Kill the polar bears. Kill the dear. Kill all of the house pets. Kill the buffalo. Anything that emits CO2 and methane must be eradicated. After all we must save the earth for the children.
dan42day
1 / 5 (1) Nov 13, 2014
At least they haven't started complaining about all the second-hand cholesterol I'm spreading when I eat my burger...yet.
nilbud
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 14, 2014
Two fine examples of murican lack of education above.
MR166
2.3 / 5 (6) Nov 14, 2014
The above is a fine example of the brainwashing going on in the western educational system.
RichManJoe
1 / 5 (4) Nov 14, 2014
This raises the question, who "owns" the emissions, the country who raised the beef, or the country who consumed the beef. If the growers paid a "GHG" tax, which would go into the growing companies coffers, then the buying country would end up paying this tax. This, it appears to me, would create an incentive for the growing country to create as much GHG, and thus tax, as possible. Unless, in the true spirit of capitalism, but contrary to the profit of multinationals who own the meat industry, another country figures a way to reduce GHG tax. In other words, to me, GHG taxes will not work.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (4) Nov 14, 2014
Note this is happening while coincidentally Obama is flinging whatever bs he can at Russia
Sigh
5 / 5 (5) Nov 14, 2014
Why stop with the elimination all of the cattle. C02 and methane are proven killers. Kill the polar bears. Kill the dear. Kill all of the house pets. Kill the buffalo. Anything that emits CO2 and methane must be eradicated. After all we must save the earth for the children.

First, the discussion here is of methane and N2O, not CO2. The last only comes in as a comparison. Second, if you want to address a problem, it often makes sense to start where you can achieve the biggest impact. You can find relevant data in user-friendly form here: http://xkcd.com/1338/
Sigh
5 / 5 (3) Nov 14, 2014
If the growers paid a "GHG" tax, which would go into the growing companies coffers, then the buying country would end up paying this tax. This, it appears to me, would create an incentive for the growing country to create as much GHG, and thus tax, as possible.

I don't understand your comment. Wouldn't a tax be something that companies pay rather than receive? You would have to argue it's governments that have the incentive to increase greenhouse gases, and even that could be removed by international carbon trading. What a government may gain from taxes on greenhouse gases it would lose again from having fewer permits to trade internationally.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Nov 14, 2014
The above is a fine example of the brainwashing going on in the western educational system
@mr1666
believing in political BS with no evidence while supporting denier propaganda in the face of overwhelming evidence is brainwashing, and you are being taken in by it
just because YOU are deluded, doesn't mean we all are
http://www.scienc...abstract
http://www.resear...b48a.pdf
http://iod.ucsd.e...meps.pdf
http://www.annual...8.163834
http://naosite.lb...69/20919
http://onlinelibr...abstract
http://onlinelibr...abstract
SCIENCE trumps stupid
MR166
1 / 5 (3) Nov 14, 2014
"Second, if you want to address a problem, it often makes sense to start where you can achieve the biggest impact."

Sigh, thanks for the huge laugh. Natural methane emissions dwarf that of livestock. Perhaps we should drain all of those pesky swamps.
thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (6) Nov 15, 2014
These "scientists" would be more productive if they merely bayed at the moon...
Sigh
5 / 5 (4) Nov 15, 2014
Sigh, thanks for the huge laugh.

Like the research that earns the IgNobel, it is first supposed to make you laugh, then to make you think. Even though I had heard some relevant numbers before, the graphical display still came as a surprise to me. Makes it much clearer. And it makes me wonder about claims that we could easily feed 100 billion people. If that is possible at all, then not in the style to which most would like to be accustomed.

Natural methane emissions dwarf that of livestock.

Do they? I don't know. Can you direct me to a reference?
gkam
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 15, 2014
Goobers hate science.
zz5555
5 / 5 (3) Nov 15, 2014

Natural methane emissions dwarf that of livestock.

Do they? I don't know. Can you direct me to a reference?


It doesn't matter. It's one of those irrelevant points that either the deniers/fake skeptics don't understand or are using to try to confuse people not familiar with the science. It's pretty much identical to the idea that the amount of CO2 coming from human resources is dwarfed by the amount from natural sources. In both cases there's a natural cycle that has been interrupted. Think of it like a bucket with a hole in the bottom. The bucket is filled with methane (or CO2) from all sources and the hole represents the sinks. Without human contributions, the sources and sinks normally balance out and we have a stable climate. With human contributions, the bucket overflows and we get global warming/climate change.
Jimee
not rated yet Nov 17, 2014
The Deniers are getting more desperate. Old white men are getting more desperate. There will be a mortal kombat in our future.

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