What’s the environmental footprint of your food?
What you eat can affect the environment in greatly varying degrees. Different foods have different ecological footprints in terms of greenhouse gases, land use, water, pesticides, fuel consumption, etc.
A recent US study estimated the environmental footprints of various types of food – with some interesting results. Lamb and beef were found to have by far the largest eco-footprints per kilo, followed by cheese, pork, farmed salmon and turkey; continuing in a more-or-less gradual slope towards tomatoes and lentils, which rounded out the bottom of the list.
The study does not give very extensive information on the different ecological footprints of foodstuffs, but does provide basic guidelines, similar to a previous study by Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) in the UK. The US study, conducted by the Environmental Working Group is quoted in The Ecologist:
By eating and wasting less meat (especially red and processed meat) and cheese, you can simultaneously improve your health and reduce the climate and environmental impact of food production.
The USDA has also released a study relating to the emissions generated from American dairy farms. It researched a typical industrial farm in Idaho, which houses 10,000 dairy cows.
From Time Magazine:
The investigators monitored a year’s worth of ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions and found that this one dairy gives off 3,575 pounds of ammonia, 33,092 pounds of methane, and 409 pounds of nitrous oxide per day. Now consider that there are 365 days in a year and tens of thousands of dairy farms in the U.S.
The implications of all these studies are quite clear: Meat and dairy, especially when produces by factory farms, has serious and manifold detrimental affects on the environment. Coupled with ethical and health issues, cutting down on meat and dairy in our diets can only help the well-being of ourselves and of the planet, not to mention millions of animals.