What are the environmental impacts of the manufacture and consumption of protein in the UK?

 Introduction.

The livestock sector is the world’s largest user of agricultural land, according to the IPCC (2000). Whilst the sector provides high value food and many other economic and social functions, its resource use implications are large. Although the land area it uses in Western Europe has stabilised in the years 1961 – 2002 at 1,838 (Mha) it has increased in other parts of the world, through grazing and the use of feed crops, by an average of 18% (IPCC, 2000). Total agricultural land has increased in area by 10% from 4,562 (Mha) to 5,023 (IPCC, 2005). 75 per cent of this land and 23 per cent of the arable part of this land is used to raise animals, through growing crops for animal feed and through the use of pastures as grazing land (Chatham House, 2014). Putting it simply, cropland and pasture land account for 50% of the worlds ice free land (Clarke, M & Tillman, D, 2014). Numbers of livestock have also increased in the last 12 years; cattle numbers up 23%, sheep numbers are almost static, pigs up 13% and chicken numbers increased by a staggering 106% (Meat stats 9, 2014)

Million livestock 2012 Global EU UK
Cattle 1,458.2 86.6 9.7
Sheep 1,169 86.2 22
Pigs 966.2 148.6 4.3
Chickens 21,867 1,259 149
Total 25,460.4 1,580.4 185

Fig 1. MeatStats 9, Issued August 2014 | Global Livestock Numbers. UN Food & Agriculture Organisation, US Department of Agriculture, Eurostat, Statistics New Zealand, Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Between 1963 and 2014, meat production rose from 78 million tons to more than 300 million tons – a fourfold increase (Purcell, C. 2016). What is going on with our livestock numbers?

Our diets have also developed. According to the IPCC (2007) global calorie intake increased by 31% from 1961-70 (2,032) to 2001-2 (2,657) and animal sourced protein, as part of this diet, from 18% to 30% a 67% increase. UK diets, according to the UK government, currently stand at an average of 3,450 calories a day and protein at 70.6g a day (132% of RDI, of which 23% is from animal sources). The consumption of beef according to the FAO has increased 28% from 1961 – 2008/10.

We are using more land for livestock agriculture, and this increase is not confined to land that is unsuitable for growing food for human consumption (uplands, scrub lands etc) adding to the complexity of deforestation. Simon Fairlie in ‘Meat The Benign Extravagance’ puts this mainly down to land speculation, others put it down to growing soya and then more still to cattle grazing. I would argue also that the political situation in South America – as that’s the area we think of when we talk about deforestation in the main – and global industries’ exploitation of this has a part to play. Namely that there are land grabs by both socialist governments and global mining companies to grab resources from the region in the form of metals and minerals. Soya and cattle are merely a precursor to this process. We are also cultivating too many animals and producing too much meat. Consequently or even concurrently we are eating too much food, in the form of calories, meat and protein from livestock (eggs and dairy).

As a consequence, global livestock production and associated activities, including land-use change, are estimated to account for 7.1 Gt CO2e per annum or 10 – 20% of global anthropogenic emissions (Steinfeld et al., 2006. J. Vermeulen, et al,. Smith et al., Smith P., M et al,.,2014I). Methane emissions account for 2.2 Gt or, 30% of these emissions, similar to the relative contribution of N2O, while land use and land-use change, together with deforestation related to provision of grazing, account for 2.7 Gt (38%) (Bruce, J, P1996 & IPCC, 1996). These emissions have increased by nearly 17% from 1990 to 2005, an average annual emission increase of about 60 MtCO2 -eq/yr (IPCC, 2007). The report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, 2014. puts the numbers like this:

 

Together, field-level practices represent approximately 15 per cent of total human-made greenhouse gas emissions, in the form of nitrous oxide (N2O) from the use of organic and inorganic nitrogen fertilizers, methane (CH4 ) from flooded rice fields and livestock, and carbon dioxide (CO2 ) from the loss of soil organic carbon in croplands and, due to intensified grazing, on pastures. In addition, the production of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, the tillage, irrigation and fertilization, and the transport, packaging and conservation of food require considerable amounts of energy, resulting in an additional 15 to 17 per cent of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions attributable to food systems.

 

 

The chart below illustrates a broad analysis of numbers quoting CO2e figures from various scientific reports of recent years:

Fig 2. CO2e released from agriculture

 

Report Agricultural total – Meat and Dairy Direct (livestock) emissions N2O, CH4 Indirect emissions Agricultural Land use
IPCC 2005 10 -12% 5 – 6% – methane 3.3%. Nitrous Oxide 2.8% 40% – 50% of worlds total land
IPCC 2007 13%
Chatham House 14.5%
J. Vermeulen, et al,. 15 – 25%
Worldwatch 51% 18%

from the report ‘livestocks long shadow’

33% – breathing CO2, Land change, livestock numbers increase over time, cooling, cooking, disposal, production,

marine activity and waste in all parts of the chain

8%
Smith et al,. 10-12% 15% – deforestation 37% of earths terrestrial surface
Barker et al. 14% 14%
Van der Werf et al,. 12% – deforestation
FCRN (UK) 19% 7%
Livestock dialogue.org 14.5%

 

Fig 2: A review of reports relating to GWP (global warming potential) for agriculture, livestock and land use and their contribution to CO2e per year. Researchers own, 2016.

