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Study: Meat Production To Blame for 60% of Food-Related Emissions


A study might make you rethink your stance on the animal-based food diet you are on. The new study, published in Nature Food, revealed that meat production accounts for around 60% of overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions originating from the food industry. It appears to confirm and validate earlier studies on the need to reform the food system.

The study’s significant findings

The study’s objective was to investigate how global food production influenced the environment. Research findings were culled from multicountry data (200+ countries) as well as 16 animal products and 171 crops. This study evaluated numerous parts of the food production chain, from crop growing, livestock, fertilizer use, and transportation.

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that food production as a whole was responsible for 35% of all GHG emissions (17.3 billion metric tons) annually. In comparison, the United States generates half of this amount.

Emissions from the meat industry

Within the food production industry, meat posed a significant concern for scientists. To raise animals for food accounts for 57% of the entire emission count within food production. 

Comparatively, plant-based food production only accounts for half of the emissions in the food industry – or 29 percent.

Within the meat sector, beef is to blame for 25% of the total emissions in the food system. This is in stark contrast to rice, the plant-based sector’s largest emitter, which only takes up 12% of the food system’s emissions. 

Questioning the system’s lapses 

The study’s lead author Xiaoming Xu opined that raising animals for food isn’t efficient based on actual evidence. It is even more worrisome to note that most crops raised are consumed by livestock and not people.

In an interview with The Guardian, Xu explained that the world’s food system is organized in a way that is “very inefficient.” For example, producing meat requires producing more food to feed the animals, generating more emissions. In addition, more biomass is required to feed the animals to level the number of calories. 

Co-author Atul Jain told The Guardian that it’s high time for policymakers to seriously think about how to reform the food production system seriously. He added that the study’s results could be used to rethink “how to control greenhouse gas emissions.” 

Jain explained that humanity’s relationship with food is mostly based on personal choice. So while it’s not on anyone to impose, those who claim to be serious about arresting climate change ought to “change their dietary habits.” 

A previous 2019 large-scale study on the food system recommended shifting to a vegan diet to reduce one’s carbon footprint.

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