A Cow’s Carbon Footprint: Why Grassfed Beef Is Carbon-Negative


Recently, I was talking with a friend about grassfed beef and the conversation moved toward carbon footprints. I found that I didn’t have a secure argument for grassfed beef being good for the environment. I thought it probably was, based on what I’ve read in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. After all, if you feed ruminants (such as cows) grass and they fertilize the grass with their manure and you move them around, just like bison used to do on the Great Plains in our country, everyone would benefit: the cows, the grass, and the air. In essence, it makes sense.

But why do most environmentalists cut back on eating meat? I suspect it’s because they’re focused on feedlot meat, which I haven’t knowingly touched since I saw the movie Food, Inc. last summer. (If you don’t have a chance to see it but want to get a crash course in feedlot meat, watch “Meet Your Meat” or read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. They all have the same effect.)

Thanks to an article in the January 12 issue of Time magazine, I feel justified in my continuing carnivorous behavior (although it’s been somewhat modified toward vegetarian for a number of reasons).

According to Time, the enormous carbon footprint argument is based on the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2006 report, which attributed 18% of the world’s man-made greenhouse-gas emissions to livestock. However, cattleman Ridge Shinn says conventional cattle raising is like mining: “It’s unsustainable, because you’re just taking without putting anything back. But when you rotate cattle on grass, you change the equation. You put back more than you take.”

I knew there was something sustainable in the grassfed beef cycle. I’m just glad to hear a cattleman claim it since I don’t have the expertise of a farmer.

Michael Pollan supports the claim: “Much of the carbon footprint of beef comes from growing grain to feed the animals, which requires fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides, transportation. Grass-fed beef has a much lighter carbon footprint.”

And, grassfed beef is healthier than feedlot beef because it’s got less saturated fat and more omega-3s.

Wanna know more? Read the article.

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6 responses to “A Cow’s Carbon Footprint: Why Grassfed Beef Is Carbon-Negative

  1. The health benefits aren’t limited to low fat and omega 3. Grass fed beef is also high in omega 6 which help prevent cancer and CLA’s which promotes weight loss.

  2. Great Article,

    I am switching over to Grass Fed beef , buying a bigger SUV, creating jobs and saving the planet all at once .

    Thanks !

  3. Did you consider the effects of methane production by cows in figuring their carbon footprint? It’s a surprisingly large factor that many people forget to include.

    • Steven, I would love to have some stats on the methane production. So you’re saying it’s as much as an issue with grassfed cows as for factory farms? Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment!

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