Feeding the planet

A new study investigates which foods are truly sustainable and can feed the growing population

A duo of scientists undertook the mammoth task of analysing the environmental impact of foods, including resulting emissions, land use, soil acidification, water pollution and water use. They also analysed how these impacts differ across different producers of the same foods and found common traits for certain types of food. For example, beef always has the worst environmental footprint, whilst pork, poultry and dairy are linked to dangerous soil acidification and water pollution.

Meat, farmed fish and crustaceans, eggs and dairy use 83 per cent of the world’s farmland

but they only provide 18 per cent of our calories. Under any scenario, these foods far exceed the environmental impacts of plant foods, even when compared by amounts needed to provide equivalent amounts of protein. This also applies to more ‘demanding’ nuts such as cashews or almonds – they are still more environmentally friendly than animal foods.

The authors suggested that a global move towards a plant-based diet would transform the world, freeing up land and drastically reducing pollution, emissions and water use.

 

Poore J and Nemecek T, 2018. Reducing food's environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science. 360(6392): 987-992.