Organic Meat's Climate Cost Is Just as High, Study Says

Even the lowest impact meat, organic pork, was found to be more damaging than the worst plant foods.
Derya Ozdemir

Eating meat is an insufferable burden for those who know what it means to consume livestock but are too indecisive to curb their appetite. While organic meat might have previously been hailed as some sort of a survivor, a new study has dumped cold water on these hopes, stating that the climate cost of organic meat production is just as high as that of conventionally farmed meat.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Organic vs. Conventional counterparts

The researchers based their study on lifecycle assessments and analyses to better understand the climate costs of conventional and organic meat production, per The Guardian.

By using the German government's estimate of climate damage costs, which is €180 ($220) per tonne of CO2, based on work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they found the farmgate price of beef would have to be more than €6/kg ($7.36) higher and about €3/kg ($3.68) more for chicken in order to cover the cost of climate damage

The study showed that organic and conventional products for beef and lamb resulted in similar climate costs, and organic chicken was slightly worse for the climate than its conventional counterparts.

'The prices are lying'

It was seen that organic meat products don't really reduce greenhouse gases since most organic livestock are grass-fed and growth hormones aren't used. Such animals take longer to reach a size fit for slaughter, meaning they generate more methane through their burps.


Moreover, the lowest impact meat, organic pork, was still far more damaging than the worst plant foods. It had lower climate costs than conventional pork since the latter are fed more imported feed than other livestock, thus being responsible for more deforestation.

The researchers are saying that this analysis points towards an urgent need for policies, such as meat taxes. "This would be fairer," the researchers said per The Guardian, "as consumers eating climate-damaging diets would pay for their pollution, rather than the costs of increased storms, floods, and droughts being spread across everyone in society as they are today."

The researchers also calculated the increases required in prices paid to farmers to cover climate costs, finding that there is a need for about 40% in shop prices for conventional meat and 25% for organic meat.

"Keeping our current meat prices is inadequate," study co-author Amelie Michalke told The Guardian. "The prices are lying. Climate costs are rising and we are all paying these costs — they are not adequately put on to the [most polluting] products." 

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