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Staggering chart exposes how much greenhouse gas comes from our FOOD

Brexit: Richard Tice on ‘huge opportunity’ for food production

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Food is essential to the survival of a human being. The production of food contributes around 37 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, indicating diets have a huge impact on climate change. Animal-based foods produce roughly twice the emissions of plant-based ones, according to a recent study using data from more than 200 countries. Emissions are generated from a range of food-related activities, including burning savannah space to clear space for farming to culling meat for consumption.

Food production is responsible for almost a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to research published in Nature Food.

The entire food production system, including the use of farming machinery, fertiliser spraying and product transportation, creates 17.3 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, a study has revealed.

This surpasses double the amount produced by the USA as a whole and is 35 percent of all global emissions, researchers have claimed.

The study also found the use of animals for meat causes twice the pollution of producing plant-based foods.

Co-author of the paper, Atul Jain, a climate scientist at the University of Illinois said emissions were higher than anticipated.

He said: “The emissions are at the higher end of what we expected, it was a little bit of a surprise.

“This study shows the entire cycle of the food production system, and policymakers may want to use the results to think about how to control greenhouse gas emissions.”

Raising and culling animals for consumption had the worst impact on the environment, the research showed.

This confirms previous data which suggests growing and processing fruits and vegetables for people to eat has a far smaller impact on the climate compared with the outsized impact meat production, especially beef, has on the environment.

The use of cows, pigs and other animals for food, in addition to livestock feed, accounts for 57 percent of all food production emissions.

This compares to 29 percent from the cultivation of plant-based foods.

The remainder of greenhouse gas emissions come from other uses of land. For example, cotton or rubber.

Beef is the worst culprit for the production of greenhouse gases within the meats analysed – accounting for a quarter of emissions produced by raising and growing food.

The research showed the difference in emissions between meat and plant production is stark, with 1kg of wheat production creating 2.5kg of greenhouse gases.

This compares with a single kilo of beef generating 70kg of emissions.

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However, this data counteracts previous estimates made by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, which suggested 14 percent of all emissions came from meat and diary production.

Estimates published in March by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land found between 10.8 and 19.1 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emissions per year were generated from food emissions.

This accounts for between 21 and 37 percent of all global emissions.

Dr Shireen Kassam, a consultant haematologist and honorary senior lecturer at King’s College Hospital, London, said meat, dairy and coffee are particularly damaging to the environment.

She told Express.co.uk: “The reason these foods negatively impact the environment varies based on the food but are in general are mainly due to deforestation for grazing animals, methane and nitrous oxide emissions from ruminant animals, fertilisers and manure, growing crops to feed animals and energy used for processing the food items.

“The contributions from transport, retail and packaging of food are tiny in comparison.”

The difference in estimates from Poore and Nemecek (2018) of one-quarter, and Crippa et al. (2021) of one-third are not that surprising, and are determined using different methods.

According to the Poore and Nemecek estimate, food production contributes 26 percent of global GHG emissions, equating to 13.6 billion tonnes of CO2e from food.

This figure increases to 33 percent with non-food agricultural products.

This is broken down as follows:

  • Land use: 3.2 billion tonnes CO2e
  • Agricultural production: 8 billion tonnes CO2e
  • Transport: 0.8 billion tonnes CO2e
  • Food processing: 0.6 billion tonnes CO2e
  • Packaging: 0.6 billion tonnes CO2e
  • Retail: 0.4 billion tonnes CO2e.

This data does not include post-retail emissions.

The Crippa estimate published in 2021 indicates food production accounts for 17.9 billion tonnes of CO2e, which is 34 percent of global GHG emissions.

This is broken down as follows:

  • Land use: 5.7 billion tonnes CO2e
  • Agricultural production: 7.1 billion tonnes CO2e
  • Packaging: 1.0 billion tonnes CO2e
  • Transport: 0.8 billion tonnes CO2e
  • Retail: 0.7 billion tonnes CO2e
  • Food production: 0.6 billion tonnes CO2e
  • Cooking: 0.5 billion tonnes CO2e
  • Waste: 1.6 billion tonnes CO2e.

The above data includes some non-food agricultural products.

Our World in Data from September 2020 showed the energy industry was the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 73.2 percent of all emissions in 2016.

Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use was the second largest sector accounting for 18.4 percent of GHG.

The third highest contributor was industry at 5.2 percent, with waste as the final sector with 3.2 percent.

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