While beef production has always had a bad reputation for its environmental footprint, research now implies that aquaculture could be just as bad. Depending on where and how the food is produced, the same food can have a widely varying environmental footprint. Cows are often considered to be the most polluting livestock. But aquaculture can also give off high quantities of methane and greenhouse gases, depending on the processes used.
Research at the Swiss agricultural research institute and Oxford University managed to create a huge database showcasing the environmental impact of 40,000 farms and 1,600 different processors, retailers, and packaging types. This comprehensive database allows us to see how production practices in various parts of the world can impact the environment across 40 of the major food groups.
Research Findings | Responsibility Lies with a Small Number of Producers
The Use of Technology | Plant-Based Diets
The research suggested that there were large differences in the environmental impact when comparing producers of the same product. For example, high-impact beef products create a whopping 105kg of CO2 while using 370m2 of land for every 100 grams of protein that’s produced. These figures are between 12 and 50 times higher than the low-impact beef producers. But these low-impact producers still create six times more emissions and use 36 times more land than, for example, the pea production processes.
It is often assumed that aquaculture has much lower emissions than beef production. But in fact, it can often emit more greenhouse gases and methane than cows when comparing each kilogram of live weight. The same can be said for other types of products, including beer, which can use more land and create more emissions depending on how it’s created. These studies also took into account water use, acidification, and eutrophication, which show variations depending on how the processes were completed. Even if two products look exactly the same to consumers in a store; they can differ greatly in their environmental impact. However, so many consumers don’t know this when they are selecting their weekly shopping or choosing what to eat.
Responsibility Lies with a Small Number of Producers
Only a small number of the producers worldwide are responsible for the majority of the impact on the environment. In fact, only 15% of beef production results in about 1.3 billion tonnes of CO2 while using up 950 million hectares of land.
There’s no denying that food production places a lot of stress on the environment. But this doesn’t mean it’s necessary to fulfill our needs as humans. By choosing the right products and changing how these products are produced, we could significantly reduce our impact. However, finding solutions to these issues that are effective for all producers is the biggest challenge. To reduce environmental impacts, there are often trade-offs that need to be made. With millions of producers and products on offer, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the issue.
The Use of Technology
One takeaway from the research was the use of technology, which can be used to reduce the environmental impact. It’s often applied using mobile devices, recording input, output, climate, and soil information. This then offers recommendations for reducing the impact and increasing productivity. Of course, there are limits to reducing your impact on the environment. And it’s found that animal products and vegetable products have quite large variabilities. Cow’s milk is known for using up double the amount of land and creating two times the emissions than soymilk for the same quantity. This is why diet change is one of the best solutions to our global issue. Unless technology can be adapted to account for these differences, nutrition is probably the only way to solve this problem in the coming years.
Plant-based diets are known for reducing food emissions by up to 73%. But this figure may depend on where you are based in the world. It’s believed the global agricultural land would also see a huge reduction of up to 3.1 billion hectares. This would take pressure off tropical forests and allow land to be returned to nature. As well as reducing animal product consumption, minimizing the amount of oil, alcohol, stimulants, and sugar that’s consumed by even just 20% could minimize greenhouse gas emissions when we avoid high-impact producers.
As with anything in our lives, small changes can make a huge impact. It’s important that producers communicate the environmental impact to consumers. Because so they can start to make informed decisions about what they are consuming. It’s also believed that changes are needed to encourage producers and consumers to make these positive changes. This will allow more sustainable production and consumption in the future. By encouraging everyone to make better decisions, we can take control of our impact on the environment.