Impact of the Food you eat on Global Warming

What you choose to put on your plate can have a huge impact on the planet, reports United Nations panel on Climate Change.

It seems a surprising suggestion. Can it be true that what we choose to put on our dinner plates could have an effect on global warming? Lets find out.

We already know that buying a car or truck with better gas mileage helps to reduce emission of carbon mono oxide. We are also aware that using compact fluorescent bulbs, switching off the lights, shutting down the car engine at signals and keeping the PC monitors shut, when not in use are a few ways to do our bit towards the fight against global warming.

But, how can changing dietary habits impact the global climate change??

The report points out that farmer are a critical part of our economy. They not only feed us, they’re also at the frontline of conserving country’s environmental resources and fighting global warming. Just as with any other business, farming requires burning fossil fuels to make fertilizer, run tractors and process and transport food. Hence, it takes many calories of grains to make one calorie of meat or in other words, more energy expenditure.

Also, the animals and manure produce greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide. As a result, producing meat emits more greenhouse gases than growing crops. So, the point which is being made is here is that ‘If every one skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted them with vegetables and grains, the carbon dioxide savings would be great.


The second point highlighted here is that since it takes fuel to transport food, buying from local farmers and ranchers would help to cut emissions even if you don’t cut out any meat. A sensible logic!

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has estimated that meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. These are generated during the production of animal feeds, for example, while ruminants, particularly cows, emit methane, which is 23 times more effective as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide. The agency has also warned that meat consumption is set to double by the middle of the century.

The conflicting verdict

A vegan diet would be better, but it would ignore some benefits of rearing grazing animals, said Tara Garnett, from the Food Climate Research Network at Surrey University, who wrote the report. ‘A little bit of livestock production is probably a good thing for the environment,’ she said. ‘Livestock provide a very important service in terms of maintaining landscape and soil quality and maintaining biodiversity: you get different animals grazing at different levels and if you didn’t have them you’d have a very different landscape. Garnett said further research was needed to work out how much less meat should be eaten.

The growing environmental concerns about meat come at a time of rising health worries: as well as warnings of an epidemic of obesity. The World Cancer Research Fund recently said eating red meat even in small quantities can increase the risk of several cancers.

To sum up

‘All the different strands are building up: lots more information on diet, lots more information on livestock production, and the climate statistics… so definitely a strong case for reducing meat production and consumption.

To help my readers wade through the confusing advice,  I would suggest that people who want to reduce emissions should first buy local food that does not need to be transported, choose organic produce and also reduce meat and dairy foods.

Choosing fish over steak reduces the GHG impact of the meal. Avoid cooking and you can reduce your climate impact even more


‘A person switching from highest to lowest impact for a year can save 1-2 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – the same annual saving as conserving £300 worth of gas on heating, [or] cutting down 5,000 miles a year in an average car, [or] avoiding one return flight to Europe,’

What I am trying to say here is that eating less meat alone would not be enough for many people: ‘For a well-off professional with above average disposable income, no amount of vegetarian or vegan eating, recycling, organic local produce or packaging avoidance will make any significant impact, unless he/she looks at his average Flying time, petrol spend and energy bills.

So, go ahead and make a choice…!


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