Quantcast

'A Vegan Diet Is Probably the Single Biggest Way to Reduce Your Impact on Planet Earth'

Food
The dairy industry separates babies from their mothers every day. This Jersey calf was rescued and brought to a sanctuary. Mark Peters Photography / CC BY-SA 2.0

If you want to do something as an individual to fight climate change, promote biodiversity and protect the environment overall, the best thing you can do is go vegan, the scientists behind the most in-depth study to date of the ecological footprint of agriculture told the Guardian Thursday.


"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," study leader and University of Oxford professor Joseph Poore told the Guardian. "It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car," he said.

The study, published in Science Friday, set out to assess the environmental impact of different farming practices and agricultural products. Researchers studied 38,700 farms in 119 countries and 1600 processors, packaging types and retailers and considered the impact of 40 foods they produced and processed—accounting for 90 percent of all foods consumed worldwide—on five environmental indicators: land use, water use, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification.) They found that even the least impactful meat and dairy products, including grass-fed beef, hurt the environment more than the most intrusive vegetables and grains.

"Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy," Poore told the Guardian.

Meat and dairy only provide humans with 18 percent of their calories and 37 percent of their protein, but farming them takes up 83 percent of agricultural land and produces 60 percent of agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions. Eliminating meat and dairy farms would also be a huge boon to wild animals, since the percentage of the planet used for agriculture could then be reduced by more than 75 percent and still feed the planet. An area the size of China, the U.S., the EU and Australia combined would be free for wildlife to reclaim.

Even farm-raised fish have more of an impact on the environment than previously believed, the study found, since fish excrement and uneaten food that gathers at the bottom of fish ponds produces significant amounts of methane.

Researchers not involved with the study praised the breadth of the data it used and the resulting accuracy of its conclusions.

"This is an immensely useful study. It brings together a huge amount of data and that makes its conclusions much more robust. The way we produce food, consume and waste food is unsustainable from a planetary perspective. Given the global obesity crisis, changing diets—eating less livestock produce and more vegetables and fruit—has the potential to make both us and the planet healthier," University of Leeds professor Tim Benton told the Guardian.

Poore said he hoped that farmers could use agricultural subsidies to lower the impact of their practices. He also recommended taxes for high-impact products like meat and dairy, along with subsidies for more sustainable products and labeling on packages alerting shoppers to the environmental impact of their food choices.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A common green darners (Anax junius). Judy Gallagher / Flickr

By Jason Bittel

It's that time of year again: Right now, monarch butterflies are taking wing in the mountains of northwestern Mexico and starting to flap their way across the United States.

Read More Show Less
JPM / Getty Images

Gluten is the collective name for a group of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley and rye.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
fstop123 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

At EcoWatch, our team knows that changing personal habits and taking actions that contribute to a better planet is an ongoing journey. Earth Day, happening on April 22, is a great reminder for all of us to learn more about the environmental costs of our behaviors like food waste or fast fashion.

To offer readers some inspiration this Earth Day, our team rounded up their top picks for films to watch. So, sit back and take in one of these documentary films this Earth Day. Maybe it will spark a small change you can make in your own life.

Read More Show Less
Denali national park. Domen Jakus / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

By Stephanie Gagnon

Happy National Parks Week! This year, between April 20 and 28, escape to the beautiful national parks — either in person or in your imagination — and celebrate the amazing wildlife that calls these spaces home.

Read More Show Less
Sesame, three months old, at Seal Rescue Irleand. Screenshot / Seal Rescue Ireland Instagram

On Friday, Seal Rescue Ireland released Sesame the seal into the ocean after five months of rehabilitation at the Seal Rescue Ireland facility. Watch the release on EcoWatch's Facebook.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Beer packs of Guinness will now come in a cardboard box. Diageo

By Jordan Davidson

Guinness is joining the fight against single use plastic. The brewer has seen enough hapless turtles and marine life suffering from the scourge of plastic.

Read More Show Less
Maskot / Getty Images

People of all ages are spending more of their day looking at their phones, computers and television screens, but parents now have another reason for limiting how much screen time their children get — it could lead to behavioral problems.

Read More Show Less

Rapper and comedian Lil Dicky released a 7-minute climate change awareness song and video today, ahead of Earth Day on Monday, with proceeds going to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

Read More Show Less