Knowing The Carbon Footprint Of Your Food Choices

Climate change is a well-debated topic these days and with that in mind, many shoppers underestimate the difference their food choices make to the so-called climate change they attribute to other factors out of their control. They would actually favor items with lower carbon footprints if given clear information on the label, according to recent research from the University of Technology Sydney and Duke University. Food production boasts between 19 and 29 percent of global greenhouse gas emission today with lamb and beef being two of the biggest contributors. A diet shift towards fruits and vegetables is a good strategy for reducing climate change.

It was important for lead author Dr. Adrian Camilleri to understand how well consumers understood the carbon consequences of their choice of foods. Previous research had pointed out that people really underestimate the carbon emission from electrical appliances. "With an appliance such as a heater you can feel the energy used and see an electricity bill at the end of the month, so the impact is quite salient, whereas the impact of food production is largely invisible," says Dr. Camilleri.

Over 1,000 people were asked to estimate the energy embedded in 18 appliances and 19 foods as well as the amount of greenhouse gas emissions for both. Food was more severely underestimated, according to studies published in the journal Nature Climate Change. "If you ask people to guess the difference between items such as beef and vegetable soup on the environment, they assume there is not much difference, but beef soup creates more than 10 times the amount of greenhouse gases than vegetable soup," says Dr. Camilleri. "This is a bit of a blind spot because if someone wants to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, they might think to turn off the heater, drive less or fly less. Very few people think to eat less beef."

Food Labels

The research also centered on whether they could improve the perception people had on how their food choices affected the environment through food labeling - just as energy use is conveyed by 5-star rating systems for electrical appliances. One-hundred and twenty participants were presented with a choice of soups to buy. Participants bought fewer beef soups and more vegetable soups when the soup had a carbon footprint label.

This research suggests that the introduction of carbon footprint labels on food labels would increase the understanding of energy use and greenhouse gas emission from food production reducing environmental impacts. The greenhouse gases that emerge from beef and lamb production are those created in the production of fertilizer for feed, livestock transportation, loss of trees to clear land for pasture and methane emitted from the animals.

Conclusively, a vegan diet based on vegetables and fruits as well as grains has the least impact on the environment with chicken and fish creating a moderate impact and lamb and beef with the greatest impact. "The choices we make at the dinner table can have a significant impact on global challenges such as climate change, and our research shows consumers are keen to make that choice," Dr. Camilleri added.

About The Author

Lisa S. Jones is a certified nurse, nutritionist, fitness coach and health expert. Her training credentials include a B.Sc. in Nursing from California State University in 2013 and Youth Nutrition Specialist Certification from the American Fitness Professionals and Associates in 2015. In 2017, she also received Holistic Nutrition Certification from the American Fitness Professionals and Associates.


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