It is time we better acknowledged the environmental impacts of the type and amount of food we eat, a scientist says.
Researchers who reviewed 20 studies on the environmental impacts of food consumption in Australia found that the country emits more than 500 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. Of that sum food-related emission sources account for over 14%.
On average Australians produce nearly 20kg of carbon dioxide a day via their diets, to say nothing of pollution food production can wreak on the environment, according to the scientists.
Of so-called core foods, meat, grains and dairy contribute most of the country’s food-related emissions while fruit and vegetables are two of the lowest contributors, which is not surprising.
However, it turns out that the production of “non-core” foods such as sugary drinks, alcohol, confectionary and processed meats also generates between 27% and 33% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions.
“While the percentage is lower than core food emissions, the fact that Australians are consuming large amounts of avoidable energy-rich, nutrient-poor foods is not helping the environment,” the scientists note.
Even as these “discretionary” foods harm the environment, they also harm people’s health. The regular consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, highly processed foods, sweets and pastries has been linked to chronic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.
“Discretionary foods have a higher cropland, water scarcity and ecological footprint. Meat also emits greenhouse gases, although its water scarcity footprint is lower compared to dairy products, cereals, grains, fruit and vegetables,” explains Sara Forbes, a dietitian at the University of South Australia who led the study.
“It is time we better acknowledged the environmental impacts of the type and amount of food we eat, considering the planet as well as our health,” Forbes adds.
“By 2050, the world’s population is projected to reach 10 billion people. There is no way we can feed that amount of people unless we change the way we eat and produce food.”