The food industry worldwide contributes to 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all the world’s transport systems combined.
A 2018 report in the journal Science, found that meat and dairy production provides just 18% of calories, 37% of protein, but uses 83% of farmland and produces 60% of all agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
In South America, cattle raised on pastures cleared of woodland is especially problematic, while in the UK, upland sheep farming creates poor habitat biodiversity and accelerated run-off, leading to increased flood-risk in low lying areas.
Cows and sheep in particular, also produce large quantities of methane – one of the most potent greenhouse gases.
96% of all mammals on Earth are now livestock and 30% of all the world’s land is being used to feed that livestock.
Joseph Poore at the University of Oxford says: “A plant-based 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.”
If we all switched to a plant-based diet, we could reduce our individual carbon footprint for food by 73% and reduce global farmland requirements by 75%, allowing us to restore our natural forests, reducing overall carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
Going Plant-Based for the Planet
Plant-based food has come on leaps and bounds in the last five years, with tasty alternatives widely available in all major supermarkets.
Think vegan food is boring? Think again!
You can start small: Cows are the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, so eliminating beef and dairy from your diet can already make a huge impact. (The 13 largest dairy companies have the same combined emissions as the whole of the UK!)
One of the best resources for a guide to start eating a plant-based diet is Veganuary. From free cookbooks, easy recipes, nutrition information, shopping and eating out guides, the Veganuary web site has it all. And you can make a start at any time of the year!
Look for the plant-based section of your local grocery store. There are some sustainable brands such as Wicked and BOSH! which make vegan replacements for all your favourite comfort foods. However, many of the new vegan ‘junk-foods’ are plastic heavy so don’t assume that all vegan is good for the planet.
If you are looking to eat out, Happy Cow allows you to search for vegan food near you.
Think local. Reducing emissions from transport (especially from air-freighted goods) will amplify your impact. NeighbourFood is an online market that allows you to purchase food from local farmers. You can filter your results to be vegan, organic, and even plastic-free!
Dig Deeper: Do you want to learn more about the impact of animal agriculture and fishing on the environment? Netflix has just the documentaries for you….
Cowspiracy: a 2014 documentary film which explores the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. Available on Netflix.
Seaspiracy: a 2021 documentary film about the environmental impact of fishing directed by and starring Ali Tabrizi, a British filmmaker. The film examines various human impacts on marine life. Available on Netflix.
Taking the Plunge? Communicate to your friends and family why you are going plant-based and share your passion for the planet. Let people know the impact a vegan diet can have on carbon emissions.