Climate at a Glance: Livestock and Methane

Herd of cows grazing in meadow. Licensed via

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Key Takeaways:

  • American ranchers and meat consumption have virtually no impact on overall greenhouse gas emissions or climate change.
  • EPA reports cattle and beef account for just 2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • EPA reports all livestock account for less than 4 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Short Summary:

Climate activists often claim that ranchers, livestock, and meat production are a leading cause of rising greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has compiled information on greenhouse gas emissions by source. According to EPA, beef production accounts for 2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas
emissions, while livestock production accounts for less than 4 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.1

By contrast, U.S. agricultural crop production emits more greenhouse gases than total livestock production.

This is the case even though the United States leads the world in beef production.2
Livestock primarily impact greenhouse gas emissions through methane released when livestock burp or pass
gas. Although this is often presented as a serious problem, data show U.S. methane emissions have fallen over
the past three decades. According to EPA, methane emissions dropped from 1990 to 2018.3

Figure 1. Greenhouse gas emissions by sector in the United States. Note that beef production is
less than half of the entire livestock sector, at just 2 percent. Source: Data from U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency. Graphic by Anthony Watts. Artwork icons in graphic licensed from


  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions
    and Sinks,”, accessed August 15, 2021,
  2. Rob Cook, “Ranking of Countries that Produce the Most Beef (USDA),” Beef2Live.
    com, citing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, August 16, 2021, https://
  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data Explorer,”
    accessed August 15, 2021,

Climate At A Glance is a Project of The Heartland Institute