I recently saw a poster somewhere saying that some type of emission or byproduct that comes out of cattle production is extremely wasteful and harmful to the environment. What exactly is this byproduct and how can we find alternatives and more efficient ways to handle this unfortunately undermined issue?
There are two relevant disadvantages to beef:
- Cattle produce a lot of methane, which is a greenhouse gas.
- The amount of land (and energy, and fertiliser) needed to grow enough grass to feed enough cattle to provide enough beef to feed a human is many times more than that required to grow crops to feed the human directly. This is generally true for eating animals, but is worse for cows than for sheep or pigs. However, this is not to say that it is best to eat no meat - for there is some land that is unsuitable for crops, but fine for grazing sheep on.
It's not an all-or-nothing scenario. It depends on how beef is raised. Poorly fed (e.g., corn fed) cattle and cattle on an open range will have negative effects on greenhouse gas levels and land quality. In contrast, managed grazing of cattle can have a positive effect in both regards. Here is a starter link for more info on why beef production can help the environment if managed wisely.
A search on the topics of sustainable grazing or management-intensive grazing should yield even more helpful insights.
Methane emissions from livestock make up about 50% of the greenhouse gases (weighted by severity of the impact that each type of greenhouse gas makes) from New Zealand, so it's a big problem. For those interested, it seems it's mainly burped out of cows.
The link in the previous sentence also discussed measurement technology so that a better understanding can be gained on what causes higher levels to be emitted from some animals. It may be possible to solve, or reduce, the problem by using different feed.