A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides more evidence that livestock-production systems that incorporate higher-quality concentrated feeds, such as grains, could provide the most efficient means toward desirable climate and food-availability outcomes. Researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)  conducted the study.

In their report titled “Climate change mitigation through livestock system transitions,” the researchers note that globally, land-use change accounts for the largest portion of livestock production’s carbon footprint. This occurs when natural areas, such as forests in developing countries, are removed to create new grazing lands for livestock, resulting in loss of carbon storage and release of greenhouse gasses (GHG) through burning and decay of native vegetation.

The authors note that using higher-energy diets in livestock production means more livestock can be raised on less land, with fewer emissions per pound of meat or milk produced. Shifting global livestock production to mixed systems feeding grass and higher quality feed, rather than in pure grass-based systems, would lead to a 23 percent reduction of emissions from land-use change in the next two decades without any explicit climate mitigation policy.

Most effective climate policies involving livestock would be those targeting emissions from land-use change, the researchers conclude. “To minimize the economic and social cost, policies should target emissions at their source—on the supply side—rather than on the demand side.”

Wording it another way in an IIASA release , IIASA researcher Petr Havlík who led the study says “There is a lot of discussion about reduction of meat in the diets as a way to reduce emissions. But our results show that targeting the production side of agriculture is a much more efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Read the full report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.