The Impact Of Diet On E.U. Emissions
Our world is currently in an epic fight against climate change. As global populations rise, food production has increased to match the growing demand for goods. Because food systems are responsible for 19-29% of global greenhouse gas emissions, there’s a significant push for solutions that can reduce this impact on the environment. Researchers are beginning to explore the impact of diet on emissions and how we can hold individual countries accountable for the goods they consume. This study aimed to answer two critical questions surrounding dietary emissions in the European Union:
- How does the average E.U. diet affect emissions?
- What impact does international trade have on E.U. emissions?
In order to analyze the relationship between diet and emissions output, the researchers examined national data about the food supply in all E.U. countries from 2010. This included plant products as well as products produced from cows, pigs, and so-called “poultry” animals. In total, the gathered data accounted for about 95% of the energy intake of the E.U. diet.
After collecting information about consumption in the E.U., the researchers identified two primary sources of greenhouse gasses that were emitted during production and transportation. The top contributors to emissions were at the production level. Gasses released from animals and manure accounted for 44% of total emissions. Land-use change, which includes deforestation, was a source of 30% of total emissions. Shockingly, 70% of the land-use change emissions were related to feed production that was used as food for animals living in farms.
Current methods of estimating global emissions typically don’t include international trade. With this in mind, the researchers aimed to identify the effect that trading with countries outside the E.U. had on emissions. Interestingly, they found that only 36% of emissions from the E.U. food supply are from international trade. Most of these products were related to plant-based animal feed used on farms. This may be a result of the large amount of animal products consumed in the E.U., typically sourced within the European Union. For example, only 5% of beef consumed in the E.U. is imported from international sources.
While international trade may not be a major contributor to E.U. emissions, the massive amounts of animal products consumed in the region are significant sources of greenhouse gasses. Meat and egg products are responsible for 56% of the emissions relating to food supply in the European Union. Dairy products represent the second largest share with 27% of the dietary emissions. The researchers conclude that the most efficient way to reduce dietary emissions would be to substitute animal products for more plant-based options. While consuming food at a local level does eliminate transportation emissions, eating fewer products from animals provides the most impact.
The final topic the researchers addressed was the difference between traditional methods of calculating emissions and the one used in this study. The primary difference emerged when individual countries were examined. Existing methods of calculation include emissions from production rather than consumption. This tends to place the environmental blame on developing countries that produce goods rather than countries that are demanding and consuming the goods. Total emissions appear lower for more developed countries despite their consumption of the goods. When the researchers calculated the E.U.’s emissions based on consumption, total emissions grew 40%. This underlines the importance of adjusting our diets and demanding less emissions-intensive foods.
Ultimately, emissions from E.U. diets primarily result from the consumption of animal products. Consuming less of these products is the most efficient way of reducing our emissions and helping in the fight against climate change. That being said, the researchers voiced a need for more research on the emissions output of individual countries. Each country has unique nuances in how they produce food and manage their land. Gaining quality data is vital for identifying more opportunities to reduce emissions. In the meantime, the best we can do is reduce the amount of animal products we consume and continue the fight for environmental protection.