Posted at 13 June 2018
Compared to livestock, chicken is very sustainable, and even more so when it is organic and locally raised.
A lower carbon footprint than beef
We are all aware that livestock production is not good for the planet. Livestock farming operations cover 70% of all farmland and 30% of the planet’s total land surface, and they are responsible for 18% of global greenhouse gases (GHGs), including methane and nitrous oxide. However, not all species bear equal blame for these shocking figures. A 2017 study1 showed that 47.6% of total GHG emissions derived directly and indirectly from average food consumption in the US can be attributed to beef consumption, and just 13.9% from poultry, eggs, seafood and fish combined. “To produce one ton of chicken meat, you need 500 gallons of water versus 108,000 gallons for beef! And in terms of carbon emissions, the difference is tremendous! One pound of beef emits 60 pounds of carbon dioxide versus 3.4 pounds for chicken,” explains Marie Le Henaff, Sustainability Manager at Diana Food. If you convert the figures to car miles, 1 pound of beef produces the same amount of CO2 as driving 63 miles, compared to 16 miles for chicken.
Organic and locally raised is even better
If you care about the environmental challenges our planet is currently facing, remember that synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are often made from fossil fuels and that manufacturing and transporting them uses energy and produces greenhouse gases. Moreover, chemical farming uses 30% to 50% more energy per unit of production than organic farming. If one person ate all locally grown food for one year – meaning zero transportation’s induced emission –, they could save the GHG equivalent of driving 1,000 miles!1 However, saving the planet with our forks is not always so simple and depends on a lot of factors. A recent study comparing agricultural production systems showed that because organic practices require more land, the benefit to the carbon footprint may not be sufficiently significant on a larger scale. The study concluded that solutions to reduce our impact will depend on a combination of dietary shifts towards low-impact foods, such as chicken vs cattle meat, and greater agricultural input use efficiency.2 In other words, we must all adopt more enlightened ways of producing and consuming!
1 Center for sustainable Systems of Michigan’s University
2 Environmental Research Letters, 2017