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True Cost of Food page from challenge summer 2018

July 16, 2018 2:21 PM

The True Cost of Food (GreenLibDems.org.uk)A new report from researchers at Oxford University and the Swiss agricultural research institute Agroscope provide a comprehensive database on the environmental impacts of almost 40,000 farms and 1,600 processing plants and retailers. The database is design to inform policy makers on how production practices and local geographies lead to different environmental impacts for 40 major foods. Producers have a profound impact on CO2 equivalent of the same product. For example, high-impact beef producers create 105kg of CO2 equivalent and use 370m2 of land per 100grams of protein while low-impact producers can use 12 to 50 time fewer resources to obtain the same result. By way of comparison, low-impact plant-based proteins such as beans and peas can create just 0.3kg of CO2 equivalents (including processing, packaging and transport) to produce the same 100grams of protein. On just one square meter of land!

Among the surprises has been the discovery that aquaculture can emit more methane and create more greenhouse gases than cows. Who would have guessed that one pint of beer can create three times more emissions and use four times more land than another? 'Two things that look the same in the shops can have extremely different impacts on the planet. We currently don't know this when we make choices about what to eat. Further, this variability isn't fully reflected in strategies and policy aimed at reducing the impacts of farmers,' says Joseph Poore from the Department of Zoology and the School of Geography and Environment. The researchers are not suggesting that all producers adopt the same methods; they assert that agriculture needs many different solution, appropriate to local circumstances.

There is much evidence of the value of using new technology - often working on mobile devices - taking information on inputs, outputs, climate, and soil, to quantify environmental impacts. The technology then provides recommendations on how to reduce these impacts and increase productivity. (A previous issue of Challenge showed the value of local weather data on mobile devices to smaller farms in Kenya) Without major changes in technology that disproportionately target animal products, the researchers show that animal product free diets are likely to deliver greater environmental benefits than changing production practices both today and in the future. Plant-based diets reduce food's emissions by up to 73% depending where you live. Though the report is not calling for everyone to become vegan they do stress the importance of dietary change.

These graphs show environmental impacts for 9 animal and 6 vegetable products from a sample of 9,000 farms around the world.

environmental impacts for 9 animal and 6 vegetable products from a sample of 9,000 farms around the world. (GreenLibDems.org.uk)

The environmental impacts for 9 animal and 6 vegetable products from a sample of 9,000 farms around the world.