Today the Environmental Working Group released its groundbreaking Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, a powerful tool that helps people understand how food choices affect their environmental footprint and their health. Taking into account every stage of food production, processing, consumption and waste disposal, the calculations reveal that if everyone in the United States gave up meat or cheese just one day a week for one year, the effect would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
The research also highlights the surprisingly large environmental impact of meat that goes into the trash, which accounts for more than 20 percent of all meat-associated emissions.
“By eating and wasting less meat, consumers can help limit the environmental damage caused by the huge amounts of fertilizer, fuel, water and pesticides, not to mention the toxic manure and wastewater that goes along with producing meat,” says Kari Hamerschlag, EWG senior analyst and author of the report. “Choosing healthier, pasture-raised meats can also help improve people’s health and reduce the environmental damage associated with meat consumption.” The study cites abundant research showing that eating large quantities of beef and processed meats increases toxin exposure and the risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity.
EWG teamed up with CleanMetrics, an environmental analysis and consulting firm, to calculate complete lifecycle assessments of the carbon footprint of 20 types of conventionally raised (not organic or grass-fed) meat, fish, dairy and vegetable proteins, from the pesticides and fertilizers used to grow animal feed to the grazing, processing, transportation, cooking and disposal of unused food.
Key findings include:
--Beef generates more than twice the emissions of pork, nearly four times that of chicken, and more than 13 times that of vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils, and tofu.
--Cheese has the third-highest emissions. Less dense cheese (such as cottage) results in fewer greenhouse gases because it requires less milk to produce.
--90 percent of beef’s emissions, 69 percent of pork’s, 72 percent of salmon’s and 68 percent of tuna’s are generated in the production phase. Just half of chicken’s emissions are generated during production.
EWG recommends that consumers buy right-size portions to reduce waste, avoid eating meat and cheese at least one day a week and choose “greener” options such as grass-fed, organic and pasture-raised animal and dairy products that are produced in a more ethical manner, without antibiotics or hormones.
To learn more, check out EWG’s website, which includes an interactive graphic, an available printed wallet card and brochure that summarize the results, consumer tips, a quiz and a guide to decoding the maze of labels on meat other food products.
Lentils are a protein-packed, good-for-you meat alternative.