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Beef Eaters Contribute Almost Half of the U.S.'s Diet-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Nearly half of the United States' diet-related greenhouse gas emissions result from only 20 percent of Americans' dietary choices, a new study finds.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, finds that Americans with the highest levels of beef consumption account for 72 percent of the increase in diet-related emissions between the highest- and lowest-impact groups in the study, which produces about eight times the amount of emissions compared to the lowest-impact group. The study's researchers attribute this to the fact that animal-based foods, particularly cow-based, contribute significantly higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions per pound than plant-based foods.

"Reducing the impact of our diets could achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emission in the United States," said lead author Martin Heller, a researcher at the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems, in a press release. "It's climate action that is accessible to everyone, because we all decide on a daily basis what we eat."

This study is one of the few to break down the environmental impacts of individual self-selected diets, as opposed to other studies that evaluate environmental effects of diets at the aggregate level. "Such work is essential for estimating a distribution of impacts, which, in turn, is key to recommending policies for driving consumer demand towards lower environmental impacts," the study states.