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What's The Impact On Greenhouse Gas Emissions Of Eating Animal Protein?

Beef sirloin illustrations from the 1911 book, "The Grocer's Encylopedia."

The Food Guys, Jon Jackson and Greg Patent, want you to consider eating less meat and dairy. They've been looking at a meta-analysis of food's environmental impacts, published in Science in June 2018, titled "Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers." The study asks not only how food producers can reduce their environmental footprint, but what role consumers play. The answer to the latter: a big one, if we are willing to change our diets. 

Researchers at Oxford University and the Swiss agricultural research institute, Agroscope, found that, depending on where you live, if you and your neighbors switched to plant-based diets, you'd collectively reduce food's greenhouse gas emissions by up to 73%. According to the authors, growing, raising, manufacturing and transporting food for humans creates 26% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas releases.

What's a "plant-based" diet? Some would say it's going vegan. Others say it's getting the majority of your calories from non-animal sources: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes and beans.

Comparing the greenhouse gas emissions of protein derived from various animal and plant sources, the study found that raising 100 grams of protein from beef releases the equivalent of 50 kg of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 100 grams of protein from poultry creates 5.7 kg, while 100 grams of protein from tofu releases just 2 kg.

Lead authors Poore and Nemecek consolidated data on the multiple environmental impacts of about 38,000 farms producing 40 different agricultural goods around the world in a meta-analysis comparing various types of food production systems.

"When you have a study this large, you can't discount it," comments Jon. "You have to pay attention."

(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 5/3/20 and 11/4/18. Listen weekly on the radio at 9:53 a.m. Sundays, or via podcast.)

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