The Environmental Cost of our Food
The causes of atmospheric pollution are in the news a lot but there’s little mention of the contribution our food makes. Amazingly one third of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to food production! Obviously we can’t stop eating, but the figures are stark. Producing the food that the average person consumes each day generates the equivalent of 9 kilograms of carbon dioxide, or for one person 3 tonnes or 1.7 million litres of greenhouse gas each year. To become carbon neutral our daily figure needs to be around 3.5kg per day! So, there is no doubt that to save the planet we must try to change what we eat.
There are other questions we need to ask ourselves. The figure of about 9kg carbon dioxide equivalent per person each day might apply more to the affluent countries such as those in Europe or North America where people have come to expect to be able to buy asparagus in December. In an earlier article we highlighted the vast distances some of our food has travelled to get to us but that is only a small part of the issue. The figures given are ‘carbon dioxide equivalents’ as used by the World Health Organisation and they relate to all the environmental costs involved in producing a food, so for a field crop it would include costs of fertiliser, running farm machinery, machinery for processing, and for transport and packaging.
If you want to start eating to save the planet here are a few figures to ponder.
The carbon dioxide equivalents to produce one kg of some meats are; British chicken 3.8, British bacon 10, British lamb 21, British beef 25 and beef reared on reclaimed rainforest in Brazil 83.3.
For fish and seafood the figures are mussels 1.4, sardines 2.0, UK prawns 3.8, salmon 4.4, imported tuna 22, and Tiger prawns 25.
For comparison consider potatoes 0.3, imported bananas 0.7, UK asparagus 1.1, UK pasta 1.5, nuts and seeds 2.2 and so on.
While vegetarians are often so because of their principles regarding the treatment of animals, they are also saving the planet as typically their food does half the damage to the planet as does that of meat eaters. So, we don’t have to eat less to save the planet, we just have to reduce our intake of the most damaging foods and to end on a high – the figure for 1 litre of wine is just 0.49!
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