Diet change may be greener option than local sourcing

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Red meat, Carbon dioxide

As consumers seek out food with a reduced carbon footprint, some experts believe a dietary shift from red meat and dairy consumption may be more effective than turning to locally sourced products, suggests new analysis.

In a report for the environmental research group, the Worldwatch Institute, Sarah DeWeerdt looked at the potential environmental benefits of locally sourced goods in relation to other food production models.

According to current estimates from the​Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, US food travels on average 1,500 miles between the farm and consumer, leading to increase output of Greenhouse Gas (GHG).

However, on a global basis, DeWeerdt wrote that findings from the Carnegie Mellon University claimed that a reduced​reliance on more heavily transported foods might not be as beneficial​as replacing dairy or red meat with poultry or eggs one day a week.

Agricultural commitments

Amidst such claims, the agricultural sector, supported by the wider dairy and meat industries, claims to be increasingly working to adopt greener methods across their supply chain. Farmers also suggest that these environmental criticisms do not account for benefits livestock has on biodiversity.

The UK-based National Farmers Union (NFU) claimed that methane emissions from the cows was continually decreasing in the country, while livestock farms as a whole had a massive role in the carbon cycle.

A spokesperson for the group claimed last year that the environmental attacks failed to take into account of a number of environmental benefits created by grazing livestock, such as grazed upland habitats, lowland biodiversity and manure, which made organic farming possible.

Food miles

Nonetheless, citing research from Carnegie Mellon analysts Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews, the report suggested that even by theoretically cutting food miles by an impossible level, in this case zero, diet could prove a more effective green initiative.

Replacing red meat and dairy with chicken, fish, or eggs for one day per week would save the equivalent of driving 760 miles per year,”​ stated the report. “Replacing red meat and dairy with vegetables one day a week would be like driving 1,160 miles less.”

DeWeerdt said that Weber has accepted in the findings published last year that estimates were based on the assumption that local foods were no different to further sourced goods, a stance that was not always the case.

“Local-food advocates also emphasize eating seasonal (often meaning field-grown) and less-processed foods,”​ she stated. “Those qualities, along with shorter distances from farm to table, will also contribute to lower emissions compared to the ‘average’ diet.”

Beyond the dietary calls,​the Worldwatch Institute said in the report that eating local did seem to provide a ‘common sense’ method of cutting carbon footprints where possible.

The report said that a team of researchers led by the​Leopold Center’s associate director Rich Pirog found that conventional food distribution systems used between 4 and 17 times more fuel than for local products. This level of fuel use also amounted to 5 to 17 times more Carbon Dioxide (CO2) than local or regional systems, according to the same findings.

“Similarly, a Canadian study estimated that replacing imported food with equivalent items locally grown in the Waterloo, Ontario, region would save transport-related emissions equivalent to nearly 50,000 metric tonnes of CO2,”​ stated the report. "[That’s] the equivalent of taking 16,191 cars off the road.”

Related topics: Market Trends, Sustainability

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