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Impact of Animal Products on the US Environmental Footprint

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 1217 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Research Article Critique

 The purpose of the study was to demonstrate that animal-sourced products drive the food-related environmental footprint in the United States. Beef is the most produced of all livestock products and consequently is the most detrimental to the environment. “Studies of the US diet have pinpointed beef as a main driver of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (enteric fermentation, deforestation), water use (hydration and feed irrigation) and land occupation (primarily rangeland) (Goldstein, Moses, Sammons, & Birkved, 2017)”. Beef remains as a regular consumption in the American dietary culture, which makes it a key factor to reduce to positively impact the environment.

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  The hypothesis that is tested in this study is stated in the last paragraph of the introduction, “Here we look at the potential environmental and resource implications of substituting ground beef in the 2010 mean US diet (MUD, and plant-based proteins in the hypothetical vegetarian (VEG) and vegan (VGN) diets with PBB, at individual and national scales (Goldstein et al., 2017)”. Along with looking at the potential and resource implications of substitution in the US diet, the study also examined whether there were trade-offs when PBB was substituted.

 Plant-based burgers (PBB) are made up of wheat protein, coconut oil, and potato protein. PBB also contains a modified yeast culture to give beef its flavor and cooking characteristics. “Eating beef (and meat in general) is tied to a host of social, psychological and hedonic factors…(Goldstein et al., 2017)”. The idea of the PBB is to have the same fulfillment as regular beef concerning gustatory, culinary and nutritional functions. The major key to this study is to mimic traditional beef to be able to vastly decrease the environmental impact of beef. 

 A method that was used in this study was the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is used to measure the environmental impact of food production systems create. “LCA focuses at the processes along a supply chain that deliver a service, accounting for material and energy inputs, and chemical emissions to the environment (herein, life cycle inventory or LCI), thus providing an appraisal of system-wide environmental impacts and resources draw (Goldstein et al., 2017)”. LCA is important because it regulates boundaries in the US food supply chain.

  The study population included three different American diet models. These models included vegetarian diet (VEG), vegan diet (VGN), and the mean-US diet (MUD). “The MUD is constructed from the 2010 USDA’s loss-adjusted-food-availability estimates of per capita consumption of ~250 food items in the US. The VEG and VGN are built from the USDA’s 2010 dietary guidelines for vegetarian and vegan diets consuming 2000 kcal per day (Goldstein et al., 2017)”. On page 12, the S1 table outlines dietary recommendations and the primary food groups provided by the USDA. Protein, for example, includes meat, eggs, legumes, etc. Sufficient information was provided regarding the study population. The study population was broken up into different categories and was evaluated separately according to the study.

 Throughout all three different American dietary pattern models that are used, GHG (greenhouse gases) emissions, water use, and land occupation is evaluated. All three of these are monitored and evaluated because they are relevant to the environmental impact.

  To monitor GHG emissions, the study uses the IPCC methodology to calculate the amount of carbon dioxide. The goal of monitoring GHG emissions was to have a comparison to show the effect to the amount of 100 years. Surface or groundwater that had been used for the product was also measured. Lastly, to monitor agriculture land, the study uses the Impact 2002+ method to calculate land occupation.

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  In the study, Figure 1 on page 5 shows the results for the three different diets. The figure represents the average results for the three different American diets for annual per capita GHGs, water use, and land occupation. When looking at Figure 1, it is evident that beef being the highest among protein also has the dominant impact. Meat represents 50% of the GHG emissions, and beef totals 40-42% of total GHG emissions. In Figure 1, dairy as protein and fat sources is the highest among the VEG. Not only does MUD have the highest impact on GHG emissions, but it also has the highest water usage. In Figure 1, it is represented that meat uses 74% and the beef itself uses 56-58%. Water is a key factor in animal hydration and usage in feed for animals, which includes pasture, roughage, and concentrates. Lastly, land usage is also the highest among MUD. “Of the MUD’s ~4100 m2 annual occupation, 75% is from meat, 67% from beef alone, where grazing land and feed production predominate (Goldstein et al., 2017)”. As shown in Figure 1, there is a significant decrease in land usage among VEG (-63%) and VGN (-74%).

 The figures and tables that were presented in this study were used appropriately and were the proper format. Figure 1 represented the means for the three diet modules. Each module includes a category of dairy, fats, fruits and vegetables, grains, and protein. Figure 2 represented the three diet modules and the burden each diet has on the environment. Figure 3 represented GHG emissions per protein source produced from different categories. The categories included agricultural inputs, livestock, production and processing, and transport. The protein sources included chicken, dried lentils, egg, fava bean, ground beef, mealworm, PBB, pork, tofu, and tuna. Figure 4 represented GHG emissions, land, and water usage percentages. Table 1 is compromised of the three main indicators GHGs, water consumption, and land occupation and the percentage rate of shifting from protein to PBB substitute. Conclusions that were presented were supported by the findings.

  Overall, the tables, figures, and data represent that the reduction of meat consumption, improvement of production and management, can all contribute to a better environment. When comparing the requirements to produce traditional beef and PBB, PBB uses a significantly lesser amount of water and land usage (roughly one fourth less). One option is to mimic meat by plant-based functional equivalents such as PBB. As stated, “The challenge now is less about identifying the problem, but rather getting people to make a switch (Goldstein et al., 2017)”. The United States is known for meat-heavy diets, so changing the eating culture would be the biggest challenge.


  • Goldstein, B., Moses, R., Sammons, N., & Birkved, M. (2017, December 6). Potential to curb the environmental burdens of American beef consumption using a novel plant-based beef substitute. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from http://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer.asp?T=P&P=AN&K=126584117&S=R&D=a9h&EbscoContent=dGJyMNLr40SeprM4xNvgOLCmr1Gep7BSrqy4SqWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMO3j34Dfset55S5feb18YwA


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