The study, published by the Swiss federal government's agricultural research body, Agroscope, last month, compared the environmental effect of cows raised on alpine pastures in the summer and those reared on farms complying with the Terra-Suisse label.
The report found that, since cows reared on pastures graze on natural grasses, they take around 20 months to reach the required weight for slaughter, compared with 15 months for cows fattened using concentrated fodder on farms.
As a result, pasture-raised cows ultimately eat more, and produce more methane, it said.
“While Terra-Suisse beef showed a moderate environmental impact, the impact of pasture-raised beef was significantly higher,”Agroscope said in a statement.
“These results are due to the greater consumption of fodder... and their slower growth.”
The study has raised the shackles of the Swiss Society for the Protection of Animals (STS), reported the Tribune de Genève on Wednesday.
The society says Agroscope's report did not take into account the positive effects of pasture-raised animals that compensate for their higher environmental impact, such as increasing biodiversity and their lower energy consumption.
In a letter to the Swiss President, Johann Schneider-Ammann, the STS drew attention to the fact that Agroscope's study was commissioned by meat producer Micarna SA, wrote the Tribune.
“It's not about protecting animals over the environment. Both are essential in the food production process. But studies like these do not help us find a balance,” it said.
Agroscope hit back.
“The study was conducted in an entirely independent manner according to scientific criteria,” spokeswoman Ania Biasio told the paper.
“It focused only on comparing the environmental impact of the two rearing models and didn't give an opinion on other aspects.”