Beef produced in feedlots has a smaller carbon footprint than meat raised exclusively on pastures, according to a University of New South Wales study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The study's life cycle analysis found that feedlot beef production generated slightly less greenhouse gas per kilogram of meat than grass-fed beef. Results from one supply chain studied showed feedlot production had a carbon footprint of 9.9kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per kilo of "hot standard carcass weight" (HSCW). Grass-finished beef produced 12kg CO2e per kg/HSCW.
The study, commissioned by Meat and Livestock Australia, looked at three operations: a beef producer, a sheepmeat producer and an organic beef producer.
Feedlot beef production, in which cattle are finished by being fed a diet of grain for the few months preceding slaughter, is often criticized for the resources and energy it consumes. However, study co-author Matthias Schulz said in a news release the feedlot was found to produce meat more efficiently, effectively offsetting the greenhouse impact of the additional transport and feed production needed.
"Grain-finished cattle have a more efficient weight gain which completely offsets their higher individual carbon footprint," he said. "The other main reason for the better greenhouse performance of grain-fed beef is the superior digestibility of the feed and the associated reduction in methane emissions, and these digestion-related methane emissions are the main source of greenhouse gas from the livestock industry."
The study also compared data from Australian beef and sheep meat operations to studies conducted in Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, Africa and Japan, and found Australian operations compared favorably.
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