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?

  • 2
    The main problem in many western countries is that cattle are fed things that humans could eat, or fodder crops for cattle are grown on land that could grow food for people. In countries like Australia and Brazil there's also a lot of land clearing and land degradation associated with "grass fed" cattle. So it's not just emissions and byproducts (New Zeland's "rivers of shit" are mostly from dairy farming)
    – Móż
    Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 9:08
  • The answer is here in this great documentary . Home It is one hour long. Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 6:00

3 Answers 3


There are two relevant disadvantages to beef:

  1. Cattle produce a lot of methane, which is a greenhouse gas.
  2. 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.
  • I'd add a 3rd major one to the list: loss of usable land to grazing. Lots of land that would be better for growing crops (or forrest) is lost to allow for beef grazing (Brazil's Rainforest being a major victim).
    – DA.
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 3:03
  • @da isn't that part of my second point? Or am I missing something?
    – Flyto
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 6:19
  • It could be part of that. I just happen to think it's different enough that it's worth pointing out separately. I'd suggest point #2 refers more to 'growing animal feed (corn being popular). The issue there is we could feed more people with those crops than processing it through cattle. Another issue is clearing land to create grazing lands. The issue there is we're destroying the rain forrest. Whether those are the 'same issue' is a matter of semantics and opinion, I suppose.
    – DA.
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 6:26
  • @DA. hmm, I hadn't even considered corn-fed cattle (we don't have that here). You make a fair point about forest destruction. I suggest putting that into an answer, I'd certainly vote for it.
    – Flyto
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 9:56

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.


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