The global population is growing and it is estimated that there will be nine billion people on earth by 2050 (1). Additionally, our food system is destroying the very environment upon which future food production is dependent.
The food system is responsible for:
- 20-30% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) caused by humans
- major deforestation
- loss of biodiversity
- change in land use
- 70% of all human water use
- water pollution. (2)
Eating in a more sustainable manner increases the chance that all of mankind can eat. A plant-based eating pattern is a sustainable way to save resources, with regard to CO2 emissions, water consumption and land use (3).
Issues to consider when defining a sustainable diet
Adapted from Food Climate Research Network (2)
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in 2010:
“Sustainable diets imply a change in dietary preferences to reduce overconsumption and a shift to nutritious diets with lower environmental footprints. They also mean a reduction of losses and waste throughout the food system. Ultimately, the aim of a successful transition to healthier and sustainable diets is for people and the ecosystem to be healthier” (1).
Greenhouse Gas Emissions:
The food system contributes to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and accounts for approximately 30% of the European Union´s total GHGe (4, 5). Comparisons between different types of food show vegetables to be responsible for the lowest emissions, with the exception of air-freighted vegetables. Animal products are associated with higher emissions where ruminants (cattle and sheep) are responsible for the greatest proportion of GHGe (6).
A German study compared greenhouse gas emissions from four different diets:
- Typical current diet
- Diet consistent with recommendations
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian diet
- Vegan diets
The typical current diet gave rise to emissions of 2.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per person per annum. The diet consistent with recommendations gave rise to 1.8 tonnes, The lacto-ovo vegetarian diet 1.6 tonnes and the vegan diet 1.0 tonne.
A major portion of the climate impact from Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets is caused by dairy products and the amount of milk in the diet is higher than in other diets (7).
Today numerous strategies and recommendations advise a reduction in both dairy and meat consumption in favour of plant foods (8). A healthy diet, consisting of two thirds plant food and one third animal products, is consistent with dietary recommendations and offers benefits for both health and the environment (9).
‘Climate Smart’ or environmentally friendly diet:
Adapted from ”Hur liten kan livsmedelskonsumtionens klimatpåverkan vara år 2050? Naturvårdsverket, Jordbruksverket, Livsmedelsverket”
Oatly’s Guide to Saving the Environment:
Step 1: Reduce food waste. Around one third of all food we buy is thrown away.
Step 2: Recommend choosing seasonal, local food and then eat according to dietary recommendations.
Step 3: Advise a change from dairy products to oat drinks. According to life cycle analyses (LCA), greenhouse gas emissions from oat drinks are just one third of those generated in the production of cows’ milk (10).
There are huge impacts on the environment from the diet we eat. Plant-based eating is beneficial for both health and planet.
1. FAO (2010).Final document:International Scientific Symposium Biodiversity and Sustainable Diets: United against Hunger. 3-5 November 2010, Food and Agriculture Organisation, Rome.
2. Food Climate Research Network. www.fcrn.org.uk Accessed April 2014.
3. WWF (2011 Jan). Livewell: a balance of healthy and sustainable food choices.
4. European Commission, Environmental impact of products (EIPRO): Analysis of the life cycle environmental impacts related to the total final consumption of the EU 25., in European Commission Technical Report EUR 22284 EN: 2006, European Commission Brussels.
5. Foresight, The Future of Food and Farming. 2011, Government Office For Science, London.
6. Carlsson-Kanyama, A. and A.D.Gonzalez, Potential contributions of food consumption patterns to climate change. Am J Cl Nutr, 2009 89(5): 1704S-1709S.
7. Meier och Christen, (2013) Environmental impacts of dietary recommendations and dietary styles: Germany as an example. Environmental Science and Technology 47:877-888.
8. WWF (2011 Jan). Livewell: a balance of healthy and sustainable food choices.
9. NHS choices (2014). http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/eatwell-plate.aspx Accessed in Februart 2016.
10. Florén et al (2013) Lifecycle analysis conducted on behalf of Oatly. SIK. Unpublished but available on request.