Global meat production has dropped by 3 percent in 2020, going from an estimated 339 million tons in 2019 to 333 million this year. That’s the largest dip in at least 20 years for meat producers, and while some of that can be attributed to supply chain and production deficiencies from COVID-19, a growing body of data shows people may slowly be turning away from meat. And in the case of beef, that’s good news for the climate.
In data collected by Bloomberg from a Poore and Nemecek report, beef contributes roughly 60 kilograms of CO2 to the environment for every kilogram of product produced. For example, if a steer with a weight of 450 kilograms produces 200 kilograms of retail cuts at slaughter, that steer and the processes required from birth to retail cuts contributes roughly 12,000 kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere. Compare that to pork and chicken, which produce just 7 and 6 kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of product, respectively.
The high amount of land needed for farms and other uses for the production of beef is what contributes the most to high CO2 concentrations. Farm and other land allocated for beef is about 14 times higher than that of pork and chicken.
Many analysts predict beef production has reached its peak, with chicken, pork and now lab-grown and plant-based meats poised to capture a considerable chunk of market share in the coming years. Substituting beef with these alternative meats is expected to reduce CO2 concentrations by a considerable margin.