Is Your Cheese Killing the Planet?

| Wed Aug. 10, 2011 4:57 PM EDT

We all know that meat is terrible for the climate. A new report from the Environmental Working Group tells you which meats are the worst in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, as Tom Laskawy reported last month.

But one finding in the report surprised (and alarmed) me: Cheese is quite hard on the climate too.

EWG worked with CleanMetrics, an environmental analysis firm, to rank different protein sources in terms of their life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions per four-ounce serving. Beef, as you'd expect, is bad—No. 2 on the list in terms of climate impact, surpassed only by lamb. But the No. 3 offender is cheese, ranking worse than pork and chicken ounce for ounce, and substantially worse than other dairy products like milk and yogurt.

What makes cheese so bad? "Cheese has a high carbon footprint because it takes a lot of milk to produce a pound of cheese—10 pounds of milk, on average, go into producing a pound of hard cheese," says report author Kari Hamerschlag, senior analyst at EWG. "You're producing the milk from a dairy cow that is emitting large quantities of methane, which has a global-warming impact 25 times higher than carbon. And then you have the methane and nitrous oxide that are also generated from the cow's manure. And then all of the grains that go into feeding the cows, which range from corn to alfalfa and other forage, and there's a footprint associated with that."

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