Beef typically performs poorly in research projects that attempt to measure the total environmental footprint of production practices. However, a new study conducted by the University of Washington finds livestock production uses less energy than most forms of seafood aquaculture.
Funded in part by the Seafood Industry Research Fund, “The environmental cost of animal source foods” suggest beef production and catfish farming have the heaviest environmental footprints. The study appears online the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
The authors reviewed 148 assessments of animal source food (ASF) production for livestock, aquaculture, and capture fisheries that measured four metrics of environmental impact (energy use, greenhouse‐gas emissions, release of nutrients, and acidifying compounds) and standardized these per unit of protein production. They also examined additional literature on freshwater demand, pesticide use, and antibiotic use.
Farmed catfish, shrimp and tilapia used the most energy, mainly because constant water circulation must be powered by electricity. The researchers compared environmental impacts across food types by using a standard amount of 40 grams of protein — roughly the size of an average hamburger patty, and the daily recommended protein serving. For example, they calculated how much greenhouse gas was produced per 40 grams of protein across all food types, where data were available.