Before you eat that meat or drink your favourite diary products, ponder on what effect it has on the environment. A new study by some University of Michigan researchers have produced a report that shows animal-based foods, like meat, are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions per pound than plant-based foods.
They claim both beef and dairy cow production are tied to heavy emissions since the animals that produce them require a lot of feed for their growth and production, as well as fertiliser and feed for their equipment. It is also believed that cows eat a significant amount of methane–even if they’re just being milked.
The researchers looked at the current USDA’s dietary guidelines and the emissions associated with the production of 100 different foods. They then looked at how these emissions would increase or decrease if Americans adopted the dietary guidelines recommended by the government.
The current guidelines recommend Americans eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meat, and fat-free or low fat dairy products. It’s well known that meat production is bad for the environment, and while the current guidelines do not say that Americans should decrease their intake, the recommended amount of consumption is lower than what Americans consume on average. Although, a drop in meat consumption would lower greenhouse gas emissions, but there are chances that if it consumption is replaced with an increase in other animal-based foods, like dairy products, then emissions will once again go up. Effort to focus attention on sustainability based on the U.S. food system, as the research says, still do not align with environmental and food goals.
In the US, like other countries with high consumption of calories-based foods, the average American consumes about 2,534 calories a day, and significantly more than the advised 2,000 calories. At that rate, the researchers estimate an increase of 12% in greenhouse gas emissions. Even if there were strict adherence to the recommended average intake to 2,000 calories, the emissions will only decrease by 1%. “This perhaps surprising result suggests that even with a greater than 20% decrease in caloric intake and considerable decreases in meat consumption, a shift to a recommended diet may not result in significant decreases in [greenhouse gas emissions],” the researchers write in their study.
The researchers call for more consideration for the environment when it comes to solving food-related issues like obesity and food waste. To be more sustainable, the researchers recommend a reduction in the amount of animal products people eat on a regular basis.