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It has long been known that beef has a greater impact than other meats, but this paper is the first to quantify the scale in a comparative way, the BBC reports.
The scientists measured the environment inputs required to produce the main sources of protein. It was found that beef cattle need 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water than pork, poultry, eggs or dairy.
Although the study was based on US data, researchers say that the conclusions are applicable in Europe.
Speaking to the BBC, professor Mark Sutton, from the UK's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: "The overall environmental footprint of beef is particularly large because it combines a low production efficiency with very high volume,"
"The result is that the researchers estimate that over 60 per cent of the environmental burden of livestock in the US results from beef. Although the exact numbers will be different for Europe, the overall message will be similar: cattle dominate the livestock footprint of both Europe and US."