Cutting out meat and dairy is one of the best ways to reduce your environmental impact, according to new research.
New research from Oxford University and the Swiss agricultural research institute Agroscope shows that there are considerable differences in the environmental impact of producers of the same product.
For instance, high-impact beef producers can create 105 kilograms of CO2 equivalents and use 370 square metres of land per 100 grams of protein, a massive 12 and 50 times greater than low-impact beef producers.
The difference is even greater when it comes to low-impact plant-based proteins such as beans and peas, which can create just 0.3 kilograms of CO2 equivalents – including all processing, packaging and transport – and use just 1 square metre of land per 100 grams of protein.
Similar variations can be found in dairy products, where a low-impact litre of cow’s milk uses almost twice as much land and creates almost double the emissions as an average litre of soymilk.
“Two things that look the same in the shops can have extremely different impacts on the planet. We currently don’t know this when we make choices about what to eat. Further, this variability isn’t fully reflected in strategies and policy aimed at reducing the impacts of farmers,” said Joseph Poore from Oxford’s Department of Zoology and the School of Geography and Environment.
While new technology can help producers reduce their environmental impact and increase productivity, the researchers found that meat and dairy free diets have the greatest environmental benefits.
Plant-based diets can reduce food emissions by up to 73 per cent depending where you live. They also require a staggering 3.1 billion hectares or 76 per cent less farmland.
“This would take the pressure of the world’s tropical forests and release land back to nature,” added Poore.
The researchers suggest better communication with consumers in the form of environmental labels, taxes and subsidies that highlight both product and producer environmental impacts.
“Environmental labels and financial incentives would support more sustainable consumption, while creating a positive loop: Farmers would need to monitor their impacts, encouraging better decision making; and communicate their impacts to suppliers, encouraging better sourcing,” added explained Poore.
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