Beans for Beef May Be the Answer to Achieving Greenhouse Gas Emissions Goal

In a constant effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, researchers from four American universities found that the key may lie in what we eat. By simply switching to beans instead of meat, researchers predict greenhouse gas emissions may drastically decrease allowing the country to reach more than half its reduction target for 2020. This is great news for vegetarians, but no so much for diehard meat eaters.

The livestock industry accounts for a loss of over 70 percent due to inefficiency. Beef cattle alone is the highest GHG-intensive food when it comes to production. Beans, including legumes and peas, on the other hand emit one-fortieth the amount of GHG. Not hard to do the math.

The team headed by Helen Harwatt, PhD, of Loma Linda University released a 10-page paper discussing how eating beans instead of beef could have a major impact on U.S. climate change. Researchers believe a change in food production such as this is enough to reach 46 percent to 74 percent of the 2020 goal in the U.S.

"The nation could achieve more than half of its GHG reduction goals without imposing any new standards on automobiles or manufacturing," said Sabate, fellow researcher and executive director of Center for Nutrition, Healthy Lifestyle and Disease Prevention at LLU School of Public Health.

Policy makers have long been focusing on changes in the automotive, manufacturing, and energy industries as a means in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Mitigating climate change through food production is a relatively new debate that is gaining interest.

Not only would it reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but a change in agriculture like this from meat to plants would also free up 42 percent of cropland. That means more space for growing food. It also means more farm land dedicated to sustainable food practices.

In a time when researchers are looking to grow food on Mars to meet the demands of a growing population, making drastic changes in our food production could potentially have benefits beyond greenhouse gas emission reduction.

The trend to go green and eat more sustainably is already there. Harwatt states that more than one-third of Americans are choosing plant-based products as meat substitutes. Products like tofu sausages and veggie burgers that look and taste like meat-but are veggie based-are increasing in consumer demand.

Although the desire to eat plant-based is there, getting everyone to choose tofu over real bacon may not be easy. The outcome, however, is worth the sacrifice.

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