Reducing meat consumption to reduce CO2 emissions: a sustainable challenge

"Today, we cannot ignore the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables on our health and on the planet,” nu3 CEO Robert Sünderhauf declared. [Shutterstock]

Eating habits are responsible for carbon dioxide emissions and many countries could improve their carbon footprint by changing them. European countries are not all equal in terms of CO2 emissions, but an effort could be made.

A study published by the nutrition store nu3 shows how Northern European countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway could do better to decrease their CO2 emissions by eating in a more sustainable way: they are all in the top twenty of countries who could replace animal products with non-animal ones.

In their case, dairy products, cheese and eggs are mainly to blame. Germany on the other hand is doing well, ranking at the 38th position.

Southern countries like Italy, Portugal and Spain rank low, respectively 28th, 31st and 42nd. However, Greece and France are 16th and 17th because of excessive meat consumption: pork, beef and lamb, which are far less environment-friendly to produce compared to poultry or fish.

Internationally, the three main countries that could decrease their carbon footprint by eating less meat are Argentina, Australia and Iceland. Argentina and Australia are big consumers, especially of beef, with respectively 55 and 34 kg per person each year. On the other side of the spectrum, Bangladeshi mainly eat vegetables, so their carbon footprint is higher for plants – which include wheat, rice, soya and nuts – than for animals.

The international study compares the carbon dioxide emissions in 130 countries according to their eating habits, by using the data of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Not only does it points out the CO2 emissions by country and by product, it also gives a precise figure of carbon dioxide that could be saved if a person chose to replace 1 kg of meat with 1 kg of vegetarian food.

“The study shows how we could decrease our carbon footprint simply by changing our habits. Today, we cannot ignore the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables on our health and on the planet,” nu3 CEO Robert Sünderhauf declared.

Vegetarianism and meat reduction

Eating habits die hard, but new generations appear to be aware of this ecological issue, and many among them choose to become vegetarian. This shift is visible in France for instance, where 13% of young adults have stopped eating meat, whereas vegetarianism only concerns 5% of France’s overall population.

The study also highlights the eating habits of the various countries, and their carbon footprint is unquestionably linked to them. The city of Hong Kong alone has the highest CO2 emissions regarding pork consumption. Brazil and the United States are the world’s second and third biggest beef-eaters, as well as the world’s biggest producers of this meat. Tunisia’s, Algeria’s and Morocco’s CO2 food emissions are caused by wheat. As for Asian countries, rice concerns Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam, when soya applies to Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

The study aims at raising awareness about the ecological issues triggered by excessive animal products consumption and at encouraging people to change their eating habits, in order to decrease the food carbon footprint worldwide.

“For those who can’t imagine becoming vegans, we also offer alternatives that are more realistic and easier to implement. For instance, fish and poultry emit less carbon dioxide than beef or lamb, which have more fat, just like eggs emit less than dairy products or cheese,” Robert Sünderhauf explained.

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