WWF: Irresponsible food consumption fuels global climate change

Every German citizen consumes 679kg of food each year, including 52.6kg of pork, almost 19kg of poultry and 26kg of beef.

Chaque citoyen allemand consomme 679 kg de nourriture par an, dont 52,6 kg de porc, 19 kg de volaille et 26 kg de bœuf [Greg Bolton/Flickr]

Conservation organisation WWF says Germany’s eating habits are “fuel to the fire” for global climate change, with severe consequences for food security in developing countries. EURACTIV Germany reports.

By 2050, the world population is expected to require 70% more food than today, which would also demand more fertile farmland.

Meanwhile, Germans are consuming in excess. A WWF study shows that, on average, 1,562 m2 of land is needed to feed one person in the Federal Republic. And this number is steadily rising.

Because Germany does not have enough arable land at its disposal, around one fourth of its landmass has to be “virtually imported”. This means soy used for feed in commercial meat production is often grown in South America. Palm oil plantations for chocolate and cocoa are located in Asia and Africa.

“We are in the process of eating our planet bare,” warned WWF analyst Tanja Dräger de Teran.

“We must ask ourselves, which foods we want to use this ground for. If available land continues to disappear, we cannot afford the current lifestyle anymore,” she said.

Statistically, every German citizen consumes 679kg of food each year, including 52.6kg of pork, almost 19kg of poultry and 26kg of beef. The rest is made up of 95.5kg of vegetables and grain products, nearly 71kg of potatoes, 48kg of sugar, 110.5kg of fruit and 119kg of dairy products.

WWF said it considers the especially high consumption of animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs to be particularly critical from an ecological and health-related point of view. Production of these foods generates many millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases.

CO2 emissions resulting from food consumed in Germany amount to approximately 161 million tonnes per year, WWF indicated, 17% of the country’s overall CO2 output.

Added to this are methane emissions, from cattle in particular, pollution of streams, and the groundwater as well as over-fertilisation. Producing 1,000 calories of poultry meat requires an additional 1,500 calories of plant-based resources – products that are desperately needed as food in other parts of the world.

Germany is near the top of the list among EU countries with regard to meat consumption. Only Spain, Austria and Denmark consume more, according to statistics from the Agricultural Market Information Company (AMI).

More than 30% of imported food and feed are connected to deforestation, such as in South America for, WWF said.

In Germany, too, populations of once-thriving species, such as the skylark, are disappearing. And the situation is only likely to get worse. Estimates show the world’s available farmland decreasing to 1,155 m2 per person and year.

In coordination with nutritionists, WWF developed a future scenario for 2050 with a food pyramid that integrates a balanced diet with the Earth’s ecological boundaries.

“Our diets should be healthy as well as environmentally and climate friendly. At the same time, everyone must be satisfied and eating should be fun. What may sound like a contradiction at first, actually goes hand in hand,” explained Dräger de Teran.

The study indicates that meat consumption, in particular, should be reduced by half, leaving 350 grammes per week. Here, consumers should also select animal-friendly organic and grass-fed meat or game, WWF points out.

From a nutrition perspective, the study says this is not problematic, as long as enough minerals, such as iron and zinc, are consumed via legumes and cereal products. Leguminous plants such as lupin and lentils should find their way to the plate more often, the WWF study points out, as products like these are only barely represented in people’s average dietary habits.

In the future, Germany should become a role model for other European countries, but also for countries that seek to copy the Western lifestyle, de Teran emphasised. “We must show that there are other ways to do things when it comes to food.”

In recent years, the concept of environmental footprinting has gained traction among policymakers and has become a selling argument for the food and drinks industry.

Indicators have been developed to reduce the environmental impact of the food industry and include:

  • The carbon footprint, which refers to the total amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated by a product, an event or an individual.
  • The water footprint, which calculates the total volume of freshwater used to produce goods or services.

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