A new study by the United Nations Environment Program revealed that beef is a "climate-harmful meat" and that global beef production has become one of the leading perpetuators of climate change. Data suggest that livestock production is a greater contributor to the global carbon footprint than the transportation sector.

Experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome discovered that producing beef now amounts to more than 18 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions compared to the transportation sector's 15 percent. Scientists say that this percentage must be reduced in order to decrease its level of damage to the planet.

In a study published as Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options in the FAO website, researchers explained that because livestock production's contributions to climate change are massive, the issue should be addressed with urgency. For example, the study says that extensive grazing causes land degradation. Additionally, the changes in geographical locations for these livestock processes result to more direct competition for scarce land, water and other natural resources.

The livestock sector creates about 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, the study says. Animal manure stored in tanks or lagoons mostly produces methane, and concentrations of these gases have caused increases in global temperatures.

The study explained that livestock production now accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of Earth's land surface. In turn, livestock production leads to deforestation, and pastoralists who look for land to graze sometimes burn these lands for expansion.

FAO suggests that to fight against land degradation, agricultural scientists should practice soil conservation methods, better management of grazing systems, and limits to uncontrolled burning by pastoralists.

In India, more than 111 million cows and buffaloes are prized for milk, and because they are deemed as sacred, Indians do not eat beef. UNEP said that some Indians consume only 12 grams of meat per person a day, which is 10 times lower than the global average of 115 grams. Meanwhile, in the United States, over 322 grams of meat is being eaten by a person per day.

"The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat," said Professor Tim Benton from the University of Leeds.

UNEP recommends a shift in eating less climate-harmful meat and reminds the public that "healthy eating is not just important for the individual but for the planet as whole."

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