A team led by Akifumi Ogino at the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, trawled through data on aspects of beef production including calf raising, animal management and the effects of producing and transporting feed.
They are calling for an overhaul of the beef industry, after their audit revealed producing the meat caused substantial amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
Most of the greenhouse gas emissions are emitted in the form of methane from belching cattle, but the meat production process also releases fertilising compounds that can wreak havoc in river and lake ecosystems.
The study, which is published in today's New Scientist magazine, shows that the production of 1kg of beef releases greenhouse gases with a warming potential equivalent to 36.4kg of carbon dioxide.
The production process also led to fertilising compounds equivalent to 340g of sulphur dioxide and 59g of phosphate, and consumed 169 megajoules of energy.
Over two-thirds of the energy is spent on producing and moving cattle feed.
The emissions are equivalent to the amount of CO2 released by an average car every 160 miles, and the energy consumption is equal to a 100W bulb being left on for 20 days, says New Scientist.
But the total environmental impact will be higher than the study suggests because the calculations do not include emissions from managing farm equipment and transporting the meat.
The scientists behind the study are calling for a range of measures to reduce the carbon footprint of the industry.
These include better waste management and reducing the interval between calving by a month, which the authors say could reduce the environmental impact by nearly 6%.
A Swedish study conducted in 2003 claimed that raising organic beef on grass rather than feed, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and consumed 85% less energy.