The food choices we make every day matters. It turns out that healthy eating isn’t just good for your body, it can also lessen your impact on the environment.
From beef, chicken and fresh seafood to exotic cheeses flown in from around the world, we are now spoilt for choice when it comes deciding what to put on our plates. While it may be nice to have the option of eating steak every night, there are massive environmental costs. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has previously said that emissions from global livestock amount to an estimated 7.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. In addition, cattle ranching accounts for 80% of the deforestation¹ of the Amazon region, an area that stores enormous amounts of CO2.
Waste is also an issue. In some countries, easy access to food means some consumers can take it for granted, throwing out leftovers or unused ingredients without a second thought. Around 1.3 billion tons of food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted every year, the FAO has said.
Below, we have outlined six facts about the environment consequences of our diets along with ways we as individuals can lessen our impact.
1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions are on the rise
Agricultural food production emits ∼25% of global greenhouse gasses² (GHGs) which is equivalent to 13.6 billion tonnes. But the impact of the food we consume is not created equal. As mentioned previously, beef and livestock account for the highest GHG emissions, while foods like bananas, potatoes, and nuts produce only a fraction.
2. Did you know that half of the world’s inhabitable land has been converted to agriculture out of which 77% is used for livestock?
That is a lot of land. And while livestock takes up most of the world’s agricultural land it only produces 18% of the world’s calories and 37% of total protein.³
The expansion of agriculture has been one of humanity’s largest impacts on the environment. It has transformed habitats and is one of the greatest pressures for biodiversity: of the 28,000 species evaluated to be threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List, agriculture is listed as a threat for 24,000 of them.⁴
3. A whopping 75% of the world’s food supply comes from just 12 plants and five animal species.⁵
This lack of diversity is bad for both humans and the environment as our ecosystem greatly depends on a balance of different species. Loss of biodiversity also threatens food security and the future of humanity because of three main factors:
- Loss of Supply: Lack of genetic diversity makes entire species more vulnerable to destruction by pests and disease.
- Loss of Nutrients: Approximately 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient deficiencies such as vitamin A and zinc10; a lack of genetic diversity within species is the main contributor.
- Loss of ecosystem services: Pollinators, soil microbes, and biological pest control, like beneficial insects, vanish when their food sources are depleted and habitats are degraded.
4. By the year 2050 the world’s population will increase 33% to 10 billion.
To meet the food demands of this growing population, while also preserving our environment, we need massive changes in the way we produce, eat and dispose food.
5. In the U.S., up to 40% of all food produce goes uneaten out which 95% end up in landfills.
Wasting food is much bigger than the food that gets tossed or goes uneaten; it means wasting all the resources required to produce that food such as water, energy, soil and cropland. And wasted food is also a significant contributor to climate change, producing more GHG emissions than 37 million cars.⁶
6. In the period between 1961 and 2007 the number of managed bee colonies dropped by 61% from 5.9 million to 2.3 million due to extensive usage of pesticides in agriculture.
These pesticides effect various insects, such as bees, which are the main pollinators in our ecosystem. Bees are indispensable for many plant and other products we consume on a daily basis, such as coffee, apple, almonds and tomatoes.
The loss of bees and other pollinators would require the world to increase land cultivated in pollinator-dependent crops by 15% and 42%, respectively, to make up production deficits. #Savethebees!
While it’s all too easy to become disheartened, it’s important to keep in mind that you have the ability to make a significant impact when it comes to the food we eat.