We often hear concern around the greenhouse gas emissions surrounding beef cattle, but what impact does the beef cattle industry actually have on the environment?  It’s less than what you might think!

greenhouse gas emissions in beef production

Of Canada’s top contributors to Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Beef Cattle contribute around 2.4%.  On a global scale, that drops to just 0.04%.  So if everyone in the world stopped eating beef today, the effect on overall emissions would be minimal at best. 

Side note, Canada’s other top contributors to GHG emissions are:

  • Energy (Combustion) – 45%
  • Energy (Transport) – 28%
  • Energy (Fugitive Sources – extracting, processing and delivery of fossil fuels) – 8%
  • Industry (mining, refining and production of industrial goods) – 7%
  • Agriculture (not including beef cattle) – 5.6%
  • Waste – 4%

What kind of GHG Emissions occur in Beef Production?

There are three types: Methane (CH4), Carbon Dioxide (CO2), and Nitrous Oxide (N2O).  Methane is primarily produced through digestion, with a small amount produced by manure breaking down.  Carbon Dioxide is produced by the fuel in farm machinery.  Nitrous Oxide comes from the breakdown of manure and fertilization of crop and pastureland. 

Thanks to improved production and feed efficiencies, crop yields and management practices, these GHG emissions are greatly reduced compared to 40 years ago.  Producing a kilogram of beef in Canada now produces not only fewer GHG emissions, but also takes fewer cattle and less land!

Environmental Benefits of Cattle

  • Grass and pasture lands provide 80% of the cattle diet, and they remove GHGs from the air and store them in the soil.
  • Thanks to eco-friendly grazing techniques, land used for cattle production currently stores 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon.
  • 32% of Canada’s agricultural land isn’t suitable for growing crops for human consumption, which means that cattle grazing is their best option!
  • Intact pastureland prevents tillage and erosion, providing habitat for wildlife.
  • Cattle convert plants that humans can’t digest into high quality protein.

Source: Alberta Beef Producers.  For references and more information about the beef industry, visit www.allforthebeef.com.