However, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, which carried out the research, emphasised that the findings do not mean that producing livestock to eat is good for the environment in all countries, but that, in certain circumstances, it can be better for global warming to let animals graze on grassland.
Dr Klaus Butterbach-Bahl carried out the study in Inner Mongolia in China where he found that grassland produced more nitrous oxide during the spring thaw, when sheep or cattle have not been grazing. This is because the greenhouse gas is released by microbes in the soil. Dr Butterbach-Bahl found that, when the grass was long, snow settled, keeping the microbes warm and providing water.
However, when the grass was cut short by animals, the ground froze and the microbes died.
Quoted in The Daily Telegraph, he said: “It has been generally assumed that, if you increase livestock numbers, you get a rise in emissions of nitrous oxide. This is not the case.”
It is estimated that nitrous oxide emissions from temperate grassland in places like Inner Mongolia, as well as many areas of the US, Canada, Russia and China, account for up to a third of the total amount of greenhouse gas produced every year.
Dr Butterbach-Bahl added that the study did not overturn the case for cutting down on red meat, but showed that grazing livestock is not always bad for global warming.