by Niv Sultan
Americans cut their beef consumption by 19 percent between 2005 and 2014, according to a new study by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). For a quick visualization, you — a person of average appetite somewhere in the U.S. — ate five whole cows in 2005; in 2014, you ate four, plus a few bites of a fifth.
That drop in beef intake was the main contributor to a 10 percent reduction in the amount of climate-warming pollution Americans caused through their diets, said the environmental group. NRDC estimates that reduced demand for beef, milk, high-fructose corn syrup and other products prevented pollution “roughly equivalent to the annual pollution of 57 million car tailpipes.”
The business of agriculture contributes to climate change in many ways — from methane emissions of livestock to air pollution caused by farm equipment to the energy needs of food processing. Growing feed for cattle is especially costly: It requires pesticides and fertilizers, which rely heavily on fossil fuels. The study showed that, as far as the American diet goes, beef caused about one-third of total diet-related per capita climate-warming pollution in 2014.
While beef consumption fell significantly over the decade ending in 2014, and chicken, too, lost a bit of its luster, other foods grew more popular — like dairy products. Manufacturing those foods thus accounted for more pollution than before. (Production methods didn’t change much over the time period, an NRDC policy specialist told us.)
In terms of appeal to consumers, then, beef and chicken were the past decade’s losers, and dairy was its winner. But naturally, given the nature of our work at OpenSecrets Blog, we checked to see which industry won a different contest: Lobbying.