The research published in Plos One shows that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with non-vegetarian diets are 59 percent higher than those associated with vegetarian diets. By itself, meat production is responsible for 32 percent of all GHG emissions.
Healthier diets had lower GHG emissions, demonstrating consistency between planetary and personal health.
Globally, 30 percent of all GHG emissions come from food production, with less environmentally sustainable diets linked to the production and consumption of processed food, which is often high in energy and low in nutritional qualities.See Also: Even During a Pandemic, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Soared to Record Highs in 2020
“To date, the environmental impact of diets have mostly been based on a limited number of broad food groups,” the research team from the University of Leeds wrote.
The study profiled the eating habits of 212 adults in the United Kingdom. The researchers linked GHG emissions to more than 3,000 foods listed in the U.K. Composition of Foods Integrated Dataset (COFID), assessing the association between individuals’ GHG emissions, nutrient intake and demographics.
“We also identify additional information required in dietary assessment to generate more accurate environmental impact data for individual-level diets,” the researchers wrote.
The results show that drinks account for 15 percent of the GHG emissions, while 14 percent are due to dairy, and eight percent are associated with cakes, biscuits and confectionery. Researchers also found that women tend to follow a more sustainable dietary regimen, with men’s diets associated with 41 percent more GHG emissions.
The researchers added that participants whose intake of saturated fats, carbohydrates and sodium aligned with World Health Organization recommendations were associated with lower GHG emissions.
“Policies encouraging sustainable diets should focus on plant-based diets,” the researchers wrote. “Substituting tea, coffee and alcohol with more sustainable alternatives, whilst reducing less nutritious sweet snacks, presents further opportunities.”See Also: Climate Change Coverage
“Healthier diets had lower GHG emissions, demonstrating consistency between planetary and personal health,” they added.
The researchers believe that further information about the impact of food production on global GHG emissions “could be gained from incorporating brand, production methods, post-retail emissions, country of origin and additional environmental impact indicators.”
Previous studies have shown that GHG emissions from global food production exceed 17 billion tons per year.
According to data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the world produced just under 50 billion tons of GHG emissions in 2015.
Of those 17 billion tons of emissions associated with food production, 57 percent come from the production of animal-based food, including livestock feed. Meanwhile, 29 percent come from plant-based food, and 14 percent are associated with other land uses.
“We all want to do our bit to help save the planet. Working out how to modify our diets is one way we can do that,” the researchers concluded. “There are broad-brush concepts like reducing our meat intake, particularly red meat, but our work also shows that big gains can be made from small changes, like cutting out sweets, or potentially just by switching brands.”