Climate change is severely impacting the world. But it’s surprising to note that food production – a critical factor for human survival – is actually one of the biggest contributors to it.
A recent study published in Nature Food has noted that meat production and processing account for almost 60% of greenhouse gas emissions in the food and beverage sector.
Based on data gleaned from over 200 countries, researchers discovered that, as a whole, the global food industry accounts for 35% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide – a staggering 17.3 tons a year, double than the national average for the United States alone.
Getting to the bottom of the matter
Raising animals for meat is the reason for nearly 60% of all emissions stemming from food production, while the production of plant-based foods was noted to account for just 29% of all emissions within the industry. Beef, in particular, accounts for 25% of the meat industry’s total emission output.
Xu Xiaoming, lead researcher and author of the study, opines that the massive feeding demands in the meat industry are what fuels the staggering amount of emissions.
“It isn’t very efficient,” Xu says of how meat-bearing livestock is raised and eventually processed. “You need more biomass to feed animals to get the same amount of calories.”
Xu’s colleague and co-author, climate scientist Atul Jain, agrees and says that the results of their study can help policymakers rethink the way individual corporations and even nations are trying to reduce their respective carbon footprints.
Jain admits that shifting lifestyles towards plant-based consumption is difficult since it’s not for anyone to impose their views on other people. The plant-based trend has indeed been met with a backlash on a global basis. Yet, as Jain insists, people who claim to love the environment need to manifest it by changing their “seriously changing their dietary habits.”
Not the first study of its kind
Research on the impact of food production on the environment is nothing new, and Xu and Jain’s study is but one of many. However, the now-palpable effects of climate change have pushed research into overdrive.
The largest study of its kind was done in 2019. A team led by researcher Joseph Poore considered the extent of the food production system’s environmental impact. Based on findings gleaned from around 40,000 farms, it was noted that the consumption of plant-based foods would be healthier for the environment compared to the prevalent omnivorous diet.
Poore himself stated that opting to go vegan was most likely to be “the single biggest way to reduce [humanity’s] impact on planet Earth.”