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Red Meat Contains 'Hidden' Emissions

Nov 15, 2014 01:39 PM EST
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When we think of factors that lead to the harmful buildup of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, usually we picture the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, or just your everyday traffic. Rarely would red meat from livestock be considered, but a new study has for the first time calculated the amount of emissions "hidden" inside our cows and pigs.

Scientists have known for some time that the production of beef, as well as chicken and pork, results in heat-trapping gases like methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), but how much to be exact remained undetermined. According to the study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, embodied or "hidden" emissions in these livestock have increased by 19 percent over the past 20 years - though some countries produce more emissions than others.

Russia, for example, was singled out as the biggest importer of embodied emissions in meat over the study period. It consumed more emissions than the country produced, and received the majority of its emissions from Brazil and Argentina.

Researchers behind the study believe the results support the idea of "consumption-based accounting," meaning countries keep track of the amount of emissions they produce as well as consume.

"A developing country, for example, may lack specific infrastructure and therefore emit large amounts of GHGs [greenhouse gases] 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," lead author Dr. Dario Caro said in a statement.

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

Furthermore, the study highlights that countries and scientists should pay more attention to CH4 and N2O, not just the ever-infamous GHG carbon dioxide (CO2) - especially because they account for nine percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions.

The research team does note, however, that CO2 is also a by-product of meat production, though CO2 emissions were not included in this study.

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