How food choices impact the environment
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
There is a growing, worldwide consensus focused on reducing the use of nonrecyclable products. A new study conducted by a Swiss research institute and Oxford University says that our food choices can help, too.
The researchers calculated the impacts of foods around the globe, and studied the food production chain, from the farm to the fork.
Extensive research found that switching to a plant-based diet will not only have positive health impacts, but could have a significant impact on the climate as well.
Global food and agriculture systems are responsible for one-fourth of human-made greenhouse gas emissions. Animal products make up two-thirds of these emissions.
The world's food supply chain generated 13.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.
Reducing animal products or shifting to a plant-based diet could cut greenhouse gas emissions by almost half. In the United States, a similar shift could reduce 61 percent of the country's emissions from food.
Most of these emissions are linked to the farm. Water and land use in agriculture and excess runoff from fertilizers contribute to choking plant life. Deforestation adds to the burden. Clearing up more land for cattle-grazing and feeding leads to further damage.
Meats from ruminant animals like cows, goats and sheep are a significant driver of climate pollution. They need a lot of pasture lands to graze, and they also produce more methane emissions than poultry or pigs.
The forested land cleared for the animals removes oxygen and more carbon from the air. If more people were to opt for a vegetarian lifestyle, these damages would reduce.
How food is grown has a big impact as well. Two products of the same kind of food, take beef, for example, could have different environmental impacts depending on its production. The feed, fertilizer, climatic conditions, transportation, packaging and waste management all factor into the footprints of animal-based products
Yet, even the lowest-impact animal product has more of an environmental footprint than a plant-based product. These dietary changes can have transformative potential.
A survey conducted on American households by Tufts University shows that beef, chicken, pork and other meats have a carbon footprint that amounted to 16 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2013.
The survey used an EPA tool to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions through the entire food supply chain. This includes every stage from production, distribution to consumption and all that in between.
While it is unrealistic to expect most of the world’s population to turn into vegetarians overnight, the awareness of a positive environmental impact could help. Reducing meat intake and increasing plants in a diet could go a long way to help both humans and our planet.
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