Environment

Study: Swapping beans for beef would put serious dent in greenhouse gas emissions

Study: Swapping beans for beef...
The researchers calculate that if the entire US were to swap out beef for beans, it would cut C02 emissions by 334 million metric tons
The researchers calculate that if the entire US were to swap out beef for beans, it would cut C02 emissions by 334 million metric tons
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The researchers calculate that if the entire US were to swap out beef for beans, it would cut C02 emissions by 334 million metric tons
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The researchers calculate that if the entire US were to swap out beef for beans, it would cut C02 emissions by 334 million metric tons

The US' current plans to combat change include, among other things, a pledge to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 17 percent by 2020 relative to 2005 levels. Whichever way you slice it, that sort of reduction would involve some radical shifts in behavior. A new study has put forth one such suggestion, substituting the entire US population's beef with beans, a dietary change they say would achieve between 50 and 75 percent of this reduction target.

Let's get one thing straight, the entire US population is not going to suddenly stop eating beef. You'd struggle to convince the third-generation Texas barbecue pit master to shut up shop, and you're not going to tell a Yankees fan that they can't have a hot dog at the ball game (those things have got beef in them, right?)

What this study does do, however, is explore the role dietary substitutions could play in helping the US achieve these goals as part of a wide-ranging mitigation strategy. It could mean increasing consumption of faux meat, or upping the concentration of plant-based products in predominantly beef products (think burgers). The figures offered up by the research are simply an extreme example to demonstrate the possibilities.

"Given the novelty, we would expect that the study will be useful in demonstrating just how much of an impact changes in food production can make and increase the utility of such options in climate-change policy," says Loma Linda University's (LLU) Helen Harwat, who led the research.

The researchers started with the fact that beef is the most greenhouse-gas-intensive food item, pointing out that the production of legumes like beans emits one-fortieth the amount of GHGs as beef. Legumes are also a high source of protein. 100 g of beef offers 332 kcals and 14.4g of protein, while 100 g of beans will net you 341 kcals and 21.6 g of protein, according to the researchers.

"Legumes are therefore a natural option for substantially reducing GHG emissions while improving nutrition," the researchers write. "We calculate the net emission change by taking the averted beef emissions and subtracting the emissions associated with producing the legume replacement."

The researchers calculate that if the entire US were to swap out beef for beans, it would cut C02 emissions by 334 million metric tons (mmt) per year. The 2020 pledge requires net emissions to stay below 5,344 mmt a year, compared to the current net emissions of 5,791 mmt annually.

"The nation could achieve more than half of its GHG reduction goals without imposing any new standards on automobiles or manufacturing," says LLU's Joan Sabate, one of the study's co-authors. Food for thought.

The research paper can be accessed online here.

Source: Loma Linda University

5 comments
RoGuE_StreaK
It talks of the decrease in emissions on the _production_ side, but did they take into account the increase in emissions on the _consumption_ side?
DaveLangley
A storm in a miniture teacup. CO2 only constitutes 0.04% of the atmosphere. There is a lot of wishful thinking going on here.
RicardoJoseMartinezRamos
Sorry, are we swapping beef for beans or beans for beef? Also, is there much beef in a hot dog? I thought it was pork? In any case beef production has been associated with the production of methane (apparently a lot worse contributor to global warming than CO2) by the cows and not CO2 unless we are referring to CO2 production from other sources related to the maintenance, transport, slaughter, etc. of the cattle and of course further processing, manufacturing and distribution of the beef and its derivatives. In any case the news is old, this has been known for at least a decade. From the top of my head the rule of thumb is that a couple of football fields of grass are required to produce one kilo of beef whereas the same surface area planted with soya would produce a ton or two of the beans. Not to mention that beans fix Nitrogen on the soil enriching it for further crops. As I said, old news.
DaveWesely
Does this research paper consider what would replace the cattle (ruminants)? My guess is, if we stopped eating beef and the ranchers gave up their land, causing it to return to it's natural state, bison and other ruminants like deer and antelope would reproduce in greater numbers to fill the niche of available grass. Ruminants are ruminants and they all produce methane in their first stomach. Horses are not ruminants, so I suppose we could start eating those instead... but here in the states there are laws against that!
...MAN!!!!
We all agree that it's the methane from the cows that impacts the greenhouse gases way more than the CO2, including all the fuel burned etc. etc. etc. Has anyone considered what effect the increase in methane emissions from the humans after consuming so many more beans than beef? I think it's safe to say that the human population is larger than the bovine (ruminants?) population. Most humans develop some serious gas after consuming beans. (this is where the pharmaceutical companies will rake in billions and billions of dollars on many forms of gas-X) Are human methane emissions safer than bovine methane emissions? Isn't methane methane regardless of the delivery chute? I think it's called "evolution". The planet has changed rather dramatically over the previous billions of years. It's changing now. I think that I'm regretting not becoming a researcher. To get paid well to come up with wild ideas...and it's apparent not all are fully baked before they're released with the impression of being 'fact'.