 

The GLEAM 1.0 – Assessment of greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation potential gives us some great graphics to illustrate and bring to life the research we are trying to undertake here.

gleam figure 3

Fig 3. Global significance of sector’s emissions. GHG emissions values are computed in GLEAM for 2005, while IPCC estimates are for 2004. GLEAM emissions estimate includes emissions attributed to edible products and to other goods and services.

Emissions by species

Cattle are the main contributor to the sector’s emissions with about 4.6 gigatonnes CO2-eq, which represents about 65 percent of sector’s emissions, see figure 4. Beef and dairy cattle generate similar amounts of greenhouse gases, see figure 4. Pigs, poultry, buffaloes and small ruminants have much lower emissions, representing between 7 and 10 percent of sector’s emissions. (see figure 5).

gleam figure 4

Fig 4. Global estimates of emissions by species. It includes emissions attributed to edible products and to other goods and services, such as draught power and wool. Beef cattle produce meat and non-edible outputs. Dairy cattle produce milk and meat as well as non-edible outputs.

 

gleam figure 5

Fig 5. . Global emission intensities by commodity. All commodities are expressed in a per protein basis. Averages are calculated at global scale and represent an aggregated value across different production systems and agro-ecological zones.

More specifically according to recent peer reviewed journals, protein supply (as this is what we are really trying to analyse in this report) – shown in fig 6. – shows enormous variation, but again, cattle CO2e per KG of protein delivered, according to the majority of reports, is the main contributor. This is backed up by fig 5 (above), which also emphasizes the enormous variations in emissions figures. This I would surmise is down to variations in the system the animal is part of, but we must mindful; there is not a direct relationship between the broad ‘type’ of system and the amount of Kg of CO2e it emits. The relationship is more complex and diverse that this ham fisted attempt at labeling. Further studies would have to undertaken to give credence to this line of thought.

 

CO2e Kg emissions per kg of protein

 

Type * CO2e KG per Kg LCA ** CO2e kg per kg of protein FAO *** CO2e kg from the production of commodities in the UK, the rest of Europe and the rest of the world for direct UK consumption. **** CO2e KG per KG of livestock protein eaten LCA ***** CO2e kg per kg of body weight ****** CO2e kg per kg food UK shipped to Sweden all energy
Cattle 342.00 56.40 24.00 5.45 23.00
Milk 1.19 1.10
Cheese – soft 2.00
Cheese – hard 6.10 12.00 8.80
Lamb 112 – 165 14.61 36.00 9.45 24.00
Pigs <100 10.10 8.00 3.97 9.20
Poultry <100 16.00 13.00 3.25 6.60
Eggs 3.80 5.50
Butter 8.10

Fig 6. CO2e emissions from a range of recent peer reviewed reports compiled by the researcher, 2016.

* Flysjö, Anna (2014)

** http://www.fao.org/gleam/results/en/

*** http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/how_low_report_1.pdf

**** http://tinyurl.com/cerrtef

***** Zervas, G (2012)

****** Gonzalez, A, et al,. 2011

LCA – Life cycle assessment. This type of assessment seems to be the industry standard for understanding total on farm and post farm gate emissions.

NB. There are large differences in kg CO2e emissions because of the models and methodologies used. For example cattle 6.5kg of CO2e emissions for 1kg of protein – dead weight; cattle 23kg of CO2e emissions per kg of protein including all energy uses post farm.

NB. The results are pulled together from various sources and represent a spectrum of opinion, therefore there is variation.

The next table illustrates how the our diets compare when looking at CO2e kg and how this converts to travel and emissions, as this is something we seem to understand to a greater degree.

Table 3. Six diet variations showing kg of CO2e emitted per day and for a year.
(kgCO2e/day) (kgCO2e/year)
High meat eaters (>= 100g/d) 7.19 2624
Medium meat eaters (50-99g/d) 4.67 1705
Low meat eaters (<50g/d) 3.91 1427
Fish eaters 3.81 1391
Vegetarians 3.81 1391
Vegan 2.89 1055

Fig 7. Scarborough, P, et al,. 2014. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters and vegans and vegetarians in the UK.

