This post is part of Protein Angst, a series on the environmental and nutritional complexities of high-protein foods. Our goal is to publish a range of perspectives on these very heated topics. Add your feedback and story suggestions here.
When it comes to carbon emissions, lamb is said to be the worst possible thing to eat. It’s the tall, scary skyscraper in the carbon emissions bar graph (see below), and for good reason. They’re small, gassy animals that spend most of their lives on pasture. Wait, what’s that last part? Yes, some of the animals who seem to spend the least time in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) -- a good thing, as far as I’m concerned -- also have the largest carbon hoofprints.
It’s a given that eating any meat at all has a larger environmental impact than choosing not to. But, for committed omnivores, choosing a comparatively green option has become increasingly complex. And precisely because lamb has gotten such a bad rap in carbon-centric circles, I thought it might be worth another look.
First the bad news: Sheep are big burpers and, like cows, they release a lot of methane into the atmosphere. Although their production “lifecycle” has around the same climate impact as that of cattle, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that “lamb meat tends to have higher net GHG emissions because lambs produce less meat in relation to live weight than cows.”