As a separate document, the Environmental Working Group published the their methodology for “Meat Eater’s Guide.” Before reading the final report, it is beneficial to read the methods for the research presented in the “Guide.” To develop their life cycle assessment (LCA) of GHG’s associated with meat consumption, many assumptions had to be made. This is certainly true of any LCA — assumptions, empirical data, averages, all of that has to come into play. In the introduction it is stated that the objective was to model what could be considered the “conventional” process from conception to consumption. The report from the EWG provides a good basis for questions to be asked and future research to be conducted.
Some Notable Assumptions
- The role of maternal maintenance and production volume (i.e. litter size), and the associated assumptions, varied from species to species and did not necessarily reflect all co-products (i.e., cows that produce milk and eventually become meat) in a realistic or “conventional” way.
- Processing data is based upon New Zealand’s processes. Abattoirs in New Zealand tend to be more automated than the US and it is very likely that the energy required to operated that equipment is greater.
- Shipment of sheep meat from Australia and New Zealand for US consumption is reasonable, yet this is the only species for which import/export shipping is considered. The U.S. imports and exports a lot of beef and pork.
- I am bewildered by the use of a cow/calf feedlot in Nebraska for the model. This is simply not how the vast majority cow/calf beef cattle farms are operated.
- Admittedly, I know little about chicken production in British Columbia. It is very interesting, though, that production is regulated and that they seem to target only consumption by Canadians (per this Supply Management message), yet was included in this study.
- The home storage and cooking section kitchen do not reflect what happens in my kitchen, but that’s just me. How does it relate to you?
- The attempted LCA only includes what EWG deems “conventional” and no investigation regarding what they deem to be “best practices and/or organic” is included.
- Nor is it firmly stated that some “conventional” practices increase productivity and reduce GHG emissions, therefore never considered to be a “best practice.”
Which leads me to:
Recommended practices omitted from the methodology
The recommendations seem to be a catch-all of trendy meat choices (if one opts to eat meat) that extend far beyond the GHG LCA — which, as I understand it, was the intent of the Meat Eater’s Guide. Few comparisons of “best practice and/or organic” to “conventional” were ever made, yet some recommendations (in addition reducing the intake of animal products) are to consume organic or other “certified XYZ” animal products. We have read many of the recommendations before, and yes, they are all popular for various reasons.
The list of recommendations taken from the EWG site, my comments are in parentheses:
- Grass-fed or pasture-raised meat (included in LCA, lots of gray area with “pasture-raised”)
- Lean cuts (makes sense, but that’s related to the LCA how? end-point body condition was included where?)
- No antibiotics or hormones (Why this specific recommendation when using them can reduce GHG?)
- Certified organic (references pesticide use, etc., which fits the GHG message how?)
- Certified humane (some can argue that certain “certified humane” requirements can be detrimental to animal health and well-being)
- Unprocessed, nitrite-free, and low-sodium (What does this have to do with the GHG LCA?)
- Sustainable seafood (the point about avoiding airfreighted food makes complete sense; but what about avoiding airfreighted “sustainable” meat?)