Vegetarian diet beats local for lower climate footprint

Meat and dairy products are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions from the EU diet, with the type of product we eat more important to solving climate change than eating locally. Production causes direct emissions from animal production, while also contributing to deforestation, says the new study.

Meat and dairy account for more than 75 per cent of the climate impact from EU diets, with the average European citizen responsible for a food footprint of 1,070 kg of CO2 equivalent per year when emissions from production, land use change and international transportation are taken into account.

This roughly equates to the same amount of emissions caused by 6,000 km driven in one passenger vehicle and about a third more than production-based estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from food.

The new study conducted by researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) attributed meat and dairy production’s climate footprint to direct emissions from animal production and the fact it contributes to deforestation from cropland expansion for feed.

“Europeans are culturally attached to meat and dairy product consumption. Reducing our climate footprint does not necessarily require stopping eating these food products, but rather diversifying further our diets to reduce the share of these,” commented IIASA researcher and study co-author Hugo Valin in a statement.

Tracing food origin in greenhouse gas accounting is complex, and many previous studies did not trace the imports or used estimates only for few products or regions.

The new study aims to provide a systematic approach based on comparisons of a large number of countries, agriculture products from different origins and integrated various sources of greenhouse gases, explained the statement. In particular, the study highlights the impact of imported livestock feed.

“People tend to think that consuming locally will be the solution to climate change, but it turns out that the type of product we eat is much more important for the overall impact,” added Valin.

Photo credit: Tobias Nordhausen/ CC-BY 2.0

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