It takes five to six pounds of feed to produce a pound of pork, about half of what’s needed for beef (Rastogi). Unlike cows, pigs don’t produce methane in their digestive tracts, so they emit far fewer greenhouse gases (of course, energy and production do produce greenhouse emissions). The Environmental Working Group concluded that producing a pound of pork releases, on average, 12.12 kilograms of CO2 equivalent, less than a third of beef’s emissions (Hamerschlag and Venkat). Similarly, a University of Arkansas study concluded that “The overall estimate of the carbon footprint for preparation and consumption of one 4-oz. serving (of boneless pork) was found to be 2.2 lb. C02 [equivalent]” (qtd in Miller). A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report further finds that pork is responsible for less than 1/3 of a percent of United States greenhouse gases (Vansickle). Overall, it’s clear that pork produces significantly fewer climate change emissions than does beef.
Animal rights advocates criticize factory farming of pigs, and advocate free range farms that allow pigs to experience natural activities such as wallowing in mud. Outdoor pig production, however, may lead to nitrogen pollution in the soil and other environmental impacts (Eriksen et al). As often happens, consumers face difficult trade-offs in deciding how they want their pork produced.
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