Horizon programme explores livestock’s environmental impact

In the second part of the BBC’s Horizon, Should I Eat Meat? programme, Dr Michael Mosley looks at the effect livestock has on the environment.

Mosley reported: “A single cow can belch up to 500 litres of methane every day. Multiply that by the 1.5 billion cattle we have on our planet and that’s a lot of gas. And it has a vast environmental impact because methane is 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”

During the programme Mosley visits a “feedyard” in the US, which, despite a complete absence of grass, claims to be the greenest way to produce beef. The cattle are fed a hormone-infused corn-based diet, which means cattle reach slaughter weight faster, producing 40% less methane, Mosley reported.

However, the UK’s livestock production systems sit in stark contrast to intensely farmed US livestock. Nick Allen, sector director at Eblex said: “Our rain-fed pasture system means we have one of the most efficient and sustainable livestock production systems in the world. In the UK, cattle and sheep primarily convert grass, which cannot be used to feed people, into nutritious food for our growing population. We have very little reliance on irrigation; in fact it takes just 67 litres to produce 1kg of beef.”

Mosley compared the environmental impact of different species – cattle, sheep, chicken and pigs – proving chicken is the most environmentally friendly meat to eat. However, he reported: “Perhaps uncomfortably for some, the most eco-friendly chickens (in terms of carbon emissions) may not be organic or free-range, but those that are raised intensively in energy-efficient indoor farms.

“If you really want to be an environmentally friendly carnivore, your best bet is to stick to less than 100g (3oz) of meat per day. That’s about half what we currently eat,” Mosley concluded.  

Should I Eat Meat? How to Feed The Planet airs this evening (20 August) at 9pm on BBC Two.

Tweet us your thoughts to @MTJ_Tweet using the #meatdebate.

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