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Is There Really Such a Thing as Low-Carbon Beef?

the US Department of Agriculture
New York University
Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food
the University of Oxford’s
Environmental Change Institute
Condé Nast
Affiliate Partnerships

Colin Beal
Joseph Poore
Thomas Nemecek
Matthew Hayek
Karen Beauchemin
Tara Garnett

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The New York Times
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Producers who can prove that their cattle are raised in a way that emits 10 percent less greenhouse gases than an industry baseline can qualify for the certification scheme, which is run by a private company called Low Carbon Beef.This is the first time that the USDA has approved this kind of certification for beef, and it will make it easier for manufacturers to eventually suggest that their products are more environmentally friendly than those of their competitors. Even lamb, which comes second in Poore and Nemecek’s analysis, produces less than half the carbon emissions of beef per gram of protein.A steak labeled as low-carbon is likely to have produced many times more emissions than other foods that a shopper might reach for as an alternative, says Matthew Hayek, an environmental scientist at New York University. The agency uses similar programs to regulate much of the wording that appears on meat labels.To achieve its certification, Low Carbon Beef requires the meat to come in at least 10 percent below 26.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents per kilogram of carcass weight—a way of expressing greenhouse gas emissions that takes into account the different warming impacts of gases such as methane. Higher benchmarks mean that more producers will automatically find themselves within Low Carbon Beef’s 10 percent threshold, which might lower the incentives for farmers to reduce their carbon emissions further.Beal says that his baseline is calculated on his company’s own proprietary modeling to ensure accurate comparisons between producers.

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