Updated: Jan 15, 2020
What’s often been missed in the discussion of environmental guidelines is that in terms of environmental impacts, how much meat you eat might matter less than what kind of meat you eat. What if shifting from one type of meat (beef) to another (monogastrics, like pork and poultry) offered environmental benefits at least as large?
As this figure shows, beef is simply much, much worse for the environment than all other forms of food, due mainly to enteric methane and the large amount of land required to feed cattle. The most meaningful distinction isn’t animal vs. plant — it’s beef (and other ruminants like sheep and goat) vs. everything else.
What’s often forgotten is that when people reduce their meat consumption, they often substitute it to some degree with dairy, which, due to the large emissions from land-use change associated with pastureland, actually has higher greenhouse gas emissions per calorie than either chicken or pork. Dairy has 25% higher emissions than chicken, and 160% higher emissions than pork, according to a new report from the World Resources Institute.
According to the most recent estimates of the prospective impacts of lab-grown beef, its greenhouse gas emissions are as high or even higher than those of pork and chicken, and its land requirement might be about the same. So if you want to reduce the environmental impact of your meat consumption, you can absolutely eat a cellular meat burger. Or you can just eat a chicken sandwich.
The huge greenhouse gas sparing potential from simply switching from beef to pork and chicken is good news, since both research and common sense indicates that a diet of plants and monogastrics is easier to stick to than strict vegetarianism.