Carbon Footprint And Diet: A Review From Germany
As more and more people become aware of the growing consensus that animal agriculture is helping to accelerate climate change, there is more of a desire to understand the carbon footprint of what we eat. It’s estimated that global food production is responsible for more than 25% of human-made greenhouse gas emissions, and in order to turn the tide, big changes need to be made. Organic agriculture is widely considered to be more environmentally friendly than conventional methods, and Germany is one of the central and fastest-growing markets for organic food in Europe. To this end, Germany provides a good case study for comparing the carbon footprints and landuse of organic versus conventional diets. The idea goes that once we know the actual carbon footprints and land use factors of our food, we will choose smarter and choose better for the planet.
In this study, researchers used a combination of life cycle assessments, land use measures of conventional plant-based food products as a baseline, and a series of calculations for finding the relative yield differences in conventional and organic agriculture. Their results are fascinating, even for those who may be familiar with the issue: first and foremost, they found that the average conventional diet contained 45% more meat than the average organic diet, which in turn contains 40% more vegetables, fruits, and legumes (combined). They found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that men eat “considerably more meat” than women. However, most interestingly, they found that there is no meaningful difference in carbon footprint between a conventional or organic diet: both hover around 1,250 kg CO2. The researchers also found that the organic diet used about 40% more land than the average conventional diet, “due to lower yields and less intensive animal-farming systems.”
For animal advocates, do the results mean that we should give up advocating for organic systems as a better choice for the planet? Not exactly. First and foremost, the authors suggest caution all around, as their calculations are based on a relatively low number of studies. However, more than anything, the study shows that meat is the biggest culprit when it comes to carbon footprints. For animal advocates, the study shows than conventional versus organic is not the most important battle to fight, but more of a red herring for the true battle of meat versus vegetables.