Agriculture Reference
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in the soil, and the transition of land out of heavily plowed
cropland into pasture for cattle could (again, under optimistic
assumptions) deliver enough reductions to reverse Capper's
findings. Once that transition is complete and the land reaches
a new equilibrium of carbon in the soil, then carbon sequestra-
tion ceases and the smaller carbon footprint then belongs to
corn-fed beef. This suggests that any advantage grass-fed beef
may have is either unlikely or fleeting.
So for now, corn-fed beef seems to have a smaller impact
on global warming, but the science on this issue is young.
Measuring carbon footprints requires many assumptions that
are difficult to verify, and small changes in those assumptions
can have sizable impacts. Thus, other studies attempting to
measure carbon footprints could arrive at different conclu-
sions. Much more research on this topic is needed, including
replication and extension of Capper's work.
How Can I Lower My Carbon Footprint from the Food I Eat?
Meatpacking in nineteenth-century Chicago was a brutal,
dirty business. It was a time when companies could dump
waste into rivers without criticism. Gustavus Swift erected
large meatpacking plants in Chicago where livestock were
slaughtered and then shipped to New England by rail. He did
not care about the purity of the local rivers, yet his polished
business skills contributed remarkably to reducing water
Swift didn't make money from his sales of beef. His profits
were in the by-products from beef production, like fat turned
into soap, hides processed into leather, guts into tennis racket
strings, and hair into stuffed cushions. The few parts of the
carcass that were discarded left the plant in sewer pipes and
flowed into Bubbly Creek, which then flowed into the Chicago
River. Any amount of fat, gut, or hair that escaped the plant
and flowed into the creek was money lost to Swift, so he would
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