Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018), in their large meta-analysis of global food systems, published in Science, estimated how much of our greenhouse gas emissions come from wasted food.43. But studies also shows that this holds true for actual diets; here we show the results of a study which looked at the footprint of diets across the EU. (2010) found that by 2000, 55% of Earth’s ice-free (not simply habitable) land had been converted into cropland, pasture, and urban areas. However, people have been mindlessly wasting food on one side while there are many suffering in the other end. Shipping one kilogram of avocados from Mexico to the United Kingdom would generate 0.21kg CO2eq in transport emissions.24 This is only around 8% of avocados’ total footprint.25 Even when shipped at great distances, its emissions are much less than locally-produced animal products. Food production contributes, for example, to climate change, eutrophication … Vilma Sandström et al. Its content will continue to expand in the coming months. In the two visualizations here we see comparisons of the carbon footprint of the average EU diets: firstly the total emissions from each source in the supply chain and secondly, shown as the breakdown by food item. Poore & Nemecek (2018) report that of the 9.4 billion tonne-kilometers of global food transport, air-freight accounted for only 15 million. So its total footprint would be around 0.67 kg CO2eq per kg, which still makes it a low-carbon food option. That’s the question facing the American food processing industry, and its partners along the supply chain, during what is turning out to be an unprecedented national trauma. Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Transporting food by boat emits 0.023 kilograms of CO2eq per tonne of product per kilometer. Emission factors for freight by transport mode (kilograms of CO2eq per tonne-kilometer)40. These emissions factors by transport mode are those applied in the analysis by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018), published in Science. Greenhouse gas emissions from pig and chicken supply chains – A global life cycle assessment. Food waste emissions are large: one-quarter of emissions (3.3 billion tonnes of CO2eq) from food production ends up as wastage either from supply chain losses or consumers. You might think this figure is strongly dependent on where in the world you live, and how far your beef will have to travel. It makes almost no difference.Especially for foods with a large footprint, transport as a share of the food’s total emissions is fairly insensitive to the distance travelled. First published in January 2020. (2018) compared greenhouse gas emissions from the average diet across countries in the European Union.36 In this study the researchers quantified the emissions from food production, land-use change and trade (i.e. There has also been an increased dependence on non-renewable fuel-based machines such as water pumps, harvesters, threshers, tractors and so on. High-impact production – with a footprint greater than 11 kgCO2eq – produces just 25% of our protein, but 70% of its emissions. Environmental impacts of food production Land Use. But for those food items that travel by air, travel distance does have a large impact. The relatively labor-intensive nature of food processing leads to strong economic multiplier impacts on local economies. Whilst supply chain emissions may seem high, at 18%, it’s essential for reducing emissions by preventing food waste. Even in countries which showed less concern, a large percentage saw it as a major threat: 59% in the US said it was a serious threat.This was a marked increase in concern from similar polls conducted a few years earlier. It is often hard for consumers to identify foods that have travelled by air because they’re rarely labeled as such. Food-miles and the relative climate impacts of food choices in the United States. How do the water footprints of different food products compare? The food industry giants both closed factories in Wuhan — the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. As there's such a strong demand compunded by a lack of supply, inevitably - and regrettably - there's a major growth in food fraud cases. & Steinfeld, H. (2013). The state of the world’s land and water resources for food and agriculture (SOLAW) – Managing systems at risk. For much of human history, most of the world’s land was wilderness: forests, grasslands and shrubbery dominated its landscapes. While it might make sense intuitively – after all, transport does lead to emissions – it is one of the most misguided pieces of advice. Livestock – animals raised for meat, dairy, eggs and seafood production – contribute to emissions in several ways. So, if you want to reduce the carbon footprint of your diet, avoid air-freighted foods where you can. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. But beyond this, you can have a larger difference by focusing on what you eat, rather than ‘eating local’. Keywords: macro-environmental factor, fast food, demography, … When broken down by food items, dairy, meat and eggs dominate. In this case, transport by boat is too slow, leaving air travel as the only feasible option. We can compare these impacts by looking at eutrophying emissions – they represent runoff of excess nutrients into the surrounding environment and waterways, which affect and pollute ecosystems with nutrient imbalances. Whether you buy it from the farmer next door or from far away, it is not the location that makes the carbon footprint of your dinner large, but the fact that it is beef. This article focuses on the environmental impacts of food. Impacts at one node often depend on activities at other nodes, and improvement options for food industry might … You can explore emissions by sector from the World Resources Institute here. To put this in context: it’s around three times the global emissions from aviation.45 Or, if we were to put it in the context of national emissions, it would be the world’s third largest emitter.46 Only China (21%) and the United States (13%) emitted more.47. Abstract: The environmental impact of food products occur in all nodes of the supply chain; from production of inputs to agriculture, through farming, industry and retail to households. We should avoid air-freighted goods where we can. The visualization here shows a summary of some of the main global impacts: Food, therefore, lies at the heart of trying to tackle climate change, reducing water stress, pollution, restoring lands back to forests or grasslands, and protecting the world’s wildlife. For much of human history, most of the world’s land was wilderness: forests, grasslands and shrubbery... Water Use. A general rule is to avoid foods that have a very short shelf-life and have traveled a long way (many labels have the country of ‘origin’ which helps with this). This is especially true for foods where there is a strong emphasis on ‘freshness’: for these products, transport speed is a priority. Reducing the consumption of meat and other animal products reduces the production of methane and greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. As I have shown before, food production is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. People often think that eating ‘local’ – buying foods which are produced close to home – is one of the most effective ways to reduce our carbon footprint. This makes them hard to avoid. Many of the foods people assume to come by air are actually transported by boat – avocados and almonds are prime examples. Food transport accounted for only 6% of emissions. