Partitioning United States' feed consumption among livestock categories for improved environmental cost assessments

G. Eshel, A. Shepon, T. Makov, R. Milo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The high environmental costs of raising livestock are now widely appreciated, yet consumption of animal-based food items continues and is expanding throughout the world. Consumers' ability to distinguish among, and rank, various interchangeable animal-based items is crucial to reducing environmental costs of diets. However, the individual environmental burdens exerted by the five dominant livestock categories - beef, dairy, poultry, pork and eggs - are not fully known. Quantifying those burdens requires splitting livestock's relatively well-known total environmental costs (e.g. land and fertilizer use for feed production) into partial categorical costs. Because such partitioning quantifies the relative environmental desirability of various animal-based food items, it is essential for environmental impact minimization efforts to be made. Yet to date, no such partitioning method exists. The present paper presents such a partitioning method for feed production-related environmental burdens. This approach treated each of the main feed classes individually - concentrates (grain, soy, by-products; supporting production of all livestock), processed roughage (mostly hay and silage) and pasture - which is key given these classes' widely disparate environmental costs. It was found that for the current US food system and national diet, concentrates are partitioned as follows: beef 0·21±0·112, poultry 0·27±0·046, dairy 0·24±0·041, pork 0·23±0·093 and eggs 0·04±0·018. Pasture and processed roughage, consumed only by cattle, are 0·92±0·034 and 0·87±0·031 due to beef, with the remainder due to dairy. In a follow-up paper, the devised methodology will be employed to partition total land, irrigated water, greenhouse gases and reactive nitrogen burdens incurred by feed production among the five edible livestock categories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)432-445
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Agricultural Science
Volume153
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 15 Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes

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