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Dec 22, 2009

Datapig: low-emission meat means we’re cookin’ with gas

Some animals do a lot more burping and farting than others. Datapig David Gillespie gives the lowdown on which beasties are responsible.

The world leaders let us down in Copenhagen.  So, (as usual) if we want the job done right, we’ve got to do it ourselves.  One place to start may be to substitute high-emission meat with low-emission meat on the dinner table.

Some animals do a lot more burping and farting than others.  To give you a feel for who’s who in the zoo, here’s a chart:


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11 thoughts on “Datapig: low-emission meat means we’re cookin’ with gas

  1. Jenny Morris

    The only environmentally friendly (and humane) choice is vegetarianism, or better still, veganism.

    It’s not just the carbon emissions. Factory farming of animals means massive doses of antibiotics for the hapless creatures imprisoned in these place, (with obvious consequences for bacterial resistance in the humans who consume them), discharge of huge amounts of waste into the waterways, and consumption of lots of animals who died sick, not to mention suffering.

    Check out Eating up the World, the environmental consequences of human food choices. available free in .pdf format, at


    and pardon a pig this Christmas!

  2. Evan Beaver

    Kangaroo is good eating. Nice soft feet, high iron, low fat, plenty of them around…


    Whilst your suggestion has merit David, why not also suggest substituting meat with plant food options? Not only are they much lower in ghg emissions, but also significantly lower in water use (why not do a chart on that too?), land and energy use per kilo of end product. There are also the health benefits from a reduction in meat and increase in variety of nutritious tasty plant foods, with a plethora of great vego recipes in books and websites to try. And in terms of promoting compassion at Christmas time, I’d recommend a pre-Christmas visit to an intensive piggery, battery egg farm, broiler shed and of course an abattoir. But of course I understand why most people dry retch at that suggestion. Isn’t it ironic.

  4. caf

    This doesn’t seem to give an entirely useful basis for comparison. You really need to scale it to kg-CO2-equiv per kg-meat-produced. Clearly the amount of meat available from a single chicken is significantly less than that available from a single cow, and some animals would need to be kept for more longer than others too.

  5. Ben Aveling

    It’d be interesting to see the same graph with cats and dogs added…

  6. John Maddock

    Evan Beaver is right – kangaroo meat is good eating.

    Jenny Morris is misleading in her comment. She suggests all meat is factory farmed.

    Not so, by a long way. In Tas., most beef cattle are grass fed – and in the paddocks at that! Antibiotics are seldom used for anything other than for vet. purposes (i.e. to treat injury or illness) and Hormone Growth Promoters are banned here.

    Key to future food production is the amount of fossil energy embodied in the food produced, and on this basis pasture fed beef is almost certainly a winner.

    John Maddock, beef farmer.

  7. AR

    Once upon a time cattle went directly from pasture to plate but that these days the majority spend their last weeks/months of their lives in feedlots, awaiting slaughter.

  8. John Bennetts

    @ CAF: Agreed. The comparisons should be on the basis of dressed weight, not per beast.

    @John Maddock: WTF does fossil fuel mean in this context? Are you accusing cattle of eating coal, or sheep sucking oil? A comparison of CO2-e inputs and outputs should not be too difficult to come by, however I cannot recall seing such a table.

    Of course, transport fuels and plastics come into the equation further downstream, but that is another story.

    So, Mr D Pig, how about a rework of the comparison so that it is meaningful? Either with or without the vegetarian comparison… there are so many varieties of vego these days that it is perhaps worthwhile listing the common foods and then leaving the actual dietary mix to the reader.

  9. John Maddock

    Re John Bennetts comment

    No, not accusing cattle of eating coal etc 🙂

    My thinking is that in order to grow pasture to feed cattle, one has to burn diesel, use fertilisers (hopefully not oil based nitrogenous fertilisers) etc. , then burn diesel again to conserve fodder for winter feeding. All this I consider as fossil energy directly embodied in the meat of the animal.

    The energy in transporting the diesel, the fertilizer, etc could also be considered as embodied fossil energy, not to mention that locked up in capital items such as in water supply, yards etc.

    In my view, most of this embodied fossil energy would be less in pasture fed beef, compared to (e.g.) lot fed beef.

    I believe Lincoln University in NZ has a website which has a fossil energy calculator, but I’ve never had time to take a look.

    AR’s comment that most beef spend their final days in a feedlot might be true of the mainland, but certainly not for Tasmania. There is one small feedlot here and it sends its produce direct to Japan.

    There are many areas of the world where grazing of animals on native or improved pastures is the most efficient method of producing protein. Not a case of one size fits all by any means.

    John Maddock

  10. Jeff McLean

    Sorry John B, but adding veggies to the chart isn’t useful.

    They don’t fart.