Going Green: Eating Less Meat Is Not The Way, Study Reveals

First Posted: Jan 20, 2016 09:33 AM EST

A reduction in meat consumption may not lower greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil, which is one of the world's largest beef producing regions, according to a new study. The team of international researchers found that a reduction in beef production could actually increase global greenhouse gas emissions. This new research may not correlate to the findings of other studies, however, the researchers identified "intensive agriculture" as a massive contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

"Much of Brazil's grassland is in poor condition, leading to low beef productivity and high greenhouse gas emissions from cattle. However, increasing demand for meat provides an incentive for farmers to recover degraded pastures," Rafael Silva, lead author of the study, said in a news release. "This would boost the amount of carbon stored in the soil and increase cattle productivity. It would require less land for grazing and reduce deforestation, potentially lowering emissions."

The researchers claimed that grasslands are not an efficient means for carbon storage compared to forests. However, Brazilian grasses, especially 'Brachiaria genus' have a high ability to store carbon compared to grass in Europe, due to their long roots. The researchers found that high quality grasslands are capable of more carbon storage, which equals to a reduction in CO2 emissions.

If Brazil's Cerrado should undergo a meat reduction, there will be a decline in the improvement of grasslands, which will lead to high greenhouse house gas emissions. A 30 percent increase in beef consumption by 2030 would result in a 10 percent decline in gas emissions, while a decrease in meat consumption would be equivalent to higher gas emissions. There could be a 60 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions if deforestation increases and if meat demands are lower, according to the researchers.

"The message of our research is to beware of unintended consequences," said Dominic Moran, coauthor of the study. "In some production regions, shifting to less meat-dependent diets would help curb climate change, but it is important to understand the nature of different production systems before concluding that reduced consumption will have the same effects in all systems."

The findings of this study were published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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