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome. The climate benefits of eating locally are much smaller than people think. The visualization shows the median footprint – highlighted by a small white circle for each food product. It has transformed habitats and is one of the greatest pressures for biodiversity: of the 28,000 species evaluated to be threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List, agriculture is listed as a threat for 24,000 of them.9 But we also know that we can reduce these impacts – both through dietary changes, by substituting some meat with plant-based alternatives and through technology advances. Discerning consumers of modern food products are now considering ecological and ethical criteria when choosing food products, and in doing so have increased demand for safe, high quality food produced with minimal environmental impact. We can look at these comparisons based on mass: the eutrophying emissions from the production of one kilogram of food product. Please consult our full legal disclaimer. If we rewind 1000 years, it is estimated that only 4 million square kilometers – less than 4% of the world’s ice-free and non-barren land area was used for farming.In the visualization we see the breakdown of global land area today. The current drought in India could be a harbinger of things to come. In this study, the authors looked at data across more than 38,000 commercial farms in 119 countries.15, In this comparison we look at the total GHG emissions per kilogram of food product. The average footprint of this beef is approximately 60 kilograms of CO2eq per kilogram of beef. To express all greenhouse gases in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-eq), they are each weighted by their global warming potential (GWP) value. This gives us three options: import goods from countries where they are in-season; use energy-intensive production methods (such as greenhouses) to produce them year-round; or use refrigeration and other preservation methods to store them for several months. CO2e is then derived by multiplying the mass of emissions of a specific greenhouse gas by its equivalent GWP100 factor. The biomass distribution on Earth. This would also reduce the diversity of species on a global level as reduced forest cover would increase pressure on available land to support animal life. Which foods used the most and least freshwater in their production? But is increasing rate of food production causing an impact on the environment? How do we know which products to avoid? The study by Poore and Nemecek (2018) found that almost one-quarter – 24% – of food’s emissions come from food that is lost in supply chains or wasted by consumers. Creating a Sustainable Food Future—A Menu of Solutions to Feed Nearly 10 Billion People by 2050. Very little food is air-freighted; it accounts for only 0.16% of food miles.22 But for the few products which are transported by air, the emissions can be very high: it emits 50 times more CO2eq than boat per tonne kilometer.23. How does the scarcity-weighted water footprint of different food products compare? As the world’s population has expanded and gotten richer, the demand for all three has seen a rapid increase. It is often hard for consumers to identify foods that have travelled by air, since they’re rarely labeled as such. Consumers can have an impact, but so can food producers. FAO. Our World In Data is a project of the Global Change Data Lab, a registered charity in England and Wales (Charity Number 1186433). We have previously looked at the comparisons in carbon footprint of food products based on mass: the greenhouse gas emissions from one kilogram of food product. GWP100 values are used to combine greenhouse gases into a single metric of emissions called carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e). The water pollution, in turn, contributes to the increased nitrogen and phosphorus deposits in the sea. For instance, let us take the example of a basic global staple, rice. This is certainly true for foods that are transported by plane. All are several times less than the lowest impact lamb (12  kgCO2eq) and beef (9 kgCO2eq). If we combine pastures used for grazing with land used to grow crops for animal feed, livestock accounts for 77% of global farming land. Opening statement • Everyday great amounts of food are produced, processed, transported by the food industry and consumed by us and these activities have direct impact on our health and the environment. Eating locally would only have a significant impact if transport was responsible for a large share of food’s final carbon footprint. For example, one tonne of methane would have 34 times the warming impact of tonne of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. But freshwater scarcity varies across the world: some regions have abundant water resources (meaning agricultural water demands have little impact) whilst others experience severe water stress.We can also look at water footprints in terms of scarcity-weighted freshwater use. Half of all habitable land is used for agriculture.7. They are measured in kilograms of phosphate equivalents. Chicken, eggs, and pork nearly always have a lower footprint than beef and lamb: there is some, but not much overlap between the worst poultry and pork producers, and the best beef and lamb producers. Only 17% results from plant-based foods. And it’s a problem for which we don’t yet have viable technological solutions.The visualization shown here – based on data from the meta-analysis by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018), published in Science – summarizes food’s share of total emissions and breaks it down by source.11Food is responsible for approximately 26% of global GHG emissions. 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