Giving up animal products is the most effective way to protect the planet

©  2016, Plant Based Living Initiative

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Eating more plants and fewer animal products is the best thing one can do for the planet– that is according to one of the largest and most comprehensive analyses conducted to date.

Poore and Nemecek's paper, which was published last week in the prestigious journal Science, found that a global dietary transition to a strictly plant-based pattern of eating (i.e. excluding all products containing meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs) has the potential to:

  • reduce agricultural land use by as much as 76%, or 3.1 billion hectares– an area of land four times the size of Australia. Arable land use (i.e. that which is useful for growing crops) could also be reduced by approximately one-fifth.
  • reduce the climate impact of the food system by nearly half (49%)– conferring annual greenhouse gas emissions savings of 6.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents. This is roughly equivalent to a 14% reduction in global annual greenhouse gas emissions.
  • reduce global acidification and eutrophication by half (50% and 49%, respectively), which, together, contribute to ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss.
  • reduce scarcity-weighted freshwater withdrawals by 19%.

Big project | 38,700 farms; 1,600 processors, packaging types, and retailers; 119 countries; 40 food items; 5 indicators of planetary health.

The project's researchers, Poore and Nemecek, conducted a large meta-analysis of studies investigating the impact of food on the environment. Their 'methodologically-harmonised' database, which includes 570 individual studies, covers 40 food items (representing 90% of global energy intake) and spans 119 countries, 38,700 farms, and 1,600 processors, packaging types, and retailers.

A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use... It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car... Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems. Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”
Joseph Poore, University of Oxford (Speaking with the Guardian)

Author: Jono Drew
Founder, Plant-Based Living Initiative

June 10, 2018

One of the study's most significant findings relates to the marked discrepancy between environmental impacts of plant- and animal-based food items: even the most sustainably produced animal products tend to carry a significantly greater environmental burden as compared to plant-based alternatives. The discrepancy is such that production of meat, fish, eggs and dairy currently occupies 83% of the world's agricultural land and releases 58% of food-related emissions, while only providing 18% of the global population's calories.

Topic / ‍‍‍‍‍‍Pla‍‍‍netary Health‍‍‍

Introduction /
Meat consumption, the planet, and our health

Grass-fed Beef /
Grass-fed beef is not the solution: it's the problem

Relevant articles

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Producers have limits on how far they can reduce impacts. Most strikingly, impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for the importance of dietary change.
Poore and Nemecek, 2018

'Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth' /
The Guardian

Open Access /
Reducing food's environmental impacts through producers and consumers
J. Poore & T. Nemecek

'Graphical representation of the mitigation framework' /
J. Poore and T. Nemecek

A framework for mitigating food-related environmental impacts

Poore and Nemecek's paper highlights mitigation opportunities currently available within the food system, which, if pursued, could lead to significant harm reduction across a range of environmental parameters. In an effort to stimulate radical change, the paper's authors outline a framework for seizing such opportunities, which is summarised below:  

  • Producers monitor their impacts using digital tools with data being independently certified. Evidence-based assessment tools are developed by researchers through the consolidation of the existing literature. Researchers provide produces with numerous pathways to reduce their environmental impacts, while producer-led innovation and practice sharing is encouraged and supported.
  • Environmental targets are set by policy-makers and producers are incentivised to meet targets through ‍tax breaks or reallocation of the five hundred billion dollars currently spent on agricultural subsidies globally every year.
  • Consumers are informed about the 'true cost' of food and sustainable consumption is incentivised through a combination of environmental labelling, taxation, and subsidy.