May 15, 2023

Weekly EconMinute—Beef production emissions intensity

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about beef production emissions intensity.

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The world consumes a lot of beef. But as with most economic activities, producing that beef comes with climate impacts.

Beef emissions are generated by several activities across the supply chain, but especially from: feed production and processing, including changing land to make way for livestock (e.g., clearing vegetation or forests); and the gases produced from cow digestion.

As one of the eleven largest beef and buffalo meat producing regions in the world, it is incumbent on Canada and its beef producers to limit their impact on global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The fewer emissions resulting from Canadian beef production, the better our climate impact will be. This is especially important in Alberta, home of 44% of Canada’s total beef cow inventory.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has developed a model for measuring the emissions intensity (i.e., GHG emissions per unit of beef produced) of the world’s beef producers. Here’s what the model shows about how Canada’s doing:

  • As of 2020, Canada is the eleventh largest beef and buffalo meat producing region on earth.
  • Between 2016-2020, Canada has the fourth lowest emissions intensity (16.5 kg CO2eq / kg beef produced) of the eleven largest producers.
  • In comparison, Brazil and India (which produce 7.5- and 4.0-times as much beef and buffalo meat as Canada) have emissions intensities that are 2.5-times and 8.4-times Canada’s, respectively.

Canada has one of the lowest beef emissions intensities on earth, and this is worth celebrating. While GHG emissions are not the only environmental impact that comes from beef production, and local economic development and food security concerns require emissions improvements in all regions, Canada’s relative emissions performance makes a strong case for continuing to grow our share of global beef production.

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