 

  • A flight from London to Melbourne Australia uses 1,300kg CO2e. A change in diet from high meat eater (>= 100g/d) to vegetarian would mitigate this.
  • A flight from London to New York (960kg CO2e) could be mitigated by changing from high meat eater to low meat eater.
  • A family running a 10yr old car for 6k miles has a carbon footprint of 2,440 kgCO2e – roughly the same as moving two adults from high meat eaters to vegetarian diets. www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx

 

Animal proteins large scale production by means of factory farming is a major driver of biodiversity loss, according to E. O. Wilson this may be the biggest depravity our generation leaves behind. A diet transition back to less animal protein could make a difference Aiking, H (2014)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix:

 

Fig 1. MeatStats 9, Issued August 2014 | Global Livestock Numbers. UN Food & Agriculture Organisation, US Department of Agriculture, Eurostat, Statistics New Zealand, Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Fig 2: A review of reports relating to GWP for agriculture, livestock and land use and their contribution to CO2e per year. Researchers own, 2016.

 

Fig 3. Global significance of sector’s emissions. GHG emissions values are computed in GLEAM for 2005, while IPCC estimates are for 2004. GLEAM emissions estimate includes emissions attributed to edible products and to other goods and services. Accessed 1st Feb 2016 @ http://www.fao.org/gleam/results/en/

 

Fig 4. Global estimates of emissions by species. It includes emissions attributed to edible products and to other goods and services, such as draught power and wool. Beef cattle produce meat and non-edible outputs. Dairy cattle produce milk and meat as well as non-edible outputs. Accessed 1st Feb 2016 @ http://www.fao.org/gleam/results/en/

Fig 5. Global emission intensities by commodity. All commodities are expressed in a per protein basis. Averages are calculated at global scale and represent an aggregated value across different production systems and agro-ecological zones. Accessed 1st Feb 2016 @ http://www.fao.org/gleam/results/en/

Fig 6. Fig 6. CO2e emissions from a range of recent peer reviewed reports compiled by the researcher, 2016.

Fig 7. Scarborough, P, et al,. 2014. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters and vegans and vegetarians in the UK.

Aiking, Harry. “Protein production: planet, profit, plus people?.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 100.Supplement 1 (2014): 483S-489S.

 

Baily, Rob, Antony Froggatt, and Laura Wellesley. “Livestock–Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption.” (2014) PDF

 

Bruce, James P., Hoe-sŏng Yi, and Erik F. Haites. Climate change 1995: Economic and social dimensions of climate change: Contribution of Working Group III to the second assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

 

De Schutter, O. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter. Final report: The transformative potential of the right to food.”Human Rights Council of the United Nations. Retrieved from http://www. srfood. org/images/stories/pdf/officialreports/20140310_finalreport_en. pdf(2014).

 

Fairlie, Simon. Meat: a benign extravagance. Chelsea green publishing, 2010.

 

Flysjö, Anna, Mikkel Thrane, and John E. Hermansen. “Method to assess the carbon footprint at product level in the dairy industry.” International Dairy Journal 34.1 (2014): 86-92.

 

GLEAM, (2016), GLEAM 1.0 – Assessment of greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation potential. Accessed online at: http://www.fao.org/gleam/results/en/ Last viewed 1st Feb 2016.

 

 

González, Alejandro D., Björn Frostell, and Annika Carlsson-Kanyama. “Protein efficiency per unit energy and per unit greenhouse gas emissions: potential contribution of diet choices to climate change mitigation.” Food Policy 36.5 (2011): 562-570.

 

IPCC, 2000: Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry. Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

 

MeatStats 9, Issued August 2014 | Global Livestock Numbers. UN Food & Agriculture Organisation, US Department of Agriculture, Eurostat, Statistics New Zealand, Australian Bureau of Statistics.

 

Scarborough, Peter, et al. “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK.” Climatic change125.2 (2014): 179-192.

 

Smith, Pete, et al. “Policy and technological constraints to implementation of greenhouse gas mitigation options in agriculture.” Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 118.1 (2007): 6-28.

 

Smith P., M. Bustamante, H. Ahammad, H. Clark, H. Dong, E.A. Elsiddig, H. Haberl, R. Harper, J. House, M. Jafari, O. Masera, C. Mbow, N.H. Ravindranath, C.W. Rice, C. Robledo Abad, A. Romanovskaya, F. Sperling, and F. Tubiello, 2014: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU). In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

 

Steinfeld, Henning, et al. Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. Food & Agriculture Org., 2006.

 

Tilman, David, and Michael Clark. “Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health.” Nature 515.7528 (2014): 518-522.

 

Zervas, G., and E. Tsiplakou. “An assessment of GHG emissions from small ruminants in comparison with GHG emissions from large ruminants and monogastric livestock.” Atmospheric Environment 49 (2012): 13-23.