The Most Environmentally Harmful Thing You Eat

Believe it or not, choosing between a burger and a chicken sandwich can affect more than just your waistline.

A new study led by scientists at Bard College in New York shows that going for beef has 10 times the environmental impact of eating any other kind of meat.

The study, published online yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, calculated the resources required to produce beef, pork, poultry, eggs and dairy, and it concluded that beef is by far the most environmentally damaging of any food that comes from animals.

In fact, producing beef requires 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water than any other animal product, and it results in five times the greenhouse gas emissions. The study corroborates the findings of EWG’s 2011 Meat Eater’s Guide, which compared the climate impact of eating various foods.

The new study found that beef alone is responsible for about 60 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing all the meat and dairy in a typical American diet. As EWG reported earlier this month, if every American simply switched from beef to chicken, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 137 million metric tons of carbon a year — or as much as taking 26 million cars off the road.

The authors recommended that policymakers consider changing food policies that keep certain foods artificially cheap. As lead author Gidon Eshel told the Guardian:

“I would strongly hope that governments stay out of people’s diet, but at the same time there are many government policies that favor … the current diet in which animals feature too prominently. Remove the artificial support given to the livestock industry and rising prices will do the rest. In that way you are having less government intervention in people’s diet and not more.”

So next time you choose between a burger and a chicken sandwich, maybe ask yourself, where’s the chicken?

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