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Comprehensive Animal Protein Study Compares Environmental Impacts

Comprehensive Animal Protein Study Compares Environmental Impacts

Scientists behind a study published less than two weeks ago said that avoiding meat and dairy is probably the single best consumer choice you can make for the environment.

But if you want to watch your footprint while still eating meat, a study published Monday, which authors say is the most comprehensive comparison of the environmental impact of various animal proteins, has you covered.


The study, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, compared farmed livestock, farmed fish and wild-caught fish and found that livestock and farmed catfish took the greatest toll on the earth, while farmed mollusks and wild-caught fish caused the least damage.

“From the consumer’s standpoint, choice matters,” lead author and University of Washington (UW) School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences professor Ray Hilborn said in a UW press release published by Phys.org. “If you’re an environmentalist, what you eat makes a difference. We found there are obvious good choices, and really obvious bad choices.”

But Hilborn said the study wasn’t only useful for guiding consumers. It could also help governments in charge of free trade agreements and agricultural or environmental policy.

“I think this is one of the most important things I’ve ever done,” Hilborn said. “Policymakers need to be able to say, ‘There are certain food production types we need to encourage, and others we should discourage.'”

Researchers looked at 148 assessments of the environmental impacts of different animal proteins along all stages of production, comparing each product’s energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient pollution potential and acid-rain-causing emissions.

The animal proteins that had the least impact on all four criteria were farmed mollusks like oysters, mussels and scallops and wild-caught sardines, mackerel and herring. Wild-caught pollock, hake and cod as well as farmed salmon also had a relatively low impact.

Unsurprisingly, farmed livestock had a high impact, with beef emitting about 20 times more greenhouse gases than farmed mollusks, chicken and salmon or some wild-caught fish.

However, farmed fish like catfish, shrimp and tilapia required more energy than most livestock because the water they live in has to be constantly circulated using electricity. Farmed catfish had greenhouse gas emissions about equal those of beef.

Farmed mollusks actually had environmental benefits because they absorb the excess nutrients that are often the result of other types of agriculture. The study also found that a diet that included low-impact farmed and wild-caught fish was actually better for the environment than an all vegetarian and vegan diet.

The study did not assess the impact of animal protein production on biodiversity, however, which researchers say they would like to tackle next.

As of 2016, nearly 90 percent of fish stocks were either overfished or fished to capacity, so examining the impact of various fishing practices on biodiversity would be especially important for assessing their true ecological cost.


A mussel farm in Primorsko, Bulgaria. Vasil Raev / CC BY 2.0

 

Source: EcoWatch

LINK:  https://www.ecowatch.com/animal-protein-environmental-impact-2577163468.html?utm_source=EcoWatch+List&utm_campaign=2f737d114c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_49c7d43dc9-2f737d114c-8611893

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‘A Vegan Diet Is Probably the Single Biggest Way to Reduce Your Impact on Planet Earth’

www.ecowatch.com
2 mins read

If you want to do something as an individual to fight climate change, promote biodiversity and protect the environment overall, the best thing you can do is go vegan, the scientists behind the most in-depth study to date of the ecological footprint of agriculture told the Guardian Thursday.

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” study leader and University of Oxford professor Joseph Poore told the Guardian. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said.

The study, published in Science Friday, set out to assess the environmental impact of different farming practices and agricultural products. Researchers studied 38,700 farms in 119 countries and 1600 processors, packaging types and retailers and considered the impact of 40 foods they produced and processed—accounting for 90 percent of all foods consumed worldwide—on five environmental indicators: land use, water use, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification.) They found that even the least impactful meat and dairy products, including grass-fed beef, hurt the environment more than the most intrusive vegetables and grains.

“Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy,” Poore told the Guardian.

Meat and dairy only provide humans with 18 percent of their calories and 37 percent of their protein, but farming them takes up 83 percent of agricultural land and produces 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Eliminating meat and dairy farms would also be a huge boon to wild animals, since the percentage of the planet used for agriculture could then be reduced by more than 75 percent and still feed the planet. An area the size of China, the U.S., the EU and Australia combined would be free for wildlife to reclaim.

Even farm-raised fish have more of an impact on the environment than previously believed, the study found, since fish excrement and uneaten food that gathers at the bottom of fish ponds produces significant amounts of methane.

Researchers not involved with the study praised the breadth of the data it used and the resulting accuracy of its conclusions.

“This is an immensely useful study. It brings together a huge amount of data and that makes its conclusions much more robust. The way we produce food, consume and waste food is unsustainable from a planetary perspective. Given the global obesity crisis, changing diets—eating less livestock produce and more vegetables and fruit—has the potential to make both us and the planet healthier,” University of Leeds professor Tim Benton told the Guardian.

Poore said he hoped that farmers could use agricultural subsidies to lower the impact of their practices. He also recommended taxes for high-impact products like meat and dairy, along with subsidies for more sustainable products and labeling on packages alerting shoppers to the environmental impact of their food choices.

SOURCE: EcoWatch

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LINK:  https://www.ecowatch.com/vegan-earth-footprint-2574241439.html

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